By Kelly Deneen
Writing is difficult. Not only is the physical act of writing frustrating and often grueling to get down, but a lack of inspiration can be defeating. If you’re like me, you may gravitate towards reading other writers’ work to fuel your own ideas. Although reading another person’s work is inspiring, it can lead to jealousy and self-doubt surrounding what you want to write about. I would suggest turning to the big screen to enhance not only your writing skills, but the way in which you write a story. Good writing in the cinema leaves me inspired to better my own writing and to develop a story as good as the one I had just seen portrayed.
I recently watched Honey Boy, a movie written by Shia Labeouf about his life as a child actor and the struggling relationship he had with his father. I know what you’re thinking: Isn’t he just a Disney channel star? Former child actor? Internet meme? I thought that too, until I watched this movie. Honey Boy was written by Labeouf in court-ordered rehab where he recounts living with his dad in a motel while working as a child actor. This movie is dialogue-heavy, which authentically portrays mental illness and a raw look inside his own mind. This film, although visually beautiful and raw, left me thinking about how the soul of writing comes from within, and that pain and authenticity will always profoundly affect the reader. It’s about the dialogue, but it is also what is underneath that speaks just as loudly. This is an important factor in writing — to not only tell the reader but to show.
Another example of jaw-dropping screenwriting is from a television show called Mr. Robot. It’s about a young man who works at a cyber security company but is a hacker. He is recruited by a man to join fsociety, with a plot to take down corporate America. It is a strong critique of how American society is established today. The dialogue is unnerving and radically unapologetic in portraying mental illness and the dependence people have on technology, money, and corporations. Each monologue the main character tells is of the blatant errors of society and how he mentally processes the world. This is a good lesson to learn in writing, no matter the genre or tone. Write on the world around you and what you see around you. Create layers and depth to each character. Critique the world you know.
While dialogue is an important aspect of storytelling, metaphor is a useful tool to enhance a plot. This is portrayed in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Joel decides to undergo a procedure of erasing memories of his ex-girlfriend Clementine, after learning she has done the same thing to him. The story follows Joel as his memories are being erased. What struck me most about this movie is the visuals, and how metaphor plays a strong role in the development of the plot. The film takes place mostly in the mind of the main character, which is a great way to demonstrate that showing rather than telling is an effective tool in storytelling. I was more captivated by what was happening around the dialogue, and how the setting changed with each movement of the plot. This can be a useful tactic in writing because showing the inside of what is happening instead of the explicit dialogue can depict the message in a more compelling way.
The lessons I have gained, not just from these specific portrayals, but from the screen itself, is that authenticity matters. Whether you are writing about yourself or the world around you, make it as raw as possible. This is especially important to a writer when thinking about what stories are considered ‘next’ and how can the writer achieve this.
Kelly Deneen is the Long River Review fundraising chair and a poetry panel reader. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.