Writing Prompt: 05/31/10

"Your phone rings. When you answer it, you make a startling discovery: the person on the other end is dead. What does he/she say and why are they calling you?"

Write for 15-30 minutes. My response will be posted 6/02/10.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Essay: The Cart Before the Horse... or is it?

I was chatting with a friend of mine on Twitter the other day, the lovely and talented Kimberly VanderHorst, and I mentioned that I was about to begin work on a new piece. You've seen the prologue last week as my #fridayflash.

When Kim asked me what it was I was working on, I sent her the link to this trailer:

Now here's the interesting thing. I mentioned that I did this for all of my books (The one for Crossed Swords is HERE) and that I also did it before the book was written! Kim said it was a stroke of genius.

Stop laughing. She really said that.

Now Kim is as brilliant as she is pretty, and she's awfully dang pretty, so having her say that really made me pause for a second. I never considered for a moment that my somewhat narcissistic approach to writing would be helpful to others, but I do know how I use the trailers.

There are two parts to it. The first part is that I usually attach a publication date to the trailer (I didn't for this one for a specific reason I'll tell you about down the road.) What this does is force me to keep to a regular schedule of work. In order to get Crossed Swords out the door by August 2011 (while also getting my non-fiction out on approximately the same time line) I need to write about 1,000 words a week just on that story alone.

The trailer then becomes a sort of motivational contract. I put some of my favorite music and some stirring images on there so I'm inclined to watch it, and every time I do, I see that stark reminder: August, 2011, and I realize I better get my ass on the keyboard.

The second reason I do the trailers is entirely different. Think back to movies you really wanted to see and what the trailers showed. Star Wars Episode III is a good example. Let's be honest; we all pretty much knew that the Star Wars prequels were going to be about as delightful as an ass-flavored biscuit. We were largely watching them out of love for the original series and a desire for completeness. What we wanted to see was Obi-Wan kicking twelve colors of crap out of Anakin. In the trailer we see just one lightsaber slash of that fight (albeit from two different angles.)

The rest of the trailer fires our imagination. Why is Bail Organa screaming "NO!" over the cockpit of his fighter? How does Senator Palpatine go from a fifty-something to a decrepit beast in just a few scenes? Why does Yoda look so pissed?

If you're like me, and I know I am, you wrote that movie in your head about three dozen times after seeing the first trailer for it. I connected all those little dots in my imagination and hoped like hell that Lucas was up to the task of making a movie that was better than the one I saw on my own eyelids.

This is the secret behind why I make book trailers: Counterattack is not written yet. In fact, it exists solely as the 854 word prologue, two 400 word chapter precis, a yWriter file named Cntrattk.yw5, and the trailer above.

But every time I watch that trailer, I get an idea. Every time I consider the fight of eight humans against an alien race, I get inspired. Every time I think about what might happen if our world was destroyed by an alien civilization and the only thing left to fight for was vengeance, a few more words sear themselves into my mind.

I can't promise that the technique will work for you, but if you have a few minutes and some knowledge of iMovie or Windows Movie Maker, this is just something to think about trying out.

Oh, and if you need help making a trailer, shoot me an email. I've taught iMovie in the classroom and am experimenting with WMM. I'll do what I can to help you.

Until then, Write On!

Christopher Rivan

Virgins Slain, Dragons Rescued.
Reasonable rates for all budgets!




  1. Now that you've expounded on the concept I think it's even more brilliant. And the trailer - wowza! Love how the music and text work together. Very powerful.

    And Chris? I am so going to have to send you one of my double-chinned pictures just to shake these crazy notions you've got. Really. It's getting ridiculous! I'm grinning of course, but still!

  2. I have a friend who sort of works this way with his film scripts. He has to come up with his own trailers, movie posters, marketing schemes, possible actors... all in his own head, unlike what you've done here, but it's still part of his process. He says it makes the whole thing more real, more of a cohesive whole, and gets his creative juices pumping.

    I like that you give yourself an achievable deadline, too. Great motivation. For some this may be putting the cart before the horse, but I suspect that for others like yourself, it is a great tool for staying on target.

  3. Mr. Rivan,

    As a book trailer addict (and one who is unsuccessful thus far at posting one to her blog), I think it's all good to put the cart before the horse. Several of my colleagues have book trailers for WIPs, finding that they build a sense of intrigue and a thirst to know more... read more.

    Plus, it is downright fun to see your work move, hear the music and watch it come to life. That's what it's all about.

    Thank you.

    - Julie Duck