Day 13: Line, object, image

Day thirteen, silver screen.

Wow we are halfish way through this thang and I dunno about you but I’m ready to hibernate under a blanket for the rest of the month.

And maybe that’s exactly what we’ll do today. Grab a mug of something warming, the floofiest socks you can find, and settle in on the sofa to watch your favourite film.

This is a vital part of today’s exercise so I expect you to take this downtime very seriously and relax to your fullest extent.

The most important part of this is to pick a movie you’ve seen a gazillion times. A film you could pretty much quote most of the script verbatim. One that makes you feel all fuzzy with familiarity.

Watch. Chill. Enjoy.

And then we do some sneaky writing…

From your favouritest, know-it-like-the-back-of-your-hand movie, I want you to pick out the following:

  1. A snappy line of dialogue
  2. An meaningful object
  3. A memorable image or scene

So, one of my absolute FAVE films in the entire history of the world is Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – it’s got everything: Cowboys! Comedy! Tragedy! Weird 60s musical interludes! A stellar William Goldman script! Freeze-frame!

Gif of Paul Newman in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid standing on the seat of a bicycle while Etta watches on, laughing

But wait, I’m getting overexcited. Let me pick out my three things:

  1. Line: “Who ARE those guys?”
  2. Object: A bicycle
  3. Image: A man falling backwards into a giant puddle that mirrors the sky

Already we’ve got an interesting bunch of story starters going on, once we separate them from the movie itself.

Eg: A man on a bike is being chased by persons unknown. In his panic, he falls off and lands in a puddle that’s actually a portal to a different world…

Or maybe scrap that last part and just use the first two prompts. Mix it up, pick and choose, it’s up to you.

The aim here is not to replicate the story of the film, but to use its composite parts to come up with a set of prompts for a NEW story. So if possible, try to pick items that aren’t too intrinsically tied up with the major events of the movie.

Take Alien as another example.

Gif of Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in Alien sitting in a pilot's chair looking pensive.
  1. Line: “You are my lucky star…”
  2. Object: A ginger cat
  3. Image: A team of crewmates sitting down to share a meal

The obvious urge here is to rewrite the chest burster scene because, well, it’s amazing – but we’re not going to do that. This is an entirely different crew – maybe they’re on an oil rig, or in a teacher’s lounge, or a news station break room. Whose cat is it? Are they EATING the cat?! Who says the lucky star line and why? Do they mutter it under their breath or say it directly to another person?

Or one final example, on more of a Christmassy theme: Home Alone

  1. Line: “You’re never too old to be afraid.”
  2. Object: A jar of marbles
  3. Image: An old man standing in the snow holding a shovel
Gif of Macauley Culkin in Home Alone slapping aftershave on his face and screaming into a mirror.

Set a timer for 20 minutes and let your writerly brain guide you into a new narrative.

Pick items from your favourite film or choose from the ones above.

Use one, two, or all three prompts.

By all means emulate the style or atmosphere of the original film if you like, but remember we’re trying to come up with something entirely different.

Oh and then absolutely please share your fave films and your three chosen items in the forum because this one’s a great one for swapping – especially if you’re unfamiliar with someone else’s movie choice!

It’s also a great way to harvest prompts every time you sit down to watch a film. Ooh that was a cool line. Scribble it down! I’m pretty sure that object/thing is gonna be relevant later… Add it to your prompt bank! Wow, what an evocative image. Make a note of it! Gather up all these story acorns and hoard them like a squirrel. You never know when one of them might fit perfectly into a WIP…

And that’s it for today. Enjoy your film and your writing! We’ll see you tomorrow for another advent-ageous exercise.

Useful Stuff & Things:

Not in a movie-watching mood? Here’s a quick ‘n’ cheeky alternative exercise using a random book off your shelf: Start at the End

And if you need something extra to turn your three points into something story-shaped, try this approach from Writing Short Fiction and capture a character at bursting point.

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