2/17/16 - Film Study
I think judgment might be the most difficult thing to teach when it comes to writing. You can talk about concept, about exercises, genres, tropes, and analysis, but judgment is personal, an ingrained part of our creativity that is unique to each of us as artists. The way you choose to frame a scene, the language you use, the approach you take, that's all yours. You have to develop a *feel* for storytelling and character development that goes beyond the classroom. I think one of the most helpful things you can do is study film.
I love film as a storytelling medium, and I've always made a very conscious effort to write in a way that feels visual and cinematic. I don't want to relay the facts of a story; I want the audience to *see* the story unfolding; to be white-knuckled in their theater seats. I cast myself in the role of director, and take great nerdy delight in setting up imaginary camera angles, planning close-ups, panning in and out, and shifting the focus for maximum impact. It's also why I choose to use multiple narrators and calculated scene breaks. It's all part of the immersive movie-going experience.
But not everyone writes this way, or wants to write this way. So you say, "How can film study help even if I don't want to be as weird as Lauren?" Excellent question. Here's how close observation of films can enhance your writing:
- Pace: Due to time constraints, movies have to move steadily along at a regular pace, punctuated by slower and then quicker moments for emotional impact. Movie timelines can serve as great templates. Then you have the advantage of expanding, since you aren't limited by time.
- Dialogue: Whether it's quirky or snappy, movie dialogue introduces new information to the audience, and doesn't repeat what we've just seen. Sometimes it serves as a reinforcement, sometimes a contradiction. Sometimes we can tell a character is lying. Sometimes it reveals the true nature of a character previously mysterious to us. Good dialogue expresses broad concepts in a concise way. Good dialogue also sounds realistic, human, and uncluttered. Novels can have a tendency to get too vague and flowery when characters are speaking to one another. Keep the flowery language in the narrative itself, but make sure the dialogue is more in keeping with actual speech patterns.
- Non-verbal Expression: There's something so lovely about watching an actor portray a wealth of feeling without any dialogue. Sometimes, even though we are around people every day, we don't study body language and non-verbal cues with any real attention. Watching films (and re-watching them dozens of times) is a great chance to really study the way people move, the way they express themselves without words.
- Word choice: Have you ever been reading a novel and the author uses language that evokes strange or negative reactions in your mind? Word choice might be the issue I see authors struggle with the most. They use a word without thinking about what sorts of images or sounds it conjures. Generally, the clash exists because the author hasn't thought about the way the scene would look or sound if filmed. Play your scenes in your head, with lighting, and sound effects, and try to use language that describes what's happening in a clear and realistic way.
So the next time someone suggests you're wasting time watching a movie, you can tell them it's important research.