Teju Cole on Cinematic Writing: Tips for all writers by Cherie Lucas Rowlands

From film, meanwhile, one can learn a great deal about editing. Writers tend to go on and on, because paper is cheap. But film is expensive, and so filmmakers have learned the discipline of leaving extraneous bits on the cutting-room floor. A twenty-page chapter is good, it is the standard thing; but if need be, write a two-page chapter: cut into the scene, cut out of it, and be done with it. Michael Ondaatje is someone who does this very effectively: before the film of The English Patient was made, the novel itself was already like a great film, sharply edited, each scene at once luscious and slim.

From film, meanwhile, one can learn a great deal about editing. Writers tend to go on and on, because paper is cheap. But film is expensive, and so filmmakers have learned the discipline of leaving extraneous bits on the cutting-room floor. A twenty-page chapter is good, it is the standard thing; but if need be, write a two-page chapter: cut into the scene, cut out of it, and be done with it. Michael Ondaatje is someone who does this very effectively: before the film of The English Patient was made, the novel itself was already like a great film, sharply edited, each scene at once luscious and slim.

It’s worth learning how to move the “camera” of your mind’s eye over a written scene, taking note of what a camera would see: the 26 lighting, the small movements, the seemingly insignificant things.

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