Other than reading toilsome books, writing papers may be the most difficult part of school. Yeah, taking a test is hard, but all you have to do for that is memorize answers. To write an essay one must come up with original ideas based on an assigned (and, most likely, boring) topic. That is not easy. In fact, it’s downright hard. However, what if I told you that everything you need to write a good essay, you can learn from watching movies? Hard to believe? I thought so too, but Dr. Douglas put forward a pretty good case.
How does watching movies aid in essay-writing? The answer is simple: films tell stories and a good essay should tell a story as well. It may be a story of why one should recycle or why you hate orangutans, but every essay should tell a story. Therefore, simply by understanding storytelling and film-making (most of which is general knowledge), one can become a better writer in no time flat.
Douglas splits his book into three main sections: pre-production, production and post-production. Each section has multiple short chapters, about the length of blog posts, describing different comparisons between film-making and essay-writing.
Pre-production covers basic brainstorming, researching, and plotting. Douglas gives tips on how to push past writer’s block, how to gather reliable sources, and how to form a good thesis simply by drawing comparisons between films and writing. Ever wished there was an easy way to find a thesis? Turns out there is… which you can find by watching Star Wars. Sound strange? Douglas explains it with surprising ease, taking a few lines of dialogue and stringing it out into a motto which is easy to remember.
Production covers the actual writing of the paper. Just like filming when movie-making, the actual writing of an essay takes very little time (filming versus planning/editing). Most of the time is spent in pre- and post-production. Still, the writing is important. Douglas points out the importance of active voice, the importance of description (but not too much), and the importance of conflict in storytelling. Again, he does this by simply pointing to films which most Americans have probably heard of, if not seen. It’s a clever and creative way to entertain and engage while actually teaching valuable information.
Post-production covers the editing process. Douglas describes the importance of multiple takes (writing a paragraph in multiple different ways) as well as emphasizing the importance of not throwing away previous drafts. Just because I don’t think this section works now doesn’t mean I should get rid of it for all time. It may fit better later or I may feel differently tomorrow; that’s why Douglas suggests creating a place for these ‘rejects’ in case I need it for later. Douglas also covers how to get rid of superfluous material and discusses when a ‘scene’ should begin. As the old adage goes: Writing is rewriting. Though you may have written the final sentence in the essay, odds are that you are far from finished with it.
Douglas ends the book with a short interview with Shirl Hendryx (screenwriter for such shows as Bonanza, Mission: Impossible, and Columbo). They discuss how emotions (fears, doubts, anxiety) distract writers from becoming the best they could be. The interview isn’t very long, but it provides a fitting conclusion to a book about writing by interviewing an expert in the field.
“Overall, this is a marvelous book that manages to provide insights into the writing process while being quite entertaining.”
Overall, this is a marvelous book that manages to provide insights into the writing process while being quite entertaining. The chapters are short and concise, never overstaying their welcome but providing enough information to be meaningful. Also helpful is the small space provided at the end of every chapter, allowing students to practice or reflect on the tips suggested in that chapter. If you like movies and like (or need to get better at) writing, this is a must-read.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, now that the new Star Wars is out, I have to go do some “research.”
Published on 11 February, 2016. Last updated on