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Visual Storytelling

[ Edited ]

We will explore the fundamental concept that movies are a visual mode of storytelling. This is a topic discussed all throughout our text, Writing Movies. For now, though, start by reading Chapter 1 of the book.

Visual Storytelling

The first thing you need to understand about screenwriting is that movies are a visual art form. Movies have dialogue and they have sound effects, but the dominant way we experience movies is through the visual images flashing across the screen. Think of some of your favorite moments from movies. Chances are, the things that leap to your mind are the images-faces, setting, action, lighting, etc.

It may seem like this is not the concern of the screenwriter. Doesn't the writer just write out the dialogue and let the director and technical people worry about the visual element? Actually, no. Everything springs from the screenplay and so the screenplay, too, must contain that all-important visual element. When it comes time to write the screenplay, you'll need to write the story in a way that is largely visual. And even before you actually start writing the script, you want to think in terms of a story that lends itself to strong visuals. Even a small-cast, low-budget, indie-style film should have a strong visual element.

Here's a quick example of what we mean by visual storytelling. Let's say you want to communicate that a character is sick and tired of coming home alone to an empty house, an empty life. You could have the character tell someone, "I'm sick and tired of coming home alone every night." But in a movie it will be even better if you forget about that line of dialogue. Instead you show the character come home one night. He or she flips on a light. No one is there. The character goes to the cupboard, pulls out a can of soup, dumps it in a pot. Then cut to the character eating the soup while flipping channels on the remote. Dissatisfied, the character shuts off the TV. Looks around the place. It is empty, quiet, lonely. The character heaves a deep sigh.

There, that's visual storytelling.

The Viewing Assignment

The Writing Exercise

Imagine a character preparing to go on a first date with someone the character is highly attracted to. It will help if you base this character on someone specific.

Now, write a description that shows us this character preparing for the date. Don't worry about screenwriting format for now. But it will be more screenplay-like if you use very short paragraphs. And it's fine if you want to jump through time. For example, you can describe the character in the shower, then jump to the character getting dressed.

And you must follow these two rules:

  • Don't tell us what the character is thinking.
  • Don't use any dialogue. The character is alone. Don't cheat by having the character talk on the phone or talk to him or herself.

And remember this: Every character does things in a distinctive way. By watching your character prepare for the date, we should have a sense of what this character is like.

To share your passage with the group, create a New Message and use "(Your Book Club User Name), Visual Storytelling -- Writing Exercise" in the subject line.

Message Edited by Jessica on 05-24-2007 01:30 PM

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