How CinemaSins Can Help Writers

Now, I know that CinemaSins exclusively pokes fun at filmography (they even have a little note on their intro screens saying that the books mean nothing), but their prodding and mocking of filmatic plot holes could be transferred to the unaware plot bunnies or weird deliberate twists of plot in fiction.

Whilst #3 came out recently (Jan ’14, anyway), I look to #2 of their Harry Potter series – since my father has also criticised, without seeing these sorts of things, the points like that of Dobby and clothes at 7.58. “Now these aren’t yours clothes, Dobby. These are for cleaning.” 😛

Personally, I like CinemaSins. I’m nodded along. I find these Sins amusing and so blunt. It’s not charm, but the points raised are points that, from an outside view, are incredibly truthful. When you think about it.

Following that, what do you think of JK’s lapse in explaining quite how the rules work in this case? I’m not saying that she didn’t think about what she was writing – she’s probably the queen of planning for years, and for that she is admirable – but there are times when one questions the devised systems. Eg. This wizard going around the web: no wand > super magic.

(And he’s multi-tasking)

Just yes. EVERYTHING YES. (I’d also like to give a huge thumbs up to the usernames of those Tumblrs ^.^)

Removing from these examples, we might look at the frankness with which CinemaSins treats whatever films they dissemble: they have ‘reader’s eyes’ and notice every sort of minute problem. This is what we need as writers – we appreciate the critiques rather than praise, because we can learn very little about improving our writing from abstract praise.

Everything can be improved.

For instance, “this is the luckiest and most convenient set of circumstances for these characters to defy death.” See, I wouldn’t want my own readers to be thinking that. Coincidence is the grim reaper to realistic plot.

Removing from these examples, we might look at the frankness with which CinemaSins treats whatever films they dissemble: they have ‘reader’s eyes’ and notice every sort of minute problem. This is what we need as writers – we appreciate the critiques rather than praise, because we can learn very little about improving our writing from abstract praise.

Everything can be improved.

For instance, “this is the luckiest and most convenient set of circumstances for these characters to defy death.” See, I wouldn’t want my own readers to be thinking that. Coincidence is the grim reaper to realistic plot.

Subtext from the movies.

I’ve spoken about using more subtext when writing novels before, but only recently did I once again come across a couple of posts about the constant inclusion of subtext and theme or extra-textual mysteries.

Have you ever heard of the Disney Show ‘Gravity Falls’? It’s new, but it’s pretty incredible in its little secrets that don’t necessary in the plot. Theories have set YouTube alight. You see, even the title sequence features backwards language suggestive of the ciphers that feature throughout the [first, so far] series. They tell us more about the characters than a casual observer might.

Okay, subtext isn’t so important, but I’m sure there are many writers who’d love to be able to weave in something more secretive than the straightforward plot; we want readers to spot the references – and I don’t [necessarily] mean pop-culture – and to find themselves in the midst of a story they weren’t quite expecting.

(I might add, just out of speculation, that the book the ‘science wizard’ above is reading could have been placed there as a nod or foreshadow towards book three’s time-travel. Probably unlikely – but it’s these kind of unconsci-textual blips I think more writers should slip into their scenes.)

That’s one of the reasons I like transforming my writing into scenes in my head. If your scene was visualised, what would be where? Would there be messages on the walls? Or clothes on the stairways? Maggots in the flowerbeds or in the pantry? I guess it’s contrary to the normal notion of writing – or the Chekhov’s Gun principle anyway – of only mentioning things that are important, but I, as a reader, like to know that the world into which I’m being coaxed has four walls, 3D, and not simply two.

Then again, one must remember that ‘important’ also relates to scene setting. Try:

“Alex walked into her uni room. Like all the other rooms, it had white walls, three grey shelves, a medium-sized bed, a small chest of three drawers next to a big wardrobe and a large white sink.”

To say that says nothing about the character. Nada. Because you’re just seeing any other room. What makes it mine? Try this, instead:

“Alex sighed as she shifted her bag onto the wardrobe-door-knob. If she’d leave it amongst the stray papers by the radiator, it would end up being holepunched along with the rest of the flat panes. She danced around the cake-tin – it had already rolled out of its place between the east wall and the stash of papers draped over the chest of drawers, even when the double-size of the wardrobe meant her furnishings shifted together more than in the neighbouring bedroom – and flung herself onto her bed. The pattern of Poppies sewn in her duvet bulged up, and Alex dived under the bedclothes, where she latched onto a bean-filled bag of faded orange.

‘Ah, Pumpkin, I had wondered where you’d got to…’”

Beanies_AlexBAlready from that, we can sense that I’m not the tidiest of room-keepers. And I have a fondness for stuffed toys. As a reader, I’d expect to get a similar feel of messiness from the rest of description of the room.

Anyway, it’s good to get a different perspective on these sorts of things, and CinemaSins is great at that, at spotting what a writer themselves might miss simply because of the written words not performed. We say it’s best to step away from a novel, but coming back is less talked about. How do we deal with looking at our mistakes so that they are easier to change?

Writers!

  • Don’t be so stubborn/biased to your worlds – at first, they will be flawed.
  • Use the concept of a humorous film critique (after all, humour makes everything better) to assess all parts of your stories: concept, realism, plot, characters, etc.
  • At times, I think it is useful to read your novel that second time as if you are studying it like a film adaptation: what doesn’t fit with the prior ideas/expectations in your mind? What seems to be missing or surplus in the scene? Is this character saying the wrong thing in a scene where they act the same as usual?
  • Sense! 😉

Just think about it from another medium for a moment. Whilst prose writing is the end, there’s sense in stretching away from writing and seeing a scene unfurling in duocolour.

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4 thoughts on “How CinemaSins Can Help Writers

  1. Watching CinemaSins is like my guilty pleasure. I LOVE them way too much. I always crack up and they’re 96% usually right. (Though some of the stuff the deduct points for is kind of lame. I picked up more issues with Oz the Great and Powerful then they did!)

    1. Me, too! Makes me giggle so much when I want to procrastinate 😛
      Ah, yeah, sometimes it seems they’re weirdly selective, but I don’t really mind that. I mean, it’s all about opinion, just as writing is, in the end.

  2. I’ve never watched CinemaSins…I know, shocking, right? But I keep meaning to – I love poking at plot holes so I think I’ll really enjoy it. Have you seen Honest Trailers? They’re pretty good, too – more of a brief summary pointing out the flaws in movies and creating a trailer for the movie that was versus the idealized trailers movies usually get. It’s pretty funny. 😉

    I think that’s a great idea, btw, thinking of your book as a series of scenes. Anytime you can look at your writing from a different angle I think it really helps.

    1. Haha, not shocking. I’m sure there are many people who haven’t seen it.
      I’ve not seen enough Honest Trailers to say I have, but I definitely need to get around to. Maybe when I don’t have uni work to do 😛

      Glad you like the idea! I guess that’s how my writing mind actually works, since I’m used to the acting side of plots (before I started seriously writing), so I have to think of what the scenes would be like in a more visual way.

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