Cinema Toast

Thank You for Acting!

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When I read a book, it doesn’t take me long to cast the “movie” that plays out in my mind. A few choice adjectives and verbs, a page or two of dialog, and I get a fairly clear picture of the characters. I suppose that most people do the same thing, considering the cheers and upset that an announcement of a movie adaptation can bring once the cast is announced.

I always thought of her as a blonde. And shouldn’t he be taller? In the novel it was a little girl, not a boy. Nobody will ever be perfectly happy in these cases.

When I write, I try to “reverse engineer” the story, and I feel like it makes a world of difference in my dialog. I cast my characters just as if I were creating a film with an unlimited budget. I pick actors that are suited to my characters, and then I collect pictures of them and watch their movies. I follow many of them on twitter, to pick up their natural patterns and phrases.

I put together a notebook with their pictures, along with my own character sketches and back-stories. I also collect photos of places in the story, weapons or objects that each character has and uses. I keep all my technical and historical research in this notebook, too.

Why bother? Does all of this really help? YES!

When I write an argument or a quiet conversation, I want it to sound realistic. If I couldn’t possibly imagine the actor I have cast in a role saying something, I change it to what he might say. Some of the most interesting plot twists have come about this way, and I’m always a little surprised and pleased when it happens. Pictures are also a great tool for referencing eye color, scars, etc. to keep continuity and flow in the story.

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I recently began a virtual notebook on Pinterest for my current work in progress. It was an experiment, as I have a hard copy of my cast in a real notebook, too. With the exception of a full character sketch—which I could add in notes, it’s worked very nicely. I plan to do this for all of my future novels as well. This should save time, paper, trees, and might even get me some input about how other people see these characters.

To the actors I’ve cast in my story, I’d just like to say thank you for acting. You are truly an inspiration!

To see my Pinterest Board, visit

That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema. Thanks for reading.

Cinema Toast

Watch it Again

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What makes a movie re-watchable? What makes a casual fan into a devotee? Is it the actors? Is it the story and the writing? Maybe it’s what the director says subtly through the sub-plot. Perhaps it’s the musical score.

I think that any of these ingredients help to make great art, but I truly believe that the perfect symphony of all of these creates the magic that draws us back time and time again.

The story is the foundation, of course. Without a great story, two hours of pretty people is still just a two dimensional way to pass time. We need to care. We long to stretch our feelings—to laugh, to cry, to rage and triumph. We desire a step away from our desks. We want to wander the world through time. Exercising our imagination is healthy.

The actors are the vessels for the stories. They convince us. They fool us, and we love it. A great actor can seduce us and frighten us at the same time. The good ones don’t ever let us know how incredible they are. We just can’t stop watching them, and we don’t know why.

My all-time favorite leading man is Cary Grant. He usually played the hero—sometimes quite begrudgingly—but he could play a villain, too. He played a slick con man, a suspected serial killer, and a ruthless gangster. He made us doubt him. He made us hate him. As a war bride, Grant was an ugly woman, but we loved him all the more.

He was terrific when he played the ordinary guy in the wrong place at the wrong time. He showed us all how to rise above a bad situation and persevere to become that champion.

Some of his best roles were when his character kept us guessing about his motives. He played a bad-boy so well, that every woman who watches is certain she can change his ways. And if not, so much the better. That’s the kind of actor that makes us watch.

Behind the actors is the score and soundtrack. The music is the medium that heightens our emotions. It’s the instant connection that carries us through the highs and lows of the story arc. The right score turns a tense moment into a nail-biter. A sweet exchange suddenly becomes the setting for love to blossom.

The director is the master of the imaginary world. He says when the sun rises and sets. What you see on the silver screen is the story that the director wants you to see. A talented director weaves the sub-plot and hints precisely, revealing details at just the right moment to keep us on the edge of our theatre seats.

Consider Spielberg or Hitchcock. They orchestrate amazing casts into tapestries of intrigue and romance. They inject humor when we can’t take one more second of fear or sorrow.

Think about the movies you watch over and over. What makes them special? What keeps you coming back? I want to hear from you!

That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema. Thanks for reading.

Cinema Toast

Writing for the Movies

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After the amazing fun I experienced last November participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo~ 50,000 word novel in 30 days), I decided to get in on April’s Script Frenzy. It is a challenge to write a 100-page script (I’m writing a screenplay.) in 30 days.

I’ve written screenplays before, and I’ve done lots of research on what makes a good script. I study movies all the time.

I like the pace of writing screenplays. One page equals one minute on screen. It moves. I started writing my story last night and in 90 minutes, I had written eight pages.

Are they perfect? Nope. I didn’t say they were perfect. I said they were written. With a goal of 100 pages, I am now 8% finished. Yes, I’m a “glass is half full” kind of gal.

What will I do with this screenplay? Am I going to market it to Hollywood? Will George Clooney beg to play the lead?

The main character is a nineteen-year-old boy, so I hope Clooney isn’t too disappointed. No, I have always dreamed of making a movie. Thus, before I let any more of my life slip into a scrapbook, I’m going to do it.

I can’t tackle a project like this by myself, however. I have enlisted the help of my family and friends, and I will be building a campaign through to raise a little capital.

What’s so special about my story? It’s based on a tale told to me by a family friend when I was just a kid. I recently invited him back out to my house for dinner, and he told the story again—knowing that I wanted to make it into a film. He told my family about a series of events that happened to him and to his friends when they were teenagers. Remarkably, the story hadn’t changed in decades. With as unbelievable as his account is, this fact impressed me. He always stresses that it’s just a story, but WOW! What a story it is.

It will require special effects. I happen to know a man that can do just about anything with smoke and mirrors. My movie will require some minor pyrotechnics. I have another friend who can blow up anything. Up to this point, I have not really seen the positive side of this, but this project might change my mind.

My husband and sons have, and regularly use, sound and video editing software. They are all artists with mad print and computer skills. My husband is also in construction, and can build whatever we don’t already have. We have a house and land that is very close to the locations where the original events actually occurred.

Finally, I have raised two sons who love to act. They have participated in plays and musicals at church and school. They are naturals. And they can take direction objectively. Along with a good friend and a precious niece, I have my cast.

With all of this in my corner, the task of writing becomes simple. I describe the people and the places. I tell what they are doing. I put words in their mouth. I leave out the boring parts and embroider in some action.

I’m excited. Can you tell?

I’ll keep you all posted as the month progresses!

That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema. Thanks for reading.

Cinema Toast

Learning Show-Don’t Tell from Movies!

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As a writer, I hear the same thing all the time. Show, don’t tell. But what does that really mean?

As a movie-lover, it’s an easier concept to grasp, because that’s what movies are about. They show the story as it happens.

Back to writing, how do I know if I’m telling instead of showing? I have a quick method for finding “telling” indicators: adverbs. Words ending in –ly often point to instances where the writer is telling but not showing. An occasional adverb isn’t a problem, but finding dozens on a single page is a big red flag.

Here is an example:     He entered the classroom timidly.

We know our subject is a male. We know he’s going into a classroom, and that he’s nervous. We don’t know anything else, because the author didn’t provide any imagery.

What does it look like? Think of the sentence as it might play out in a movie. What is happening in this picture? How long would something like this take or seem to take? Close your eyes for a moment and imagine. See every detail.

Could it be something more like this?

The steel handle felt cool in his clammy fingers. When he heard the click, he pushed the heavy door open, just enough to see what awaited him. The eyes of thirty students gazed his direction. He wanted to run, but it there was no going back now. He took one step inside, and then another. Half a dozen more brought him to his desk. He pressed the top with his fingertips to steady his balance and his nerves.

He tried to force a smile, but it felt so uncomfortable that he gave up the attempt. He turned to the small black board behind him. He pinched his eyes closed and let the green and yellow swirls of color play in the blackness for a second or two. When he opened his eyes again he was still upright. Good. He decided to proceed.

He picked up the new white stick of chalk and pressed it to the board. It hissed through the straight lines and stuttered over the curves. He looked at the words, Mr. Trumble. He imagined the voice of the little boy from his first class. “Mr. Trumble trembles.”

He replaced the chalk in its tray and turned to face his students. He struggled to maintain a steady breath. He could feel the drops of sweat forming in his hairline. He blinked several times. “Good morning, class,” he said in a weak, hoarse voice.


The latter includes sensory imagery and details. The reader feels the cool handle, the weight of the door, and sweat. The reader hears the sound of the chalk against the board and his hoarse voice. The reader sees the poor man’s weak smile. More than that, the reader now feels what the man feels. The writer creates empathy with the character, and makes him real to the reader.

Even more, the reader now knows that the subject is a grown man and the teacher of the class. We know his name, and that this isn’t his first time teaching. If he’s taught before, why is he this nervous? What made him this way? What happened in his past?

This type of writing not only paints a vivid picture, but raises questions that the writer can answer later. It begs the reader to continue.

Whenever I write, I try to include what I see in my mind’s eye, as if I were watching a movie. I try to include all the details that propel the story and make the characters richer.

If you struggle with the “show, don’t tell” concept in your writing, try this same exercise. Find the first –ly adverb in your work and imagine what the scene would look like in a movie. Say it out loud. Pretend you’re explaining it to someone who can’t see it. Write it out. That’s what story-telling is. That’s what good writing is all about.


Cinema Toast

Happily Ever After…

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Last week in my writers’ group, we engaged in a brief discussion about how to resolve a story to the reader’s satisfaction. Chiefly, at what point does the villain step beyond redemption and into the valley of death?

I love my group. We have great discussions.

I asked this question because I always (well, not always) feel torn between killing my villain, and having him captured to face the consequences of his actions. I hold firmly to the belief that the rules of poetic justice always provide the reader with satisfaction. I also believe that the punishment should fit the crime.

I want to know what you think. Does an antagonist always deserve death? Should he always be made to answer for his crimes or sins? Does it make a difference to you which character dispenses the justice?

I prefer the punishment to be dealt by the person who is wronged, however, I hate the idea of some of my characters suffering through the anguish of knowing that someone else died by their hand. Yes, I know they aren’t real, but they’re real to me while I write them.

In the movies it’s easier to see. Someone steals a million dollars. He deserves to be caught. He must give the money back.

A bully smacks a child—he’s going to meet a bigger man’s fist.

A murderer’s punishment, though… is it always death? Will he suffer more in prison? What if he’s insane? What if he kills a woman? A child? What if he only threatens to kill them? When must he die? A writer faces this dilemma every day.

In slasher films, like the Nightmare On Elm Street movies, the terror can return again and again, because of Freddie’s spectral nature. In Bonnie and Clyde, the villains (heroes) make their last stand to be gunned down for their crimes.

In Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Thelma and Louise, the ending remains ambiguous, because the heroes/ villains are sympathetic, but still have consequences to face.

In the Star Wars saga, poetic justice reigns throughout the films. Everyone who makes those fatal errors in judgment must pay, sometimes with life and sometimes with an appendage. In the end of Return of the Jedi, though, we see the ultimate redemption of even the most corrupt.

In 2001’s Ocean’s Eleven, and the sequels, the heroes are all criminals, but we delight in their success, because the group takes on an even bigger “villain.” The smarter scoundrels win.

What movies have the best endings to you? Which movies left you flat? Which ones made you angry that the bad guy got away? Is there a motion picture that made you happy when the villain succeeded with his evil plot?

That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema. Thanks for reading!