Word by Word

Practical insights for writers from Jessica P Morrell

Quick take: Take a cue from film directors

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Oct• 18•15

Godfather go to the mattressesFiction and memoir writers take a cue from film directors: In each moment and scene understand where you want to focus your reader’s attention. The director, and later the editors, have a distinct purpose for every shot, along with every detail, sound, color, tone, lighting, motif, subtext, and symbol.  Without knowing it, the audience is staring at a particular scene, waiting for something to happen. Sometimes they’re following an actor’s gaze. Sometimes the director is using an establishing shot to set the scene. The camera might be panning the area, setting up a disruption, a character’s choice, or establishing cause and effect. Godfather wedding

Sometimes harsh lighting is used; sometimes a thin light will illuminate a single object. Sometimes the camera moves to reveal a second character’s reaction to what has just gone down or the effect of a dialogue exchange. No matter the technique, the audience is constantly being fed information.

Godfather Michael chooses the dark sideDo you want to zoom in on a character’s face, as in a close-up? Will the camera stop or pause to milk the tension or underline the emotions of a moral dilemma? Or do you want to showcase the overall setting–a gloomy warehouse or a noisy party–to build toward an action scene or an intimate connection? A wide-angle shot can create tension and cue the reader about space, layout, and sight lines. Or will you focus on a particular detail—evidence that someone has recently visited the warehouse, or something is out of place?Godfather Carlos murder

At the party the camera might linger in the guest room and the bed piled high with coats.  Or is the party at New York penthouse and a rack has been arranged for the garments which include furs and expensive leather?  Details and focus should prove that the character is approaching a building with trepidation. That he’s holding a gun or left it in his car. Or he forgot his flashlight. Or his crazy-ass sister has had too much to drink and is itching for a fight.  What’s the most important thing the reader needs to know moment by moment?

Be purposeful in all your choices.

Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

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