Before my first crush, everything I loved had no pulsing heart; music, drawing, movies. But my one true love is fiction writing.
Fiction writing found me in my teenage years. They were mostly stories one should never show to a dog, and writing better didn’t come easy. It was tedious and annoying. Every new writing rule came with a headache but chopped my bad writing off in bits. My writing shone through books, movies, mentors’ advice, and rejection from magazines. For me, movies became a great teacher. When I emerged into my twenties, I watched movies with a journal and a pen close by, my mind split unevenly between the white journal pages and a screen. I scribbled like a rabbit gobbling a carrot: teeth digging into the vegetable, eyes thrown into watching.
My love for Nigerian movies found me one blissful Saturday afternoon in my father’s sitting room, my family packed into sofas as the movie consumed us, the trees our windows looked out to, breathing on us a sorrowful orchestra hit. This was still the era when teenage Nigerian boys threw their hearts into every American or Chinese movie with punches and kicks or rounds of jaw-dropping movie tricks. Movies like the Matrix hurled such tricks at our faces. I don’t remember this Nigerian movie title. But its characters, sympathetic and relatable, followed me through the years.
After that movie, I would probe for interest in every Nigerian movie but stumble on disappointment. Indifference toward Nigerian movies gripped me like it did every teenager in my era, so I plunged myself into American movies.
My love for writing budded from devouring the classics—James Joyce, Charles Dickens, and all the great names. Mostly literary fiction. So, I became what I read: a literary fiction writer. I fell in love with the dialogue, with mundane everyday activities like cooking, house-cleaning, and journaling performed by these characters. In essence, I fell for the pedestrian, for drama, a genre my younger self loathed. Since literary fiction piques my fascination, drama movies also pull me in. Somehow, I wound up in Nigerian movies. Come to think of it: in what world would I have become the bullet-dodging characters from the Matrix? Maybe in a dream.
My love for Nigerian movies revived during the Covid-19 lockdown. It was The Bling Lagosians. Here was a rounded character named Mopelola Holloway, played by the charismatic Elvina Ibru whose voice never took a high note, not even when she was infuriated. Mopelola Holloway, a true Lagosian, was the kind of person who would throw an exorbitant party with money she didn’t have. She partied, dragging along her youthfulness into her prime. Her peculiarities were her idiosyncrasies, sarcasm, and wit. One scene where her so-called friends visited her and mocked her downfall, she replied with wits and, in one instant, quoted the book of Proverbs as she thrust them into a pit of mockery. Another thing about her is manipulation. In a different scene where Mopelola sorted through several lace materials she wanted to buy on her balcony, two house-helps came and demanded their salary. A normal person would have reassured them about getting paid. Not Mopelola. She fake-cried and whined about her family’s financial crisis, hitting them with a cruel sympathy, and they at this point turned consolers and wobbled away.
Mopelola Holloway is a character fiction writers would find worthy to write. She’s likable and flawed. Her imperfections pull us into admiring her. As fiction writers, we are often told that our characters should never be perfect, if not they would be two-dimensional or what some call flat. They should possess some flaws, relatable like true human beings. Among other things, the dialogue in good movies is something to emulate in fiction. Back to the scene where Mopelola and her friends bicker, the characters’ dialogues are riddled with subtexts, a tool MFA and MA programs encourage fiction writers to employ. When Mopelola cried before her house-helps, she employed misdirection: they asked for their salaries, she cried about her financial problem and they left her alone. Misdirection and subtext bring a rare maturity to fiction.
Movies make visualization easier. There are times when I’m working on an emotional scene and it refuses to come together. A few months ago a friend of mine read a manuscript I have been working on and his comment for one scene was, “Sam, visualize this thing in your head. How do you think it would really happen?” Later, the movies I watched helped me visualize and write the scene better.
However, while borrowing from Nigerian movies (or movies in general), I sank into a ditch of plethoric fiction dialogues, and my stories’ pacing was a roller-coaster. Negative space plagued my manuscript. I didn’t know I was overdoing it until I sent a manuscript to an editor and his comments about my excess dialogue almost made me cry. Afterwards, I drowned myself in studying fiction and reading fastidiously. I learnt movies are movies, fiction is fiction, and I found balance.
Samuel Oladele is a writer and virtual designer. His short stories have appeared in Brittle paper, 2021 Alitfest Anthology, Bewildering Stories, Virtual Zine Mag, The Shallow Tale Review, Kalahari Review, and elsewhere. His short story, “Two in One”, was one of the 2020 Mariner Awards winning stories (Bewildering Stories)