When I attended my first writing conference, I received an amazing piece of advice that has stood me in good stead.
“Write the movie they’ll make from your book.”
This helps with not only positive reinforcement (This book is going to be so good, they’ll make a movie out of it!) but it also keeps you focused on striking the right balance between showing and telling.
If you’ve got a ton of backstory to fill in, your first inclination might be to write five pages of it, but if your reader becomes your movie viewer, you know that watching that on screen would probably be deadly dull. Writing like you’re watching it helps you find where to use narrative vs dialogue, and it can be a really useful tool.
Here’s my for instance: in my book, Someday In Dublin, Michael and Amy meet in a Dublin bar, then strike up a romance. Somewhere along the way, Michael ends up visiting Amy in Pennsylvania and they spend a whirlwind day in Philly. In a movie, this would be a montage of them running up the steps of the art museum like Rocky and shoveling down cheesesteaks and pointing at the Liberty Bell. On paper, it needed a little more fun and heart to paint the picture:
They hopped a cab to South Street, home of all sorts of wild and interesting shops, including one devoted entirely to condoms and sex toys. Michael grabbed her hand, pulling her into the shop and proceeded to make her laugh over various items until she begged him to let her go and find a restroom before she embarrassed herself.
Which, of course, led him to a perfect revenge for her earlier mocking at the Art Museum, and he took full advantage, making bawdy jokes and even tickling her as they walked down South Street searching for a public restroom.
Eventually, they opted to walk over to the restaurant where Amy had made their dinner reservations since it wasn’t far away. Ralph’s was a Philadelphia institution, and after gorging themselves on Italian food, it was all they could do to roll back into a cab again for the ride to the train station.
Amy fell asleep against his shoulder on the train, and Michael carefully lifted his arm, nestling her against his chest and just enjoying having her there. Unfortunately, he wasn’t familiar with the train stops and they overshot their station and had to get off the train and ride the next one back one stop, laughing at their own stupidity.
By the time they’d made the drive back from the station, they were both dragging. Amy suggested a cup of tea, and she broke out the Barry’s, curling up on one end of her tiny couch as Michael sunk into the other end.
“You’d think we walked the entire city,” he said. “Or maybe it’s just the extra weight I’ve put on today, dragging my arse down into this sofa.”
“I told you not to get the lasagna,” she chided. “It’s outstanding, but I think it can be applied topically to your thighs and stomach.”
“And tomorrow you think to feed me scrapple,” he sighed. “I’m not sure that I can answer the challenge.”
Amy smiled. “I’ll let you opt out of the scrapple. But I will insist that you try Lebanon Bologna and Birch Beer.”
“It’s like Root Beer, but better. Not alcoholic.”
“What’s the point in that?”
“You’ll like it,” she promised. “Trust me.”
He took a drink of his tea and reached across, setting his hand on her leg and giving it a squeeze.
“I’ve had a grand day.”
“Me, too,” she said.
“What’s the Philadelphia word for Slainté?” he asked.
She raised her cup. “Fuhgeddaboudit,” she said in her thickest South Philly Mobster accent.
“Fuhgeddaboudit,” he repeated, clicking his cup to hers. “Only, I hope I never do.”
Amy took a sip of tea, and she knew that like all days with Michael, she probably never would, either.
And thus, Amy and Michael are cemented in the movie montage that’s running in our head as we read, even before Amy’s willing to admit they’re a montage at all.
Now if they could just find a way to make interactive CGI that popped out of the book as you read….