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In this post we will touch on Lakin's approach to writing fiction, which is to view your story as a series of scenes as seen through the lense of a camera. For the full scope of what she has to offer, I highly recommend this book to be added to your own personal writer's toolbox. It could save you time and effort and give you a concrete way to reach your reader, ridding you of any guesswork. Sprinkled throughout Lakin's book are numerous passages from books and movies to illustrate her points. A handy list of them is included at the end.
Most important, there is much more to this book than is covered in this post, such as how to combine camera shots for the best outcome, how to use visual motifs and symbols, and more. I hope the post will spark your interest in reading it for yourself and reaping all it has to offer. Lakin has written three other books on writing and many fiction books. Next I want to study her book, Writing the Heart of your Story: A Guide to Crafting an Unforgettable Novel, which details scene construction (and dip a toe in one of her fiction books . . . just for fun, of course).
Before you begin, you might want to make room in your closet for more hats other than the editor's, illustrator's, writer's, marketer's, etc., hats you already wear. To name a few, you might add chapeaus for cinematographer, production designer, and screenwriter. Save your fanciest topper for you as director, as you will be donning this hat to tell your story in a series of scenes as if it were a movie.
Lakin has handily narrowed down the types of camera shots to two: stationary and moving. Stationary shots are the most common shots in movies and on TV. "These essential shots define our world . . . We are not always moving . . . We see life most often [this way], whether close up . . . or far away."
"Moving shots mimic the way our eyes follow what's happening . . . The right choice of a moving shot will effect pacing and tension . . . Novelists have a wonderful medium in which to translate moving shots into powerful prose."
Begin by identifying the high moment of your scene--the moment of greatest impact. You will need to decide which camera shots to use leading up to the high moment, and then the best shots for whatever happens afterwards. Once you know the high moment and how your plot builds to it,
you can work backward and forward. Some basic shots Lakin describes:
- Establishing Shot (ES): Each time the scene changes the time and place need to be established. In most cases, it is best to keep the ES short--move on to the main part of the scene. Omniscient POV is okay. Give just enough details, then move on.
- Three Basic Distances:
- The Close-Up or Two-Shot (CU): The CU is used when you want to zero in on a detail, such as an expression on a character's face or an object that is the point of the scene. The common two-shot shows two people in conversation or relating with one another. CU's tell the reader, "Pay attention here!" You can reveal a clue that is not explained until later to add tension and your reader's curiosity.
- Full or Medium Shot (MS): Full shots can be full body shots or shots from the waist up, showing body language and facial expressions. MS shots can also show a small group of people, such as a family sitting at the dinner table eating and talking.
- Long Shot (LS): LS's in novels are effective if showing something that might be coming or what might be happening such as a threatening tornado or hurricane off in the distance, which can add tension. LS's can add tension by drawing out a high moment. The example used is an excerpt from Predator by Terry Blackstock: "[Krista] has to wait (and so does the reader) agonizing moments until the body is pulled out and she can make out the shirt and hair--not the face because she's not close enough--" we've had to wait (and sit on the edge of our seat) for the final moment when she recognizes her sister.
- Every scene has a purpose in advancing the plot and every camera shot has a purpose.
- Scenes need to be shown from the POV character's eyes and reveal her frame of mind.
- Each scene needs to be planned out and the best shots chosen for greatest impact.
- Scenes are a string of moments leading up to the high moment and may include movements, internal thoughts, gestures and expressions and dialog.
- View my scenes as camera shots and see if I can improve on how to show them.
- Make a list of the scenes in my WIPs, identify the high moments and make sure I've done what I can to build to the high moment.
- Consider shortening my ES's.
- Make sure every scene has a purpose. Right now I can think of at least one part of a scene where I described my character waiting for her friends to sneak out of their house, and the night sounds she listened to. The description popped into my head as a part that could be eliminated unless I assign it a purpose other than simply listening to sleepy crickets crick.
- Read the books and watch the movies used as illustrations, partly for fun--I'm always looking for good reads and shows, but mostly to take Lakin up on understanding these works' importance as seen through the authors' lenses.
Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate, has published over 40 articles for adults and children and six short stories for children. Recently she completed Joyce Sweeney's online fiction and picture book courses. She is currently working on several projects for children. Follow Linda on