Film = Writing School


Image Courtesy fo Andrei Zmievski (

I had trouble pin-pointing a topic for my blog this week. I was going to write about National Short Story Month – I am as surprised as you. But then my mind and writing shifted to my ever-present need to define young adult literature in my own life and for the literary world  – “In Zanesville” by Jo Ann Beard sounds and even reads likes a YA book but it is being sold as adult, and this just irks me for some reason. Dejected, I could not get past a hundred words on either one of these topics so I decided to do what I always do when I cannot write.

I watched a movie. Actually, a couple of movies.

So what do my cinephile-esque tendencies have to do with YA and writing?

The way a story is presented in literature is just as important, or even more so, in film. If you want to learn about writing and are just not in the mood to read (which shockingly occurs to me every few weeks or so) watching a well-written movie is the prefect solution.

Here are a few examples.

One of my first encounters with such a film was Gus Van Sant’s Elephant. I rented it for a 24-hour period on my television in the dead of night (I was worried I would get into trouble) as a sophomore. The dialogue in this film is particularly noteworthy since it is so terse, yet reveals so much about each of the characters. Granted, the visual elements in the film play an essential role, yet the dialogue makes it believable, honest, and heartbreaking.

If more dialogue is your style,  Before Sunrise comes to mind. But since you have probably seen this, I instead recommend Richard Linklater’s Slacker. It is filled with numerous twenty-something characters who ramble on about their lives in very philosophical, weird, thought provoking dialogue. Linklater, somehow, maintains the momentum of the film as one new character comes after another. Even if he/she is only on screen for two minutes, you feel a lasting connection and even lingering compassion.

My writing muse of late has been James L. Brooks, and in particular his Broadcast News. I personally believe subtlety is a fine art, and Brooks does it without breaking a sweat. Nothing in this film is presented to you completely, rather it is slowly parcelled out as you laugh at Albert Brooks and cringe as Holly Hunter starts crying out of nowhere. Labeling this film as purely a comedy or a drama is simply unacceptable.

Watching these movies has been my little self-made film = writing school, where I have learned how to write better dialogue, better character interaction, and better stories.  Books should never be your sole source of literary inspiration. Cereal boxes, graffiti-covered park benches, the epic one-liners on The Office (“Ooooo, it is on like Genghis Khan, wearing Sean John in Bhutan”- Andy Bernard; or “Vending machines – Supermarkets that only take quarters” – Kevin Malone.), and countless other written mediums need to be analyzed, digested, and learned from. If one does not do the trick, then try another.

So the next time the myth that is writer’s block comes along check out these fantastically well written films.


Film Recommendations:
American Splendor
Ben X

Cinema Paradiso

The Devil’s Backbone

The Edukators

The Heiress

La Moustache

Mean Creek


Muriel’s Wedding

The Pope’s Toilet

Run Lola Run

The Station Agent

Welcome to the Dollhouse

Lourdes Keochgerien, YA Consultant & ReaderPost Scriptum:  Are there any movies that have inspired your writing? Share them in the comments!

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