Monday, 24 June 2019

Writing Inspired by Films

You might be wondering why there’s an article about films on an author’s blog, so I’m going to tell you:  because to me, films are “visual books” and they have inspired the way I write my books.   The written word is only one way to tell a story, as you can see from my previous blog post entitled “The Wonderful Art of Storytelling.”

The tried and tested story format of the movie and television series is the same as the general formula for a written story, be it a short story, novella, novel or series.  For example, the beginning of the story sets the scene and introduces one or more characters who will face some kind of challenge or problem.  The ensuing parts of the story show how the problem is overcome or solved, and the final part of the story summarizes the end result or emphasizes a point.  In the case of a series, the ending can be in the form of a “cliff-hanger” – a new problem which will be overcome in the following sequel.

Image by Gerd Altmann, Pixabay
Other parts of the visual story that correspond with parts of a written book are the close-up, pace and creating suspense.  The close-up in films to show a person’s reaction or point the viewer to an important piece of the story corresponds to extra detail and emphasis in the written book. 

The pace of a story is important, as it allows the reader or viewer to absorb and become immersed in the mood, event or emotional atmosphere.  Changing scenes and skipping to another scene at the right time are also important aspects of pacing the reader or viewer.  Pace is most important when creating suspense, such as quickly jumping from one image or setting to another.   The pace of a film corresponds to the length of narration, description, chapters, breaks and changing scenes in a written book.

An understanding of these vital parts of the story has helped me in my writing, and it was a special interest in silent and classical films which established this foundation and enhanced my appreciation for the art of storytelling, whether by a visual medium or the written word. 

Silent films clearly show the transition from written books and stage plays to the moving picture format in the use of ‘intertitles’ or ‘title cards’ to provide narration and necessary dialogue.  They also show the quick development of adapting to the new film medium as the story went from rigid sets like a theatrical play to moving the camera outdoors to film movement and action, and then to moving the camera, such as panning across a room or landscape.  D.W. Griffith, known as ‘the father of film’ developed the pace and suspense, as well as the quick succession of images from one set or close-up to another.

While Griffith and other pioneers founded the film industries in America, German directors built on the innovations of the 1910s and created Expressionism in the 1920s.  This famous style of silent film in turn inspired the great Hollywood genre, Film Noir in the 30s and 40s.  German Expressionism inspired me greatly with its clever use of light and shadow to create atmosphere, suspense and above all, to express emotion and mood.  The viewer was swept away by these visual elements, and often it is the emotional impact of a story that remains with the viewer or reader long after the details and individual words or images are forgotten.

Image by Etienne Marais, Pixabay

This led me to consider the emotional impact in my own writing, and how I could express various things in an indirect way, like silent films used light and shadow in the visual medium.  In many guides or instructions for effective writing, it is advised to “show” rather than “tell” the reader what is happening or what a character is thinking and feeling.  This produces a similar effect to the visual use of light and shadow by letting the reader or viewer begin to feel and think about the story on a deeper level.

Perhaps you’re now wondering about other types of books which don’t conform to this general formula, such as many literary works.  Silent Film has represented this form as well, namely in Soviet Avant Garde:  a style of cinematography pioneered by Russian directors and film-makers in the silent era (up to 1929) using collages and montages to express a concept, mood or event.  There are usually no intertitles or dialogue, nor main characters; only a carefully-arranged sequence of short scenes, yet put together, they pack a powerful emotional punch.

You’ve heard the saying, “A Picture paints a thousand words”, and here is an example:  The latter half of the excellent 1947 classic film, “The Ghost and Mrs Muir” jumps several decades in the life of the main character, and it is depicted in just a few short, poignant scenes.  When Mrs Muir is a young woman with  a 10-year-old daughter, a sailor carves the girl’s name into a thick wooden post on the edge of the shore.  As years, and then decades pass,  the viewer sees several scenes of the changing tides at the beach and then the post with the engraved name:  each time more eroded and worn by the elements.  Such a simple yet powerful means to convey the passing of time that cannot be expressed in words!

In fact, visual and written stories complement each other:  some aspects of a story are better said in words, others better in images.  But you’ve probably heard people complain about movies never being as good as the books they were based on.  Is this a fair assessment?  For a start, a book without images allows the reader to form his or her own mental images of people and places described in the book.  Each person perceives a book according to their individual personality and understanding of the world, so that it is impossible to represent that book visually according to everyone’s personal idea.  When a book is transcribed to film, it is necessary to adjust and adapt the dialogue and narration to fit the expected movie format.  Finally, the end result is also filtered by the personal perceptions and preferences of the screenwriter and the director.   Rather than comparing apples to oranges, it is often better to view the movie version of a book as a separate and individual rendition of the same story.  After all, one story can be told in many different ways, and in more than just one medium!

Saturday, 1 June 2019

The Wonderful Art of Storytelling

Most likely, your first thought is of books when you read the title of this blog post, but I’m here to tell you that “Storytelling” has a much broader and important meaning!  For a start, a simple relating of events is an instance of storytelling, and no doubt this was the first kind of story in mankind’s history.  When it was a significant event, the story was told over and over, probably embellished along the way, until it became a legend, myth or folk tale.  

Music has been an integral means of conveying a story throughout history, and many stories – factual, legendary or simply fanciful and for entertainment value – have been related by means of ballads, tunes and rhymes.  In Medieval times, minstrels roamed the countryside singing their stories, spreading an heroic tale or poetic fable across the land.  

Minstrels were like balladeers who sang stories.
Others developed the art of speaking to narrate a story, adding emphasis, dialogue and suspense to entertain as well as convey a story of some kind.  Often, a story had a lesson, a moral or point to teach and remind listeners of the importance of behaving a certain way.  

A more sophisticated form of storytelling is the drama or play in which actors participate in conveying parts of the story, in particular the emotional aspects of individual characters in the story.  And just as a theatrical play has a writer and director, so does the modern version of a dramatical play, namely the film.  

Finally, there is the written story, and this comes in many lengths, shapes and genres, from a very short story to an epic series.   The story can have a moral, a lesson in history, a concept of philosophy or human psychology, or simply be an artistic display of words.

The reader can become immersed in the lives of other people, thereby broadening the reader’s knowledge and understanding of how different people react and deal with life’s problems and challenges.   The reader can also be led to deeper self-understanding by relating to a particular character in a story.

Image by luankblo on Pixabay
Not only can a story relate an historic event for various purposes, but when the story conveys the mentality and culture of its time and place, it is like a time-capsule.  The reader of an old book, or the viewer of an old film, can be transported back to a time when the general world view and mentality were different, as well as the manner of speech and colloquial language.  Rather than dismiss an old story as outdated, it could instead offer valuable insight into the development of society and challenge one’s own opinions on certain issues.

just one of many books from recent decades 
containing "social commentary" reflecting
 the decade in which it was written.
Unless your next story is purely for light entertainment and relaxation, you might like to look for the moral, concept or insight it offers, and let it enrich you.  Do you agree with the actions and emotional responses of the main characters?  Why, or why not?  Does the viewpoint of a character from a past time period annoy or offend?  Why, and why was that viewpoint not offensive at the time?  

Whatever format and age your next story will be, may it be a personally rewarding and satisfying journey!