I get the term from the introduction of Frank E. Peretti’s This Present Darkness. He says that he wanted to create a book that was, in essence, a movie that played out in one’s mind.
Now, if you’ve ever read Peretti, you know that his prose is enchanting. However, I read the book before I read the introduction. So when I went back and I re-read the introduction, I found myself agreeing with his choice of words: The way he had worded, described, and written his novel truly made it seem like it was real.
How? By a few simple and easy tips, it’s possible for even you. Almost all good writers are unorthodox: The first novel (arguably) ever written was Don Quixote by Cervantes. Imagine what it would be like to write the first fictional story. Sure, there had been ballads and tales, but mostly the things that were written down were historical.
You’d have to be pretty unorthodox to do such a thing. But such was Cervantes: so were Tolkien, (not so much Lewis) Twain, MacDonald, Nesbit, and Peretti. If you want to be great, you have to partially unlearn what your grammar and writing teachers told you.
Why do I say “partially unlearn”? Well, if you want your writing to look clever and intelligible, you have to follow the basic rules of English grammar. Make sure to capitalize first letters of words of sentences, put commas at the end of unfinished dialogue, and use proper punctuation.
But you know to do this by now. But let me get this clear: Writers communicate in words, not necessarily sentences. This is not an excuse to go and defy any rule of grammar that you wish, but be sure to keep your seeking eye open. If something works for writers A and B, it may just work for you.
Now, I bring all of this up to say that Peretti doesn’t quite follow the traditional rules of writing. But this is what allows him to turn his book into a “Movie of the Mind”. Before I detail on which rules to break, however, a few tips would be in order.
First, descriptive adjectives are key. Don’t slather your work with a bunch of drab, poetic-sounding words, choose the correct one. The perfect one. Instead of it being a “big stone” say that it was a “behemothic gray mass that loomed menacingly”. Don’t overpoeticize, but choose the fitting word.
And, you probably already know this, but your narrating should be as close to a human voice talking as possible. If the spotlight is more toward one character, you may want to consider using a tone more suited to that character’s voice. That’s just a thought, but it involves breaking grammatical rules.
What I’m going to say next will chill the hearts of every English major: when narrating (similar to what I’m doing right now) it’s okay to modify sentences in ways that defy grammar, if and only if it makes it sound more like if someone was talking.
Here’s an example. Consider this sentence: “You. Are staying. HERE.” If you’re like many other readers out there, maybe you imagined these words being clamped out of cool fury and iron command, without even knowing who the speaker is. This can also be used during narration.
Communicate in words, not sentences. Who cares if you break a few rules about grammar, so long as everyone else is doing it and the audience likes it? Now, this doesn’t make it acceptable for your English grader, but a good hunter goes where the credits are. (That’s a quote. Brownie points to whoever guesses where it comes from.)
So descriptive, well-placed adjectives and a narration style that matches a voice, whether yours or that of your characters. Is that it? Actually, those are only follow-ups to the Golden Rule of Writing a Movie of the Mind. (Also known as the GRoWaMotM)
Grow a modem? That’s, uh, weird. Where was I?
This is the ultimate rule of thumb: Model your book in MANY places after reality. A Movie of the Mind thrives on that which we can easily imagine and construct mental images of. Modeling your fiction after a lot of things in reality is the best way to go, and it encourages your readers to relax and picture images of things they know about.
But that’s about it. Part of making a Movie of the Mind is finding a sweet spot, a patch of ground that is frequented by many readers. But I can’t help you with that: you have to find out for yourself what your future readers might like.
Good luck, and happy writing!