Writing Visually

One of the principals I teach my video production students is that the camera lens is the eye of the audience. If the shot, as seen through the viewfinder, is aesthetically pleasing and conveys the intended message, the shot will resonate positively with the audience. If it doesn’t, we change the shot. Pretty simple, really.

What about communicating our vision through print or aural media? There is no lens per se; we must become the audience’s eyes and see the scene for them, describing it in a way that they can see it in their mind’s eye.

Imagine this- you’re at the movies with a friend who is blind. They can hear the sound effects, music and dialog, but can’t see the images. You have to describe the action on the screen sotto voce as the movie plays so your friend can get all of the sight gags. My wife actually had to do this for a close friend of hers. The movie: Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Imagine describing the coconut scene to to a blind person. (Link provided for the culturally deprived who have never seen this work of genius.)

When we are writing, we have to describe the scenes so that our readers may see those scenes as we see them. Sometimes this is easy, sometimes not so easy. What always throws me when writing is the level of detail needed to see a scene. (Perhaps I’m just lazy.) This won’t do for a mystery, as we have an obligation to adequately describe the crime scene and plant our clues. We do NOT want the reader to say, “Hey! That was not on page 34! You just made that up!” Better change the shot, yes?

What makes the process of describing scenes such a challenge is that no two people will see them the same way. Consider the office of Rex Stout’s detective, Nero Wolfe. The office on West 35th Street in Manhattan has been described in exacting detail over the course of forty novels. When Nero Wolfe was adapted for television by A&E Networks, I was able to see how my vision of the office compared to the producers’.

When I envisioned the W. 35th Street office, I saw it as being…less cluttered. I had the layout correct as far as desks and chairs went, but not the walls and tables. I figured someone like Wolfe would have a lot of books, but not so many knickknacks and purely decorative items. Other Wolfe purists would say I missed Wolfe’s sense of aesthetics while reading the novels. I say that there is no way that the sharp and orderly minds of Wolfe and Archie would have permitted clutter in their place of business. (Hey- Archie dusted the office. You think he’d put up with clutter?)

As far as the program was concerned, the resultant sets were visually rich and appealing, and faithful to Stout’s written word. Stout, you see, wrote visually; the proof is on DVD.

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