Hey everyone, today I will be talking about what happened after my ass was handed to me a fortnight ago, and why novel writers have become lazy with visual storytelling!
Yeah, I said it. We're lazy. Lazy.
So, for those up to date, you're all very aware that last time we met I had just been owned by a Czech script editor. Actually, that's a bit of a dramatisation of the incident; it was quite civil, I assure you... for the most part. But what happened afterwards was-- in summary-- a blitz of me attempting to do (over) a months work in two nights. And trust me, panic does not create inspiration. I work well under pressure, but this was a whole other ball game and I was out of chocolate. Hell.
So, I'm a little embarrassed to say, in all the madness, I lost my story. I was so busy trying to find this stupid 'human heart' I completely disregarded my previous story. I lost what originally connected with me. I lost the magic. I managed to scrape a distinction which I admit, did give me a confidence boost, but I wasn't happy. Yes, my characters were acting more alive; and yes, the world had fleshed out. But I had gone overboard (again) and this was no longer a short-- it was a novel. I needed to strip this story right back and return to the core of what I want to tell.
But that isn't what this post is about. This post is about what my lecturer told me the following week when it came to one on one feedback time, which by the way, is always a nerve wracking experience.
My Lecturer tells me I suck at Writing... for Screen.
For those who have read my amateur 'help book' on wattpad, you will be familiar with my break down of showing: physical side of description, elaboration of movement, and believability. I don't know when I wrote those, judging by the comments it was at least three years ago, so consider this the update!
The thing that saved my proposal was I added my previous work at the end of it. She practically dismissed my 'new direction' story wise (which was mostly world building anyway), and returned to my original idea. I realised, I had over-reacted. My story wasn't bad, just the way I told it.
We started talking, and my lecturer asked if I had done a previous subject that would have been in second year for film students (I'm third year)-- I said no.
Confusion ensured; and I admitted I didn't even go to film school. I was from the Conservatorium down the road (owned by the same University); so no, I had not done that subject-- but I was hast to add, I had completed all previous screenwriting courses.
And my lecturer went uh huh.
"I'm a novelist!" I pushed. "I do write-- I mean, I am a writer..."
"I see." A pause. "I understand now. Okay."
She started to flip through my proposal, and at this point, I was like:
My lecturer stopped on my semi-scene break down, and pointed to the opening line and...
I'm going to stop right there for a moment because I'm going to post this section below, and there are so many things wrong with it. Lets start with my use of we. It does have a purpose (my intention to break the fourth wall later), but it comes down to the whole know the rules before breaking them thing; and seeming I'm yet to master those rules, I was being a little ambitious, and kind of clumsy about it.
So pardon that, and lets focus on the main issue (which isn't my awkward use of fully, or my really wordy writing, or... I'm going to stop).
It was the unpacked boxes.
My lecturer turns to me and asks: "How does the audience knows this?"
And I just look at her, because I'm not following.
So she repeats: "How does the audience know the boxes aren't fully unpacked?"
The thing is, I could picture it clearly in my mind: cardboard boxes-- some open, some not-- littering the ground with their contents in a state of dishevel, as if someone had started unpacking the bathroom appliances before being distracted halfway through... But that's not what I wrote; no, instead of showing the state of the boxes, I told the readers... in a really wordy, boring fashion.
Not great. Not great, at all.
My lecturer smiled at me and told me what was wrong: I hadn't learnt visual storytelling.
"Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass."
In which, I admit, to being a lazy writer
Hello. My name is Emily Taylor, and I am a lazy writer.
I promise, it isn't by conscious effort, but from my personal failed judgement in believing I had developed a strong hold of showing. Oh, see how the sun melts my waxed wings!
For those who have read my writing sites history, I'm sure you have all made the conclusion that I am a self-taught writer, like most. These screenwriting courses were the first time I had sat down in a room, and actually been taught how to write. Actually, that's a lie: I had been taught how to tell stories. This was the first time someone had sat down with me, and talked about writing in an educational setting and... it was weird. Though not surprising as my lecturer was a english teacher for so many years, before moving to screenwriting, so there it is.
I am lazy, and so are you, I'm guessing.
As novel writers, we get to cheat. It gets tiring constantly describing everything, trying to imagine endless details of the most bizarre and mundane nature. Where's the fun in that? We want action! We want plot! We can't afford to spend paragraphs on flowery setting like Tolkien. So we mix telling (narration) with showing, to hit the fast forward button, which is okay. It's okay to say why the house is a mess, instead of showing all the elements and clues. But going that step further into Hitchcock land is where we need to be.
So what do we want to achieve? We want to show, instead of tell, the reader something; and we want to be able to do it in one succinct sentence, rather than a paragraph of description.
I know, isn't that the dream? But Stephen King is great at this.
"Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s"
I remember reading Firestarter and being so impressed with his descriptions. I actually stopped mid-reading, just to marvel at one particular sentence that described light trickling through branches. It was supposed to mundane, general scene setting, but I was so impressed at the gorgeous imagery created through this really succinct sentence, that I was astonished. And I remember thinking, this is what i want to be able to do.
Then I forgot.
Visual storytelling refers to many things, though usually not words: photographs, film, video, for an example. Screenwriters write in a way that reflects these visual mediums, as that's what-- hopefully-- these words will become.
Authors don't write like that. Both writers start with an image in their heads, but while screenwriters try to clearly paint a picture, authors tend to go straight from the imagined scene, straight to the voice of their character. I know I do it.
And don't get me wrong, screenwriters also have to get into the head of their characters, but they aren't so focussed on a 'voice' in the literal sense. Rather they are more interested in the silent language of the characters, and how that interacts with the scene. Film is pure showing, remember. They have no thoughts to hide behind, but that's okay, because you all know the sayings: a picture is worth a thousand words, actions speak louder than words etc.
The only way a film can be literal, is if they use narration. but that's often seen as a cheat because it's mostly used for lazy exposition-- wait.
Narration is lazy? But isn't that what novels are?
The Uh huh Moment
Now, don't get me wrong, narration can be amazing, and add to a film, rather than hinder. Just look at those referenced in the clip below. But it's the same with a novel, narration has to have a very strong personality, and can't be there just to tell the audience how the character feels, or explain what is happening.
Personally, I find writing in third person easiest to create visual storytelling as you're removing the direct link to a character's thoughts, which can be a trap. Without it, you are forced to take a more visual approach. But how do we develop concise writing?
Time for homework!
You don't know how bad the temptation is for me to keep going. Visual storytelling is like treating a novel like a movie (which it should be, I believe, to a degree), that means I could go on for ages talking about the dynamics and set up of scenes, different tropes to get over exposition and-- all of it is relevant. Another day. Another day. This is getting long enough, so I'm going to finish with this:
Japanese poetry, consisting of 17 syllable verse created with three metrical units: 5, 7, 5.
This is what my screenwriter lecturer proposed to help me become really succinct with my writing. 17 syllables, that's all you get, to set a scene, describe a character, describe a mood. And I'm sorry if this brings up horrid high school memories, but this will help. Grab a picture, or a screenshot of a film, or practice with elements of your own novels; try and replicate a chosen aspect within these constraints, and after a while, you'll find yourself using less words, and choosing better ones, to achieve the same result as a paragraph.
Then I want you to ask that question when you find yourself telling the reader something. If you were to get rid of that thought, or piece of exposition, how does the reader know? Is there a way you can show it? And be creative, please!
So, good luck practicing. I shall be sharing your pain, because I suck at poetry. But practice makes perfect, right? Nope. That's another thing I learnt this week. Perfection can never be achieved.
// UPDATE // My practice Haikus