Friday, February 3, 2017

Best of the Archives: Keeping it "Reel" … Or a “Novel” Approach to Putting a Movie in Your Reader's Mind!

(Julie, here. A version of this post first appeared in Seekerville on
 3/13/13  and I'm repeating it today for a very special reason
that you will find at the end of this blog.)

“Rhett, Rhett... Rhett, if you go, where shall I go?
What shall I do?”
“Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.”
(Buy movie from Amazon here)

Nooooooooo!!! Somebody pass me a Kleenex, please, because as long as I live, I will never forget the impact of that final scene from Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind. There I sat at the age of sixteen in a darkened St. Louis movie house dressed as a nun (don’t ask), and I still remember the glaze of tears on Scarlett’s face as she rushes down those burgundy stairs. Even now I can close my eyes and see and feel it all—the gloom of the foyer, Rhett opening the stained-glass wood door, that thick and swirling fog, and Scarlett’s frantic plea as she clutches the knob—“where shall I go, what shall I do?”

Mmm … the very question every writer asks at what time or another! Just where can we go and what can we do to draw our readers into our stories, wringing every delicious drop of emotion from their minds and bodies with mere words on the page. I’m glad you asked! The answer? (Slow smile here.) By keeping it “reel,” of course.

Ah, movies! As visual creatures, we see it all—frame after frame, action after action, nuance after nuance—and consequently, we experience the pain, the loss and the angst Scarlett feels when Rhett walks out that door. Yes, “Frankly, my dear …” dialogue is important, but in a novel, words cannot stand alone—they are supported by a community of actions, expressions, and sensory stimulus that embeds that line or story into our brain. Just like those flat pages of still cartoon caricatures transform into a living, breathing story when fanned through, so are those details from the mind’s eye to a novel you may write.

So … when I decided to write this post, I sat down to really think about just why some readers have likened my books to watching a movie where they see every second, every frame, every emotion in their minds. To be honest, I had no clue except for the fact that when I write, I personally see and hear everything played out in my mind like a movie as well—the stutters, the pauses, the flicker of a nerve in my hero’s cheek. Usually I write the scene in my mind first while on the treadmill (which is downstairs, away from my family, thank God!), actually speaking the dialogue with inflection—be it anger, tease, embarrassment, whatever. I keep a pad and paper handy to scratch lines down that later will provide a powerful emotional trigger for when I actually write the scene.

For instance, I have written entire scenes around one or two lines that conveyed a “reel” picture of a character’s actions to me, literally “reeling” me into “movie mind,” such as in my second novel, A Passion Redeemed. Before I ever wrote one line in that book, several sentences popped into my brain one day when I was on the treadmill and instantly a movie scene played in my mind, which, ironically, ended up being the original last scene of the book. I saw Charity bounding into the kitchen, teasing her mother about how her father had brought another eligible bachelor home for her. Pushing through the swinging kitchen door, she quips:

      “Well, he did it, Mother. Brought another prospect home for his pitiful daughter.”

     “Two,” he said, his tone casual as he rose from the table. His tall frame unfolded to fill the kitchen, obliterating anything in her vision but him. “He brought two.”

Those two lines molded and shaped not only my ending, but my mood and motivation for the rest of the book—getting those two characters to that point in the kitchen. Why? Because “movie mind” is powerful!

 So ... since I’m a 1-2-3 type of gal, I thought about how I go about this “movie mind” process, and following are the steps I came up with, of which I may do all or just one or two, depending on my mood. Keep in mind that these are just suggestions of what I do—so use or lose as you see fit.


1.) When I submit a proposal, I always (at least since my second series) write a very detailed synopsis that both my editor and agent claim reads like a mini-novel, including bits of dialogue that later will become my “emotional triggers” for a particular scene. I always use these dialogue snippets in the book because they inspire my passion since they are products of my “movie mind” mode of brainstorming, which is always more dramatic and natural.

2.)    I usually write a scene in my head first, immediately writing down any dialogue or actions that spring to mind, which I will then use as emotional triggers later on when I actually write the book.

3.)    I write the beginning of the scene, then read it out loud to visualize each word or phrase so I can see the expressions and actions in my mind to motivate me further.

4.)    I close my eyes again (I do this a lot, which sometimes qualifies as sleeping) and “feel” the scene in mind’s eye … the quirk of a lip, the rise and fall of a chest, subtle expanse in the whites of a character’s eyes. This helps me to authenticate the words or actions of my characters. For instance, would a gruff and no-nonsense hero like Mitch Dennehy pause or beat around the bush? Would my shy and quiet heroine arch a brow like Scarlett O’Hara? I think not!

5.)    When necessary, I replicate what I see in my mind by capturing the emotion in a mirror, which helps me to determine if the action/or facial response is appropriate or just flat-out stupid.

6.)    Finally, in the revision stage, I read the scene out loud to see if the actions/facial and body responses ring true to the character, the scene, and the plot.


In my humble opinion, without beats—those little snippets of action woven into dialogue—the “movie” in your reader’s mind is greatly reduced. So for me, “beats” are the number one way I pull a reader into a scene, putting him or her smack dab in the characters’ shoes, mind, and emotions, hopefully just like in a movie where he or she will see every flicker of an eyelash, every muscle convulsing in the throat.

Here’s a clip from A Hope Undaunted where there’s romantic tension between the hero Luke McGee and the heroine Katie O’Connor because of his veiled reference to a kiss he forced on her earlier in the book. I am showing it two ways—first without beats and then once again with beats. In the first example, the veiled tease that I wanted is not evident, but I do think it is in the second example, with the appropriate beats, so I hope you do too.

     Katie frowned at the thick stack of bacon on Luke’s burger compared to the two measly pieces on each of hers. “You must have a pound of bacon on that sandwich. For pity’s sake, what’d you do, bribe her?”
     “Bribe her? No, Katydid,” Luke said, “because unlike you, some women actually enjoy doing what I ask.”
     “Ask maybe, but force? Do they enjoy that?”
     “Sometimes,” he said.

           Katie’s gaze flitted from the thick stack of bacon on Luke’s burger to the two measly pieces on each of hers. She frowned. “You must have a pound of bacon on that sandwich. For pity’s sake, what’d you do, bribe her?”
           Luke lifted the mammoth burger to his lips, pausing to give Katie a weighted gaze. “Bribe her? No, Katydid, because unlike you, some women actually enjoy doing what I ask.”
          “Ask maybe, but force? Do they enjoy that?”
          He bit into his sandwich and chewed slowly, a smile surfacing at the edges of his lips. “Sometimes,” he said, heating her with a shuttered look while he took a slow swig of his drink.
           Katie’s cheeks flamed hot, and she itched to slap that smug smile off his handsome face. Instead, she whirled around to face Betty. “So, how are the ribs?”

        2.)    LET THE CHARACTER’S VOICE CONVEY A MOOD, CHARACTER TRAIT, OR EMOTION: Okay, I’m going to ruffle some feathers here, but I like to add adverbs or phrases to my speaker attributions to help convey a mood or feeling of the character. I know, I know, writing experts say you should avoid “ly” adverbs and I almost always agree when it comes to adding them to verbs because I think there are enough powerful verbs out there to evoke a mood on their own without resorting to the help of an adverb. BUT … when it comes to conveying the mood of a character’s voice, we are SO limited with “he said, she said,” that I’m of the opinion a writer can and should occasionally (or maybe I should say “sparingly”) utilize adverbs for speaker attributions in order to best convey a mood/response.

For instance, in this clip below from my upcoming release Love at Any Cost, I underlined the adverbs or phrases I used to show you what I mean—words such as “softly, quietly, husky chuckle, voice quivered, whispered, paused, gulped, barely audible, and quite a few ellipses to indicate pauses or hesitation. Call me crazy, but to me, the addition of these components helps to create, in my mind at least, the emotional pull of this tentative conversation between Caitlyn McClare and the brother-in-law to whom she was once engaged.  

     “So, Mrs. McClare . . . ,” he said softly, elbows clasped on parted knees. “Must be important to spend time with me under the stars past your bedtime.”
     She peeked up, the words stuck in her throat as she pinched the blanket close.
     His husky chuckle warmed her cheeks more than the fire. "Come on, Cait,” he said, “you’ve never been afraid of me a day in your life, so what is it? What do you want?”
     She drew in a deep swallow of air, her stomach a whirl from the import of her request . . . and from his presence. “I . . . need your . . . support,” she said quietly.
     “You already have that, Cait, you know that.”
      She swallowed hard. “On the Board.” Her voice quivered like her body beneath the blanket.
      Silent for several moments, he finally sat back to assess her with hands braced behind his neck, studying her through pensive eyes. “What do you want, Cait?” he whispered.
     She forged on, absently picking at the nubby edge of the blanket. “Well, you see, the Vigilance Committee . . .She paused, avoiding his gaze. “Or I should say I . . . have drafted a proposal for the Board of Supervisors regarding the Barbary Coast, but I didn’t want to present it to the Vigilance Committee until I . . .” Chancing a glance, she was encouraged by the smile hovering on his lips, giving her the distinct impression he enjoyed the fact that she needed him. Emboldened, she lifted her chin. “Well, it’s an important initiative, you see, and I don’t want to go in blind, presenting a mere piece of paper, so I was hoping to . . .” She nervously clamped the blanket to her chin. “Gird it with some . . . clout,” she said, her voice barely audible for the silent gulp in her throat.
     “You want my vote,” he said simply, effectively releasing the breath she’d been holding.
     The blanket slid to her shoulders. “Oh, Logan, I realize this is highly improper, with you being an influential member of the board, but . . .” She stared at him openly, honestly, without the least bit of guile. “Cleaning up the Coast means everything to me, outside of my family, and I was just hoping ... well, praying, really . . . that you might . . .
      He was watching her with such affection that she caught her breath, suddenly aware that in his own way, this man loved her and would do anything for her and her family. The thought stunned and energized her all at the same time, and with the barest hint of a smile, she stated her plea. “Present my plan to the Board,” she said in a rush, right before the air left her lungs in a whoosh of relief.

      3.)    USE POWERFUL WORDS THAT CONVEY A PARTICULAR MOOD: Powerful verbs are the perfect way to put the reader into the “front seat of the car” such as those I’ve underlined below in this clip from A Passion Redeemed when the hero Mitch Dennehy gets into his car after realizing he’s falling for the heroine Charity O’Connor, whom he considers to be pure poison.

           He reached in his jacket and flung a wad of bills on the bar. “To the devil with my future. It might as well burn with the past.”          
          Wheeling around, he bludgeoned his way through the crowd, riling customers on his way out. Outside, the bitter cold assailed him, tinged with the smells of burning peat and the slight whiff of horses. The faint sound of laughter and singing drifted from the various pubs tucked along the cobblestone road. His anger swelled.
           He hurled his car door open and pitched the bottle on the passenger seat. Mumbling under his breath, he rounded the vehicle to rotate the crank, gyrating the lever with such ferocity that it rattled unmercifully. The engine growled to life, its vicious roar rivaling the angst in his gut. He got in the car and slammed the door, slapping the headlights on with a grunt. With a hard swipe of the steering wheel, he jerked the car away from the curve and exhaled a loud breath.
           It was happening again. He was finally past the pain of one sister and now it was beginning with the other.
           He gunned the vehicle down Lower Abbey Street, nearly hitting a pedestrian who probably wouldn’t have felt a thing, given the near-empty bottle in his hand. Mitch gritted his teeth. That’s what women did to you—drove you to the bottom of a bottle where you drowned in your own liquid travail. He yanked his tie off, loosening his shirt to let the frigid air cool the heat of his anger. Thoughts of Charity suddenly surfaced, and a heat of another kind surged through his body. He swore out loud, the coarse sound foreign to his ears. He turned the corner on a squeal. The bottle careened across the seat and slammed into his leg.
           He’d been without a woman way too long. Once, his appetite had been voracious. But Faith had changed all that. Her sincerity, her purity, her honesty. She had ruined him for other women. Since she’d left, he’d had no inclination, no interest. No desire.
           Until now.

POWER WORDS: Likewise, powerful words that convey the mood of your scene are critical to “movie mind,” which is why I live and die by the one website I use more than any other—the OneLook Reverse Dictionary. Trust me—this one link is worth the price of this blog today! I am on this thesaurus-style website literally ALL DAY LONG because it is the best I have found for powerful words that help to appropriately convey a mood, such as the depressed mood I needed in this clip from A Passion Denied. In this scene Marcy O’Connor is mourning the loss of her husband, a man so angry at her, he hasn’t slept at home in over a month and barely speaks to her except to keep up appearances with the children. I have underlined all the depressing words/phrases that help convey her mood.

        Marcy stood at Mrs. Gerson’s kitchen window, in bleak harmony with the rivulets of water that slithered down the pane. It was a slow and steady rain, endless weeping from a gray and dismal sky, and Marcy felt a kinship with it. It showed no signs of letting up, much like the grief in her heart over the loss of her husband. A silent mourning over a spouse who was still very much alive, but whose love was as cold and dead as any corpse.

For me, a bonafide drama queen, internal monologue has to be dramatic. Yes, you want to convey the character’s thoughts to your reader, but since internal monologue is not as fun and fast as dialogue, we cannot afford to ramble on in a ho-hum stream of consciousness lest we lose the reader. So to bring “movie mind” to internal monologue, I like to give it extra punch with powerful words, powerful beats, dramatic thoughts, and occasional bursts of short lines for added drama. I tried to do that in this clip from A Heart Revealed, where Charity O’Connor’s husband Mitch Dennehy has shut her out of his heart, his bed, and his life.

         With a wild pumping of her pulse, she flung the door wide and chased after him, following him down the stairs as she pleaded her case. “Mitch, please, don’t do this,” she cried.
         But he did. And when he slammed the study door and bolted her out, she felt as if she were suffocating, the air bleeding from her lungs in the rawest of pain. She staggered back to their room, barely able to catch her breath. Cold comprehension stabbed anew, wounding her with painful revelation. She was alone and despised by her husband, a woman whose very existence depended on his love. Like oxygen to her body and hope to her soul.
         And now it was gone.
         Pain slashed through her like jagged pieces of glass, and she collapsed on their bed in unfathomable grief. His words droned in her brain, piercing anew and haunting her mind. She had feared his silence, thinking nothing could be worse.
         But she had been wrong.
         His words had gashed into the soft and tender flesh of all that she was, all she had been—a little girl, rejected and abused, fearing the absence of a man’s love. And now it was here—as cold and empty as the look in Mitch’s eyes—she was alone. A chill shivered through her and she keened on the bed with hurt so stabbing, she thought she would die. His love had been shut off, and a gaping hole had opened wide, leaving her empty and exposed to the whisperings of death.    
          He will never love you again.    
         Your marriage is a lie.    
         Your life is over.    
        “Nooooooo!” Her hoarse whisper echoed in the room, drowning out the lies. And then in a violent beat of her heart, she jerked her knees to her chest and cocooned into the safety of God, her arms clinging to his love with head bent and heart sheltered. “Oh, God, forgive me and save me . . . from myself and from my sin. I need you—and only you—to be the lover of my soul. Fill my emptiness with your Spirit and love so I may be all you’ve called me to be.”
         And with a final shiver of her body, she let it all go—Mitch’s anger, his silence, and the loss of his love, placing it where she knew it belonged—at the foot of God’s throne. And in that one simple transfer of will, sorrow seeped from her eyes as a wellspring of hope, weighting her pillow, but lifting her soul. Moonlight streamed across her bed like the grace of God, and finally she closed her eyes to take her rest.
         A woman broken in a bed of sorrow, yes . . . but whole in the hand of God.


As a reminder, comments are closed today so we can focus on writing, but check out the fun info below:


In honor of Valentine's Day, Julie Lessman, author of door-stopper novels exceeding 500 pages has written a flash fiction piece for Splickety Love Magazine! Why is this unusual, you ask?  Well, because the piece I wrote is a my version of a new ending for Gone With The Wind ... in 1,000 words, no less!!

"Flash Fiction" is "Fiction that is extremely brief, typically only a few hundred words, but can be up to 1,000 words or fewer in its entirety, so I wasn't sure I could do it. But I did and it was a blast, so if you would like to read it, you can buy Splickety Love digitally or in print when it comes out on FEBRUARY 17, 2017 OR just the February issue on Amazon. Details HERE.

A GLIMMER OF HOPE HAS BEEN REVISED!!If you haven't downloaded my freebie prequel novella, A Glimmer of Hope, do I have some good news for you!

Due to a number of requests, I have revised the novella to include four additional chapters with background info on Ben and Tess as well as a new ending, so if you haven't yet downloaded AGOH, this is the time to do so!  The new version is now available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo and is still  free.