Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Camera, Lights, Action!

Write like a film director? Maybe...

One of the things I found hard to get to grips with when I first started writing thrillers was the idea of tension or conflict on almost every page. ‘What, every page,’ I asked myself? Surely not…
But then I realised that the kind of reader I was aiming for wanted and expected a thriller to be a fast-paced page turning epic that took them on a roller coaster of a ride until they came to the satisfying ending. Okay, perhaps not always that fast, but it is definitely a different kind of read from a literary, Jane Austen - type story.
One reason for this is that nowadays readers are also used to watching movies and TV that fast cut to the action and leave little in – between. When I am writing I visualise every scene as if I am watching a film and I cut in and out as if I’m a film director.
I am not saying that all types of fiction should be like that – far from it - but if you are going to go with a genre you’d better give it due thought. As to veer away from it, is bound to disappoint readers who expect a certain kind of read with a certain kind of genre.

Seeing my story as a film may not always work out well but it gives me a way forward, at least. I also try to infuse each scene with some degree of tension even if it is only a character’s inner thoughts which may be in turmoil. There are of course, other things that can add to tension such as setting, weather and bigger picture happenings (e.g. war, plague or world events).
Scene and chapter endings are also places where tension should be enough to ensure a reader continues to read - in other words, the cliff hanger ending. Not always easy, but one way is to leave a scene early in the middle of conflict (and sometimes switching to another point in the story) so that the reader must continue to read to find what happens.

All if, buts and maybe’s you say… But that’s how I do it…

So what about you? Do you cope well with tension and conflict in your writing?


  1. Thank you, Pat. This is a really helpful and timely post for me while I'm trying to make sure my novel doesn't sag in the middle. I'm tinkering now, unsure when I should leave well alone.
    I'm tempted to comb through it and look upon it as if it's a film. I think that will help with the bigger picture. It's in the present tense with a first person narrator, which makes it very immediate and intense, but it's hard sometimes to have only the one viewpoint to see things from. There's a lot of those inner thoughts!

    Many thanks for such an interesting post.

  2. What a brilliant post! You are so right. We live in such a visual age right now. I sometimes try to make my novels cinematic because I know that these days readers are easily distracted!

  3. Great post, Pat! You're right about visualizing a scene. I use clues to add to tension. Sometimes my clues aren't so obvious, but alas, I put them in for those who go back and had an AHA! moment.

  4. Hi Pat, I took a class several years ago, where the tutor was really big on this topic. I have trained myself to make every scene in my novel as filmic as I can...

    This has presented quite a lot of problems with first chapters, as I'm still torn between jumping straight into the action, and learning a little about the set up first.

    I believe that as long as you hint at the 'promise' of the story early on, you'll be able to keep the reader turning pages. Good post.