Recently, I’ve found myself envious of filmmakers. A talented production designer can decorate a room with specific artifacts, immediately conveying a mood, time, and what to expect. All without one word spoken. Damn, I’m jealous!
Novelists don’t have that luxury. We must use words to convey information, all while not using too many. A certain author (who shall remain nameless—let’s just say I was required to read her in high school) spent 5 pages describing a leaf. A &^@!* leaf!!! What made it worse? The leaf wasn’t important, which drove me crazy. I vowed to never describe a leaf in my work unless it was central to the plot.
All art forms have their challenges. The key is to use what works for you, and you CAN benefit from all those filmmakers you might be jealous of.
Some of the best nature footage is shot at early dawn or dusk. Many times, the photographer has to wait hours in the cold dark to get ‘that one shot.’
How does this benefit the novelist? Find movies which are filmed where your book is set. Let those directors and cinematographers wake up at the crack of dawn to get the amazing footage on film! Rent the movie and use the visuals to spur your description of a place.
For example, my current work in progress is set in Savannah, Georgia. While I’ve been there many times and have pictures, I can’t just drive there every time I need visual stimulation. That’s where movies come in.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
Directed by Clint Eastwood. For outdoor scenery, this movie didn’t help me much. But there are a few scenes in the River Street bars, and those helped immensely. Seeing John Cusack’s amber-colored beer glowing as he sipped it, the dark mahogany tables and intimate bar settings helped spur description for a few scenes I needed.
Directed by Sam Raimi, co-written by Billy Bob Thornton. Both who make more money than me, so let them stand in a swamp at four in the morning to get that footage!
The opening credits of this movie spurred more description than I could have hoped for. I think the sequence lasts about six minutes, and I must have played it over and over, frantically writing down what I saw on screen. Eerie Cypress trees, swampy water with tree reflections, alligators swimming in the water, etc. There’s not any way I could have gotten this footage myself, but by watching a few minutes on film, it gave me the visual stimulation I needed to write about an area which was on screen.
Of course, Hollywood takes liberties with all films, so make sure you verify scenery if you’re writing a key scene. But as an extra visual stimulation, I found the movies can be a valuable resource.