How to make your book read like a movie

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I have two pieces of advice today:

1. Don’t write your book as if it were a movie.

2. Do write your book as if it were a movie.

I love movies – and have spent considerable time daydreaming about my books as movies. There’s something magical about the scenery and the characters coming to life in front of you – with background music, no less! But some writers fall into trouble when they try to achieve that effect in the book itself.

For instance:

Against the left-hand wall were boxes of restaurant provisions, primarily paper towels for the rest rooms, candles for the tables, and janitorial supplies purchased in bulk. The right-hand wall, which faced the beach and the ocean beyond, featured two doors and a series of large windows, but the coast was not visible because the glass was protected by metal Rolladen shutters. The banquet room felt like a bunker.

            Sole Survivor, Dean Koontz, p. 239

What happened here? Koontz seems to think he has to  describe every feature of every scene down to the minutest detail for the scene to be vivid in the reader’s mind. But would the hero – who is about to find out whether his daughter is alive or dead – even notice janitorial supplies purchased in bulk? When you watch a movie, do you note the size, shape, color, and texture of every object in sight, or do you subconsciously register a general idea, and go on taking in the action?

The last sentence in this sample sums up, in seven words, what the preceding sixty-one words drag out. All Koontz needed to do was make some passing remarks about his hero squinting in the dim light of the mostly obstructed windows, or about the irony of the ordinariness of the restaurant supplies contrasted with the life-changing revelation he knows he is about to have.

Take the less-is-more approach. One or two details can go a long way into showing your readers where they are, but it will only hurt your writing if you describe everything. You’re the writer, not the set designer. You’re also not the fight choreographer. Don’t describe every single move in a fight scene. Your readers will get lost if they have to imagine each strike according to your exact specifications. A scene in a movie requires extensive choreography, but the viewer only perceives lots of movement and tension and clanging blades or flashing bullets, and that’s all you need to convey in your book. Not “a cut down across the left, followed by a two-handed thrust and a sweeping kick” for sentence after sentence after sentence.

The Takeaway:

Writing a book and making a movie require different methods to produce similar results. Give your readers a sense of scenery and action, but don’t get bogged down in details. Get back to the story!

Read my other post on how to “show, don’t tell” by writing with the screen in mind. 

About Stephanie Orges

Stephanie is an award-winning copywriter, aspiring novelist, and barely passable ukulele player. Here, she offers writing prompts, tips, and moderate-to-deep philosophical discussions. You can also find her on and Pinterest.

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9 Comments

  1. im baaaaack haha. sorry i havent been around i was in the hospital with multiple stab wounds and dehydration. Im currently vacationing in arizona, some vacation eh? Anyways, what a wonderfull peice of advice!! I took a look a way of the samurai, i dont know if you recall my post when i was practicing combat sequences, after reading this. I yhought, that is exactly my issue! I have to say bekind, every time i visit your blog, i always leave that much better!! Thank you for our expert advice.

    • My gosh – you’re kidding about the stab wounds, aren’t you??? If not, this would be the second time and Jeremy, you need to move to a safer neighborhood or buy some pepper spray or something. I hope you feel better.
      Thanks so much for reading!

      • no, no joke. I have been i physical therapy for a while, but everythings getting better. I guess the best thing to do is hit the ground running, you know. Im gonna keep writing and keep living! thank you.

        • Good grief!!! Jeremy, I don’t know what’s going on in your life, but you need to find a way to be safer. I think you already said you know Judo or something…well, maybe get a taser or some mace or SOMETHING, too. I’m praying for you.

    • well, im gonna post what happened so.. youll know soon enough what happened :), im just gonna keep rolling!

  2. Thanks for your advice, and helping us to be better writers.

  3. No offense intended, but if Koontz writes like that and you recommend not to, I”ll have to go with Koontz. As a matter of fact, what this article did, if anything, is convince me of the exact opposite of what the author intended. Koontz’s, may I remind you, is among the top ten authors when it comes to the most books ever sold. The man knows what he is doing.

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