I want to explore some of the wonderful and inspiring gifts I’ve received while absorbing art over the years. These gifts have influenced my own art, whether or not they can be clearly seen in the final products I create.
Day 3: the Gift of Brevity
In college I minored in Film Studies. I took classes like Film Criticism, Great Directors, and Screenwriting. I studied screenplays then and still do now. Whenever I see a truly great film, I want to know how they did it, so I go to the source: the script. There you can see how much or how little direction was given. Some screenplays have everything down to the camera movement and others barely have dialogue, opting for more improvisation. You can read most screenplays for free as PDFs for educational purposes. Since we, as writers, are always educating ourselves, it’s a beautiful resource.
As far as literature goes, we’ve gone through a strange shift. Years ago, the only form of storytelling was oral and then the written word. These stories transported readers to different worlds. Sentences were long and books even longer. But now the written word fights for attention among a much busier world, one over-stuffed with information. Storytelling has gone beyond words to incorporate audio and visuals and interaction from the audience in the form of video gaming and will soon become even more immersive with virtual reality. The quality of these forms of storytelling keep getting more and more complex and appealing. Meanwhile, books are still simply words on a page.
This means that every word is more important than ever before. Brevity is vital. We need to be able to tell a compelling story and tell it quickly. We need to stuff every scene, sentence, and word as full of meaning and make them as vivid as possible. This is when I look to screenplays.
Screenwriters know they only have about 120 pages give or take to work with. Every page equals a minute of screentime and they can’t waste any of it. Screenwriters, better than anyone, know how to use recurring themes and images to evoke emotional response and make personal connections with the audience. If you want to learn more I suggest you read Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. It’s both loved and hated by screenwriters alike, because it shamelessly lays out an exact formula to fit your story into. I have to say, while I think liberties should be taken with this formula, it’s not a bad thing to work with.
I think having boundaries to work within actually makes us more creative, not less. When we have unlimited blank pages to work with, we get lazy and just let the story wander off on its own. When we have a tight box to work within, we think harder and find solutions to our problems. We realize certain characters or scenes can actually be combined to be more effective.
Think of your favorite movie: one that leaves you in awe, wishing you could create something as brilliant. Watch it again. Take notes. Read the screenplay. How can you apply those techniques to what you’re making?
Screenplays gave me the gift of brevity and I hope I utilize it well in my own works.