I for one love to read ‘the book’ rather than watch ‘the movie’. The reason is, I want to let my own imagination create the world the book has drawn me into.
I want ‘that’ character to evolve as I see him or her; guided by the authors words, yes. But not have it forced upon me, not illustrated in such detail there is no room for my mind to fashion form.
There is no choice in this aspect when watching a film. A film shows you the actresses face and how the character’s voice sounds.
There is little left for the imagination.
Yet, I have formed some of my writing techniques from watching movies. Well, not just movies but TV dramas, plays, even commercials. Almost anything in fact that has moving images.
You may think that I am contradicting myself by making what seems, at least on a superficial level, contradictory statements.
So I shall, in my normal ‘Rambling’ way try to convey exactly how watching moving images has enabled me to hone my skill as a writer of words.
It is mostly to do with the editing, a little to do with camera work and a bit to do with stealing the director’s viewpoint!
However, before I can start on that, I must tell you that when I am watching a film or TV with a ‘writers eye,’ it is not the same as watching for enjoyment or pleasure. Even if sometimes I cannot help but notice things when I have no intention of thinking about writing. (But that is my cross to bear, not yours. At least not yet, not until you have finished reading this!)
Ok. The Directors viewpoint. This is probably the most obvious, yet the least important aspect.
Imagine the opening shot of a film scene.
–The camera slowly pans across a room, it is dull. Dust mots hang in the air, highlighted by two shafts of light, beaming downwards through a window. As the camera pans towards the window a small figure of a girl, a young girl wearing a white cotton nightdress, is revealed. —
This is gold dust to me.
That scene, altered to suit my style and the storyline I am writing, can be used. NO…this is not plagiarism. I would not copy it, but use it as a base to create my own, dull room in which I would reveal a figure.
My room could be a log cabin, a large warehouse or a submarine. The light source may be from a fireplace, daylight filtering through a damaged roof or the‘red’ lighting used on a submarines bridge.
The figure may be an old man, a dead body lying on the cold concrete floor or a ghostly specter of an old sailor.
BUT….all this has come to me from watching that opening shot of the movie; seeing it, not from the ‘viewer’s’ eyes, but from the directors. Having an understanding of the mood he was trying to create and how the darkness, light and slow reveal assisted him in doing so.
All that is left for me is to translate that into words, imagining it over and over as I write so that the ambiance and timing is cohesive to the reader.
Secondly. Camera work.
While the above scene clearly needed the aid of a camera to record the Directors instructions, all of the actual imagery in a film is down to how things enter the lens. Yes, some of this is to do with lighting and the type of film used, but here I am speaking of the camera alone.
Firstly, the angle, the position of the camera to its subject. Not forgetting its height. Generally, a low shot, ground level, is used to enhance the perception of speed. Think about car racing or chases. How the tyres almost run over the lens or rock the camera as the vehicles flash past. (Yes, depth of field and all that matters, but that is not important here).
A high shot, from a boom, tall building, a crane or airship looking down on the subjects can give expression of vastness, loneliness or being lost.
Next time you go to the movies take note of where the camera is situated to get ‘the shot’. I do and that enables me to hold that moment, that feeling of vastness or loneliness, in my mind while I write my next paragraph.
Reading it back to myself, if it does not evoke the same feelings, if it does not conjure the right imagery as my recall of the films scene, then I will re-write, over and over, until I get it right.
Lastly, but for me, the most important is the Editing.
I cannot help myself with this! When I have my ‘writers head’ on I am constantly, without any self-control watching for all the ‘cuts’ more than whatever I am viewing. I know that is sad, but it is the truth…maybe I do need to get out more!
For those of you who may not be familiar with the terminology, a ‘cut’ is when two pieces of film are joined together, it is a form of transition. For instance, a boy and girl are holding a conversation. Each time one speaks the viewer sees who is talking. Firstly, you see the boy talking, when he stops and the girl starts speaking you see her face. That change, from him to her, that is a cut.
In fast moving action scenes and in advertising, where time is at a premium, you will see many ‘cuts’ per minute. Chances are you will not have been aware of most of them…until after you have read this. Now you will not be able to watch anything without seeing just how many ‘cuts’ are involved, even in the simplest broadcasts!
I hear you asking, how the devil can that help me write better?
Truth is it may not.
But it helps me and this is how I utilize them.
For this explanation assume that I am writing an important part of my stories plot. I need to get the emotion and feeling soaking into my reader’s psyche. This is one of those parts of my book where I must get the reader totally immersed, living my fictitious world.
I have already written the basic scene, it is in outline form, a rough, very rough draft. Now I need to build it, develop it, into a masterpiece!
Going back to that early shot of the young girl in the dull room I mentioned earlier. Let’s say the story is of a child longing for her dead mother to return.
This time, instead of using that scene as an opening, it is a scene from somewhere within the book, a part that needs far much more input.
It is here I will start bringing in the ‘editing’ tricks.
I shall still start with the description of a dull room, but this time I will place the reader at a set viewpoint, say, where they are looking into the room, through the doorway, from an even darker hallway.
Then I will ‘cut’ the shot.
Now the reader is looking down from above. (remember this viewpoint conjures a sense of loneliness and being lost). This allows me to open the scene up, to use words that reinforce the atmosphere that I am trying to create. Such as “a heavy shadow” or possibly “even the floorboards seemed to weep with sadness as I crossed the room”.
(I want the reader to envisage a large empty room, a figure (my second character) walking across it towards the young girl. I want the floorboards to creak, to give an impression of neglect. (This is to build the atmosphere). By applying the words ‘sadness and weep’ I have managed to blend the sound of the floorboards with the mood of the scene).
Now let’s have a close-up of the young girl. For the first time we see her face, the way the “sallow light settled on her fair skin” or “her pale blue eyes were damp with tears yet unformed”.
(Again using simple words which are descriptive both in their description of the girl, but also in the context of the mood)
This viewpoint sees both characters together, gives a juxtaposition of size and age, hints at the relationship between the two. One speaks to the other….Etc.
(The second figure could be a sister, a social-worker or nurse, maybe the step-mother or even the ghost of the girl’s maternal mother).
Now the viewpoint is of both of them looking out of the room, into the darkness where they have just heard a noise……
This is how I write my scenes, like watching a movie inside my head, in the darkroom of my mind. I find that it helps me construct a whole, comprehensive section of my plot. It stops me rushing, skimming over sections that really need more care.
Please note that when I say ‘viewpoint’ in this essay, I am not necessarily speaking of the narrations ‘viewpoint’, but that of the images I carry within my mind. Sometimes the two may be in harmony, but that is not always the case. Often a complete scene, or section, can be written from a number of converging narrative angles. As long as the reader is guided along and does not become lost or confused, all will be well.
That is not to say I do not need to edit or re-write, far from it, but each time I do I use the same technique to make the scene work, to create the mood and temperament I am looking for. Editing and re-writes purely allow you to correct the detail and flush out unnecessary and often misleading words.
This way of writing may not work for you. It may go against all you have learnt about writing, or just not suit your style.
But then again it may be worth having a go, maybe a short story or even a piece of flash fiction to start with.
Or maybe you are struggling and I have just come along with this amazing and brilliant idea, which gives you the next bestseller or booker prize winning novel. If that is the case, keep me in mind, please when you receive that big pay-out!
I hope you can glean something from this Rambling, whatever it might be, I really do.
I am, as always open to feedback and comments, don’t be shy. Oh, if you have not done so yet, please feel free to ‘follow’ this blog.
Thanks for reading, Paul.
You can read some of my short stories HERE
or visit my website HERE
where you can see my books, my blogs and what I am getting up-to right now!