I love movies and see dozens of them a year, lots of them in an actual theatre vs. DVD. But I was watching “Walking and Talking” the other day on IFC (I’d seen it before and admired it then) and started to ask myself how it worked. Why did this scene fit here? Why is this shot outdoors? With dialogue this spare, how does the writer wring so much out of it?

Movies are good things to practice on. They are very pared down compared to a novel with its scene setting and descriptions. I’ve had more than one student write only the dialogue of a story until it sang. At that point the rest of the prose pretty much took care of itself.
Indies are more fun to work with than big budget pictures. They’re often lean by nature. Something like the new “Robin Hood” is watchable but it’s also a mess with so many sub-plots, not to mention the phlegmatic Russell Crowe.
For people who don’t need the practice and want to go right to fiction, here are some basic questions: Why is this scene where it is? Why is it as long as it is? What’s new? How does it move the plot along? How does it add a facet to a familiar character? Is the dialogue more than utilitarian?
Like houses, novels are constructed. Make sure yours doesn’t collapse in the first critical tornado.