When people ask me how many fiction books do you read I say – very little.
OMG !! I’m breaking a cardinal rule of a novelist. Weren’t you supposed to read tons and tons of books to hone your writing craft?
Not necessarily. At least, not the type of popular novels I write. Instead, I watch tons and tons of movies and by watching them and analyzing them they have helped me immensely in my writing.
Why does this happen?
Rekha Ambardar at Writing-World wrote a very good article that explains why watching and analyzing movies can be very important. She writes:
Although anything can happen in mainstream fiction, most stories and movies follow a three-act structure, and readers and viewers are conditioned to expect it. Genres are devised by customizing the three-act plot points to create a romance, thriller, fantasy, mystery or whatever.
Lisa Wingate, author of Tending Roses (Penguin Putnam NAL), discussed the merits of the three-act structure at a recent workshop. According to Wingate, this type of structure gives the writer a skeleton to hang the story on and to flesh it out.
Here’s the act structure according to Lisa. Think about the many movies you’ve watched and how they follow the structure pretty closely.
Act 1 — Setup and Explosive Incident
This is the opening scene showing the characters and where they live. In most cases the main character is spiritually bereft since there has been a loss of some kind. The Setup is short, only a few pages. In a movie, it’s a few seconds. The Explosive Incident blasts the plot into motion.
I find that the opening scene in many popular novels is there to grab you and pull you into the story. In CyberKill, my recent novel, the main character, Travis Cole, is trying to tie up things at MIT. He has to close down his artificial intelligence software projects before reporting to the US Army Information Warfare Laboratory. Within just a few pages, the opening ends with a dire prediction that something has gone wrong and the consequences of it will flow through the novel causing untold havoc.
Act 2 — The Journey
This is the longest part of the book or movie. The character begins his journey in which he tries different ways of solving his problem.
In Cyberkill, something is not only trying to harm him in constantly increasing ways, but his young daughter is being stalked trough cyberspace to reach him.
The character goes through a maze, he tries different passages that look promising but is blocked each time and is forced back to a lower starting point.
In CyberKill, Travis Cole and his collegues try to figure out the puzzle of cyber-attacks on the US.
Somewhere near the middle the character feels that he can solve his problem by cutting corners, by making spiritual and moral compromises.
Travis discovers more clues that points both him and the reader in the direction of the solution – but it’s a false solution.
There’s a man-eating tiger in the maze. In the movie, lightning strikes the ranch and it catches fire. John decides to sell his cattle.
The real threat appears and threatens to kill Cole’s daughter. He is forced into tee open and must survive a number of attempts on his life.
A huge life or death question occurs here and the character has to confront and overcome his demons.
Cole discovers that his well-organized intellectual life of logic has to be dropped in order to confront the final threat to his life and the country. he is forced to confront and use emotion to save himself and the planet.
Part 3 — Highest Point and Resolution
The character and the reader/audience are suddenly lifted out of their hopelessness. There is an epiphany of sorts. The demons are defeated and scattered.
Cole uses the weapon of emotion to find the threats weakness and over come it.
I found that using movies and models is an effective way to write popular fiction.