Write Mind Movies

Create "mind movies" as you write to show how your main character or characters begin life in your novel as different people than those they will become by the end. Your characters will grow and change.

  • An entire society might have to go blind to "see" themselves. (As in the novel Blindness by Jose Saramago)
  • An emotionally closed-off individual could learn to express himself. (Macon, in The Accidental Tourist, by Anne Tyler)
  • A young man who rejected the ways of his parents could come to value them. (Gogol, in The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri)
  • A greedy old man could become wiser and generous (Scrooge).
  • Two ecstatic teenagers, desperately in love, might die tragically (Romeo and Juliet).
  • A prosperous and loving father might die heartbroken at the outcome of his actions. (King Lear)

You may find it helpful to visualize your characters in action. Then recreate this action on the page so readers will have the pleasure of seeing mind movies as they read and imagine.

This is nowhere more important than at the beginning of a novel, which must engage readers from the start. As you write or revise your opening scene ask yourself these questions:

  1. What sort of person is your character now?
  2. What image or scene can you create that will best show the personality of your protagonist?
  3. What happens to begin the process of change that will happen throughout the novel? (Is someone dying? Has a catastrophe occurred? Or a discovery? Has one character hurt another?)
  4. What does this cause your character to want more than anything?
  5. What will get in the way of reaching that goal?
  6. How will your character change by the end of the novel?
  7. What will cause that deep change, and what will the character have learned?
  8. What final image or scene will best show how the character has changed?

The questions above take you through the progress of a novel-from status quo to an incident that upsets the status quo and motivates the character to take action toward a driving goal, through challenges, to climax.

What do you need to show about your character/family/society initially, that will help readers experience who they are now through their actions? Is it important for readers to know that the character is clever, shrewd, ruthless, family oriented, a liar, passive aggressive, content, impatient, lonely?

Choose a crucial trait, and imagine an original situation that will best show this trait in the character, something a little unexpected, something out of the ordinary and worth reading.

Now write the action of this scene so vividly that a reader will see the action unfold in his or her mind. Readers will experience "mind movies" as readers of Blindness do, with vivid, moment-by-moment action.

The novel Blindness opens at a distance. Readers observe the cars at a stoplight, and the people in them, in great detail. Motorists have an "impatient foot on the clutch." They advance and retreat "like nervous horses." This is the city world with which we're all familiar.

But one car doesn't move. Pedestrians waiting at the light see the driver gesticulating while drivers in the cars behind him lay on their horns and get out of their vehicles.

Everything we need to know about this rushing, impatient society is shown (not told) in a scene that feels true and familiar. And the important fact that sets the entire story in motion becomes visible—a man has suddenly, for no apparent reason, gone blind. Sensory details like these in your creative writing allow readers to become involved, and to want to know more, as the scenes unfold like private "mind movies."

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