When I am teaching writing to students, I sometimes tell them to think of themselves as a film director. Like Clint Eastwood, who dabbles in a little of everything; writing, acting, directing, financing, cooking, etc. The director has assembled her actors (characters), she kind of knows what she wants to do with the scene, but she isn’t quite sure of the specifics (the unfolding of the narrative) or the camera angles.
OK, maybe this director isn’t Clint. I imagine he’d have all of this nailed down before the filming began.
(If you are on an early draft of your project, this analogy make more sense if you think of yourself as Christopher Guest directing, writing, and acting in Best In Show, because so much of the dialog was improvised.)
So there you are, actors/characters standing around yawning, texting, filing nails, eyeing the snack table while you are burning valuable daylight. You know this is supposed to be a scene about two frenemies running into each other at the grocery store, but you can’t figure out how to get the scene started.
In situations like this, I tell the students to experiment with the kinds of shots available to a director; close-up, medium, or long shot. I have often rewritten scenes three times, starting with a different camera angle and length of shot as I try to figure out which works best for the scene. The long shot would show the entire grocery store and would have many different kinds of action. A medium shot would be composed of say, one aisle, and might contain two or three characters.
Choosing the close-up shot is the most challenging of all. It can lead to some of your best writing. At the same time it might make you tear your hair out and register for graduate school courses in accounting, so proceed with patience and tender care for yourself.
The close-up can be maddening because there are so MANY details you can focus on! Which one is the best? The ketchup shelves? The way ketchup and mustard compete for shelf space? The way the smears of red and the yellow look if the character forgot to put his glasses on? (Why did he forget his glasses, btw?) The torn label on the third bottle of Heinz organic ketchup? Or the dried wad of gum sitting on the shelf in front of it?
I’ve found that if I keep pondering until I find the right details to focus on, the rest of the scene falls into place.
“Taking a new step, uttering a new word is what people fear the most.” Fyodor Dostoyevski
Turn off the phone and Internet and tell your loved ones that even though it’s Saturday, you need fifteen minutes to write. Put up your boundaries in a friendly way.
Free-write a scene that starts with a tight close-up on a detail of the scene. If you can’t think of something, take a picture and enlarge it until you can only see one part of it. Write about what you can see, then slowly pull the lens back and incorporate the surrounding details. Once you have close-up details established, go back and make one or more of your characters interact with them, so you have action as well as descriptive narrative.
Need help? Use these photos. (be sure to mouse over the photos for extra help)
15 Replies to “WFMAD Day 7 – Ready for the Close-Up?”
I find I love close-ups. It’s the big picture shots I have to remind myself to make. Maybe I’ll have better luck if I keep your film analogies in mind.
I have a question: Do you ever revise one project and work on a new one at the same time (for instance, if you’ve been revising a project for the long time)? I started this week by working on a new novel, then received feedback that a novel I wrote last year needs another round of revision. I want to work on the revision, but also feel the urge to write new words in addition to working on the revision. I was curious about how other writers handle this.
I tried to throw a couple close ups on my character’s today, but I’m not so sure how it went. I’ll try to go back and add more later, but today I only have time for fifteen minutes. I did love the analogy though. It helped to put close ups in perspective.
Writing close ups have always been my favorite though. I love the detail in them. 😀
Thanks Laurie for the advice.
I want to pick my own picture to describe in detail, for that would be. easier. Stumped and frustrated with my own weaknesses, I sit. In my swing.
Not wanting to give up or give in, yet, my feet rock against the porch. I settle into a rhythm of idleness. Perhaps, the coward’s way out.
I stare at the picture, reread the prompt for day seven.
Think about the dishes and the laundry and when I need to leave for work and . . .
I set the timer for twenty minutes . . .
. . . and then, without thinking or judging, I leave my insecurities behind and throw myself into the water, not knowing how to swim.
(Laurie will save me. She will reach her hand into the water and lead me to safety)
But no, I am alone.
And I am . . .
Water pulls me under and fills my lungs and I feel my body slipping deeper and deeper . . .
I flail, gasping.
I. Can. Do. This.
Up, up, up I kick until I reach the surface and the words fly onto the page and the details are there and now a woman appears and her story flows up and out and now I can feel the fresh air against my face and I am breathing.
I am writing.
I was writing about a little green bud in the third picture, but I think that I was actually writing about me: “She wants to not only lean towards the sun, but reach it.”
I love today’s post! My mentor is a filmmaker and just talking to him about these things makes it all come into form. That is so true, everything you said about camera angles and how we can use those techniques in how we tell a story.
I love the idea of looking at things from different shots. It’s something that I think a lot of writers do but that’s a fresh, new way of looking at it, I think. I might be wrong because I think this the only authors blog I read. I just write with the flow of things and let the words spin themselves but you are a way better writer. I try to use you as an inspiration for structure but I fail. Words are words. Some people put them into place without thinking about where they are going and what they are saying and the product is good. Some people think hard and long about what they are going to say it and their product is golden.
Caved last night with a headache and no writing, but made up for it this morning. It took nearly 2 hours, but wrote a whole scene to add to my novel-in-progress, from a 6-year-old’s pov. Read your prompt afterwards: makes me think of close-ups, his little hand holding his mom’s, her hand rubbing her big tummy – and details I need to add.
Enjoyed the pictures and angle ideas.
Ponder, ponder, ponder….
And seven checks for the first week of WFMAD.
This prompt today focused me torward what is means to be a “master mischieg ninja”, a character in my WIP.
So many angles to zoom in on and then out.
Where were the photos taken?
This has been a great week to write.
Toward, not torward and mischief not mischieg. Oops.
This prompt was so right on time for what I need for the revisions I’m making in my first novel. Thank you so much, Laurie!
Oh! I pat myself on my furry little writer head! And Laurie, I pat you right on your furry little teacher head. Good for us! We did it! ::cue Napoleon Dynamite:: “YESSSSS!”
I tried on this prompt for size, walked around in it for the day, contemplated the comfort of the fabric and texture of the weave. Decided to keep it to see how often I could take it out and coordinate it with the things already in my closet. Yes, I definitely like this one. May even recommend it to my friends….
Wrote in my journal this day. Got me to thinking. Is there anything that we humans write that is purely non-fiction?
This writing prompt was harder that I thought it would be. When is there enought details in the writing? I write for 5-8 year olds. I found myself wanting to use few descriptive words and get into character action. I am not sure this is a good thing.