Trailers aren’t very long, yet in a few minutes, they captivate millions of viewers. They impregnate in their brains inspiring images that plunge them into an other world. The best trailers, in my opinion, are the ones that present an initial situation without unfolding it, leaving the viewer with too many possibilities to guess the plot. For this month’s workshop, we will be writing the trailer of your novel by using trailers’ aesthetic techniques to captivate your readers.
The objective of a trailer is to install a fictional world in a spellbinding way. The objective of this workshop is not to create an actual trailer for a book, but to make a pitch of your unfinished – or even unstarted – novel. Visualizing your future novel by imagining its cinematic trailer is a great way to create your plot, since in a trailer:
- you establish the initial situation of your plot (description of the world or the society)
- you invest the characters that are important to your story
- you present the conflict that will develop into a rising action
If we follow Freytag’s pyramid, the usual storyline is divided in 5 main categories. First, we have the exposition, the presentation of the situation before the actual action begins. Then, there is the conflict (the event that shakes the initial world) that will lead to the rising action where events culminate till the climax (the turning point of a plot). To the climax succeeds the falling action which consists in the last actions that concludes the plot. Finally, there is the denouement, in French it literally means unknotting, which is the conclusion of the story such as its epilogue.
In a trailer, the exposition is briefly exposed, because the real interest is the conflict. We only glimpse at the rising action, and sometimes at the climax, to show how important the conflict is.
This in mind, the trailer’s interest doesn’t only rely on the development of the storyline. The force of a good trailer is in the presentation of the movie’s cinematic sensibility, in its aesthetic components. In literature, it is in the presentation of stylistic choices, could it be from the metaphoric imagery to the postmodern fragmentation of the novel. In other words, you must put the accent on the originality of your piece.
To give you ideas, first, let’s watch two trailers inspiring in a similar way. The first trailer is from the Logan movie (action) and the second from Enemy (psychological thriller). These two trailers share traits that are alike, yet they don’t aim the same public.
Contrary to Enemy‘s trailer, Logan is in a universe already known by viewers. Normally, we already know who is Logan and Charles. The trailer plays on this knowledge and immediately shows the evolution of the world: Logan has lost the ability to regenerate. The trailer starts with a nostalgic song which represents the sense that something is lost. The first few scenes are only stills with a voice-over. In these stills, we see a desert land and a rustic scenery. The intriguing aspect of the trailer is the insertion of a new character: the little girl. “Where is she?” is asked. That is how she is first presented to us, in a way that gets us curious. It’s like having a glimpse of something bigger that we don’t yet understand, such is the effect this narrative choice. To mute the scenes by keeping a voice-over creates a distance: we don’t know what is going on, we only get to see it from afar. The imagery is then more impregnating, since we pay more attention to details (because we are trying to make sense of it all). And even more, we pay attention to the psychology of the characters, their reactions, the way they act. We also get other stills that present interesting characters (such as the sunglass man) with no further information. In other words, we get partial information on the exposition, yet we know what is the conflict which is the arrival of the little girl. Furthermore, the trailer plays on the expectation of the viewer by its choice of music, scenery and voice-over: for an X-Men/Wolverine movie, it seems more psychological and deep-thought (which makes it all more exciting in my opinion).
In Enemy‘s trailer, the music is alarming from the very start. The first scene is a view of the city, a dark yellowed city, a visual choice for this movie that is charged with tension. In the few seconds that succeed this first scene, we see briefly the life of the “main” character (some teacher that doesn’t go out that much and who has a lover) and then comes the conflict: the discovery of a double. What does this mean? The trailer gives partial answers (such as the movie) and explains more and more the importance of this troubling discovery (by the telephone call for example). We see everyday life scenes (a couple talking, walking in the street, driving) that are filled with anxiety, an effect of the music and the accumulation of scenes. The dialogue alternates with voice-overs on muted stressed scenes creating a sort of suspense. The phrases become more and more intense: “What is happening?” “What is wrong with you?” “Who are you?” “I’m crazy?!” All questions that aren’t answered.
Both trailers ask questions. They only inform on the exposition and the conflict. They only suggest the rising action and show very quickly the climax without us knowing it (well, in the case of Logan, I can’t guarantee it since I haven’t yet seen the movie). Important aspects treated by these trailers are: the music (usually the first thing we hear before even seeing something), the dialogs – dialogs are very well chosen and create the narrative of theses trailers – associated with other scenes by using voice-overs, an alternation between stills and action scenes, the focalization on details (city and expressions for Enemy, bodies and visual psychology for Logan).
So let’s try to work on these aspects in the literary device.
How to Write a Trailer for Your Novel
1. The world
As the trailer, first, imagine your world. What period of time is it? City or nature? What filter in the image (as in, what emotion emits from the world : cold rigid city, saturate colours for a retro feel, dark scary forest, etc.)? In the trailers, we see important places or symbolic scenery. Try to create these places, maybe up to five, and give them a background, explain their importance.
2. The music
The music is very important in these trailers. What will yours be? The music install a feeling and it is that feeling that you must create (without actual music but you may inspire yourself from soundtracks). How does the music/feeling evolute during your trailer? The music could be calm, happy, intriguing, scary, troubling, intense. When there is silence, the event sinks in, makes an impact. In other words, the choice of music is actually, in literature, the tone and the style of your writing. Do you suggest a heart-raced text, or a creepy and slow one? Listening to music helps you know what you wish to achieve.
3. The exposition
Now that you have your world and your style, that you know how you want to intrigue your readers, link up a series of scenes portrait the exposition of your plot. For that, you need to choose the characters that are important for this trailer, without necessarily explaining who they are. You also need to know what the conflict is in order to contrast with it. Alternate between stills and dialog. Writing a trailer can be very technical, or you can make it more oneiric, succeeding images to create an ambiance more than a construct thread of thought. Make sure you emphasis on the key elements of your world and your characters. Don’t forget to create and show the relations between the actors of your story.
4. The conflict
In Enemy, the conflict is more detailed, very clear, in comparison with other scenes. There isn’t music and we hear the scene as it is in the movie, with all the sounds that are present. I encourage you to also be precise in the description of your conflict. It has to affect your readers. As we know, the conflict is the beginning of the action of your plot. How do you want to present it? In which angle? How does your characters react?
5. Rising action
After the conflict comes the rising action, and here is the fun part about doing it as a trailer : you don’t need to be coercive, you don’t need to explain the links between each important moment, you may show them, enumerate them as you wish, without the difficulty of writing the plan of your story. So go ahead, have fun. Accumulate the scenes as you wish, but remember to always keep the curiosity of your reader. Don’t be too explicit, only suggest.
It is important, when you finish your trailer, to leave the readers with a question. What will happen, who is he, etc. To achieve that your trailer must have an open finale. In Enemy, we don’t know why there is a double and what will happen to the both of them. In Logan, we still want to know why there aren’t any mutants and why there is the little girl, and why she is so important. Keeping your trailer open gets your readers interested even after they read your trailer. But be careful not to open with a cliché question such as : will they live happily ever after? You know, those trailers that you know the end because all along they showed every step of their story. Keep the mystery.
Maybe you’re asking yourself, well, how to I actually write this trailer? There aren’t many people who really write a trailer for a future novel, but it is crucial to do so if you like to imagine your story like a movie. In other words, the technic above is a way to know what in a trailer makes it so fun. It is a way to imagine your script, to know how to pass from the imagined trailer to your white page. Because, how do you write this fantasy movie? You need to keep record of every thought. To do so, write your trailer down, try the exercise. See what fits and what doesn’t. It could make a great summary, a great pitch. And it helps you as an author to determine the key elements of your story : the style, the world, the exposition, the characters, the conflict, some of the rising action and the problematic of your novel (the open question).
There is no limit of words for this exercise. Don’t forget that you may post in the comment section below or by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) your trailer to get feedback.