Sunday, December 12, 2010

Direct Your Story

Karl Binder /

While watching an episode of CSI one night, I realized that this kind of storytelling entails using many more elements than you would think. After all, watching TV is a place where you just kind of zone out and have the story thrust upon you, right? All of the hard work needs to be done prior to hitting your cable box, so you don't have to work at all.

For example, in this particular scene, the investigators were preparing to 'do their thing' with a car--the plan was to take it apart in order to find evidence. If I would have hit 'mute' right at that time, I would not have felt the gravity of the situation. Without the music, the dialogue, the familiar characters, and the sound effects (you know, as the camera zoomed in at the crucial piece of fuzz stuck on the steering wheel), this scene would have been nothing more than some dude walking around a car with a flashlight.

Even if you are not writing a screenplay, you still need to write so that the reader's eye sees the picture-- in HD and surround sound.

Conducting the Music

We're all familiar with the alternating notes that alert the viewer to the shark in the water in Jaws. Whether or not your characters are in fear of their lives, all stories need some kind of tension. You need to use words to set the scene and move your characters forward, all the while grabbing your reader and holding them to the page. 

Your character may be trepidacious about going on her first date after a divorce--the frame is first set up with some exposition, perhaps, but to make the reader "hear" the tension, you need to add color by way of dialogue ("I can't believe you talked me into this," she says to a friend.) or by action (her inability to clasp her necklace as her hands continue to shake) or by some backstory (her husband was the only man she had ever dated). The mood and action changes with the words you choose, just as the music you choose is different depending on if you are heading to the gym, or staying in for a romantic night.

Get the Shot

When you have been writing for a while, there are times where everything that is happening on the page starts to fall in place. You may not even realize that a character you introduced in an earlier chapter was going to play such a pivotal role later on, and yet, there he is. You had been wondering how to incorporate the treasured family heirloom into a scene, and suddenly, a space is created for it.

If this happens for you, keep writing and pay attention. Visualize your story and make sure that everything that has arrived is placed just so. Be certain that any element you draw attention to makes sense in the work, especially if it isn't clear in the scene where it is introduced. A scene with a small child crying to get a toy ring  from a vending machine (and her mother giving in) may seem like just an everyday occurrence, until a later scene with the same mother frantically describing what her little girl was wearing that day when she turns up missing ("I don't know what color the ring was!")

Struggling with setting up the perfect shots/precise scenes in your work? Be comforted that, in this set, nothing has to be nailed down. You are the director and can order a retake at any time. And, unlike an actual director, if you decided to blow something up, you won't need the additional funds and tech people to do it over. You can just cut and paste, and "reshoot."

Happy Writing!

Although we want to write to convey a certain story, each reader is going to "see" your work differently. Do you purposefully leave out details so the reader can carry it along? Do you accidentally leave out details on the page, because you can see them in your mind's eye (common when taking from your own life)? I would love comments on this idea. Also, if royalties were not an issue, what song would reflect one of your pieces of writing? (I was listening to Pandora while writing this-- movie scores, of course.)


1 comment:

  1. Tina: We have to be able to do it. After all we dream. How amazing is it that in a nano second, whilst asleep even, we design a scene, the lighting, the weather, the characters, their ages, their faces, their clothing, their dialogue and their actions - and we do it without thinking. If we can so that semi comatosed, what can we do while awake?

    Music? My novel, to The Con set in Perth Western Australia, I would play Yothu Yindi - abiriginal artists using modern and ancient traditional instruments. In fact on one of the trailers I made I did back it with a didgeridoo techno sound.


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