Lightning Strikes (Inspiration)

Movies: A Gold Mine for Writing Ideas

With the popularity of streaming services (and a slight influence of the pandemic), not as many people crowd into theatres these days as they used to. And, of course, apps and early ticket sales mean entire generations with ZERO understanding of what life was in the old days. You know – when we had to stand in line for DAYS to get a ticket. (Good times) But movies are still top escapes when the world gets us down. And, for writers, they’re also perfect sources of inspiration. Not just those book adaptations, either. (Face it: 99.99% of the time, those are AWFUL) I’m talking those out of the blue stunners that leave your jaw hanging on the floor. And your brain’s wheels spinning. But even LITTLE films can spark your imagination – in ways you may not anticipate.

“Let’s All Go To the Movies”

Back in the Stone Age, going to the movies required advanced planning. We didn’t have an app to buy tickets. And you couldn’t reserve specific seats. Oh, no. Your butt needed to stand (sit, if you were smart enough to bring a folding chair) in line. And your seat was the luck of the draw.

If you planned ahead and were near the front of the line, you got a primo spot. Not so bright and near the back? Well, expect to get one of those neck-cracking seats in the very front.

Of course, we also didn’t have to contend with idiots ON their cell phones in the middle of the film. (Picture it: No sudden flashes of light throughout the theatre!) Sure, you had the occasional talker, but they were easy to evict.

And when you felt moved by something on the screen, you broke out your trust pen and notebook and cobbled down a frantic reminder in the flashes from the screen. Or, if you were like me, you wrote up the length of your arm and weirded out the person beside you. (THAT will shut up a person, in case you wondered) Then, when you got home, you attempted to translate your scribbles before scrubbing the marks away.

(Sharpie lasted longer)

It was a classic time when the world made sense, and venturing out on a weekend night MEANT something. And since you invested so much effort, you paid attention to what was happening on the screen.

EVERYTHING that was happening.

Plots, and Costumes, and Scenes – Oh, My!

Now, going to the movies doesn’t require much. You pop open an app, reserve a seat, and attempt not to scream at the disrespectful igits that sit around you. (Okay, THAT part is tricky)

And writers have, occasionally, lost the import of what they’re seeing. Unless employed as a recapper or reviewer, they zone out. There’s no INVESTMENT in the time. (And when watching is your job, you lose out on some of the magic)

So you overlook all of the potential stories sitting in front of your eyes and ears.

Because cinema – whether classic or modern – is chock FULL of inspiration. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction. Those moving pictures have tidbits ready to snag on your brain and get the wheels turning in new and different ways. And now that you DON’T have to contemplate a two-day wait for the next ticket, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you aren’t paying attention.

  • What costumes are the characters wearing? (Yes, even something as mundane as “today’s clothing)
  • How does the lighting change from one scene to the next? (Have you ever thought about it?)
  • What’s the soundtrack? (Do you know the songs? Can you recognize the instruments?)
  • Where does the action take place? (This world? This dimension?)
  • Has someone said a line that won’t leave your brain? (And, no, I’m not referring to anything that appeared in a trailer)

Especially if you’re sitting at home for your viewing, there’s no excuse NOT to pay attention and take notes.

Broad-Ranging Movies

My dad and I had a long-standing tradition: We traded movies. If there was something out he wanted to see, I’d go with him. And vice versa. (My mom isn’t big on either on our tastes) So I’ve sat through plenty of films I wouldn’t otherwise have bothered with.

And you know what?

I came away with writing ideas. Or characters. Or worldbuilding notes. Or even the perfect bit of dialogue I needed for a scene.

Because I paid attention and stayed open-minded about what I was willing to sit through. Was I thrilled about his choices all the time? Of course not. (I seriously doubt he enjoyed my selections most of the time) But I approached each one as a chance for inspiration and idea mining, and, as a result, I was never disappointed.

You have to be willing to do the same.

  • Watch old black and white films.
  • Pull out cartoons. (Don’t laugh – there are some real gems out there)
  • Grit your teeth and sit through a rom-com.
  • Find a security blanket and peep over the edge to watch horror flicks.
  • Get someone to recommend a well-done historical piece (and it should go without saying that you need to sample EVERY period from EVERY culture).
  • Roll your eyes through a farce.
  • And, yes, watch the pure action stuff.

You can find SOMETHING in each one to engage your brain. And it won’t be the plot most of the time. (It’s rarely the plot) But something will snag on your imagination and get your fingers itching to write.

I promise.

Movies Keep Me Writing

Sitting down with a movie keeps me sane.

But I also hit the theatres (okay, so it’s usually the couch these days) because I need fresh input. And I know the film studios will deliver – in unusual ways.

I created an entire chapter for my MindWalker series because of the threat display scene in Avatar. (Had nothing to do with alien species, but recognizing it for what it was gave my characters the motivation they needed)

I am NOT a Trekkie, but the enemy ships in Star Trek Beyond gave me the design idea I needed for the Leviathan in Synapse. (You got it – Dad wanted to see that movie)

The costumes in the Hunger Games series helped me world build the mirror dimension of Oubliette. And Alice in Wonderland helped me populate it. (I DID use Stranger Things for some additional help there, but it’s not a movie)

Not a plot in the bunch. But I churned out THOUSANDS of words as a result of those viewings. (And all of the soundtracks found their way into my Spotify)

You no longer have to plan for days to go to a film; you can download or even stream it unlimited times. So watch it once for fun. Then watch it again to give your writing brain the nourishment it needs.

You WON’T regret it.

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