Three Thoughts About Film Theory And Writing Fiction

A couple of days before I wrote this article, I found myself absolutely fascinated by videos about film theory/analysis on Youtube. Surprisingly, these videos made me think about writing fiction – of all things. But, why?

Well, here are a few thoughts on the matter.

1) Thinking about the subtle things: One of the interesting things about watching videos that analyse films by famous directors is that almost every decision seems to be a conscious one. For example, how each shot is laid out, the speed of each cut, the use of different types of lighting etc… In the best films, pretty much everything is there to subtly evoke a mood or a theme or to emphasise something.

But, what does this have to do with writing? A lot, to be precise.

Although prose fiction isn’t a visual medium, a writer has even more control over their story than a film director does. After all, a writer can control things like sentence length, chapter length, the structure of the story, themes/motifs, pacing, the narrative style/perspective, what is and isn’t described, the emotional tone of the story etc…

So, watching videos about film theory can be really interesting if you’re a writer for the simple reason that it shows you lots of subtle ways that filmmakers improve the story they are telling through things that the audience might not even consciously notice. In other words, it makes you think a little bit like a director and pay more attention to the subtle stuff.

2) It reminds you of all of the things writers can do (that director’s can’t): One of the most famous pieces of writing advice is “show, don’t tell” and there are certainly merits to this advice. When followed well, it results in dramatic storytelling that can almost be… cinematic. After all, film directors can quite literally only “show” things.

Yet, a lot of the things that make prose fiction a deeper and more immersive storytelling medium than film go completely against this advice. These are things like descriptions of a character’s thoughts and feelings, intriguing pieces of backstory added to the narrative, the distinctive personality of first-person narration etc… All of these things usually involve “telling” the reader things that cannot be represented visually. And fiction is all the better for it.

It’s also an example of one of the things that film really can’t do that well. And, seeing videos about how directors have to get around these limitations can remind you of all of the advantages that writers have over film-makers (eg: a story has no budget restrictions, time can pass at any speed in a story etc..), which can be a great source of motivation, given how cinema often seems to be a more famous and celebrated creative medium than writing these days.

3) Referencing and community: One of the interesting things about watching videos about film theory is that they sometimes mention ways that directors subtly reference and/or are influenced by the style of other directors. This is the sort of obscure stuff that is often only really noticeable to people who have studied a lot of films and understand the medium. But, from a writing perspective, it’s really interesting to see.

One of the cool things that I noticed when I got back into reading regularly is how often books will reference other books or include segments about the value of books, stories etc.. And I suddenly realised that this is basically the same thing as what I was seeing in the videos. But, why is it important? In addition to the fact that pretty much every writer has been influenced by other writers (it’s an essential part of the learning process), it’s also about creating a sense of community.

Unlike films, which are a mass medium that is experienced in the same way by large audiences, books are a more obscure medium these days. As such, it’s easily possible to find a modern book and then never meet anyone who has even heard of it, let alone read it.

So, references to other authors/books and references to books in general are a way of creating a feeling of community in what is essentially a rather solitary medium (not that this is a bad thing though, seriously, it’s one of the most awesome things about books. Even so, it can be annoying at times).

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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