Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Writing -- Through the Eyes of A Silent Film Star

A little bit more writing help from Tony Zhou at Every Frame A Painting.

This time, he’s looking at the storytelling of Buster Keaton, recognized as one of the biggest stars of the silent film era.

Zhou emphasized Keaton’s visual storytelling – something that should sound familiar to anyone exploring the best ways to write: Show, don’t tell.

Here’s Keaton’s advice:

Tell your story through action. The average silent era picture, he said, used 240 titles, where dialogue or exposition was written out for the viewer. “The most I ever used was 56,” he says. “We eliminated subtitles just as fast as we possibly could if we could do it through action.” That’s Fiction Writing 101: Show, don’t tell. (And something I occasionally struggle with.)

Equally important to Keaton: Where do you put the camera? Changing the location of the camera can bring significant improvement to a scene as the character and the action are kept in the same frame at the same time.

How does that work for the writer: If a scene isn’t working from a certain perspective, change it and see if it’s better. Give that situation to a different character. Fiddle with your narration style. See what changes.

Also significant for writing: Allowing inspiration. Keaton says about 50% of what he did was planned, and the rest came as things went right but different, or wrong but different, during filming. As you go along, he says, you might see jokes “emerge organically, from the character.” That implies knowing one’s characters, which Keaton knew in a serious way.

Spend some time, watch the video. It’s enlightening.

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