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 🙂

Taking Inspiration From Other Mediums – A Ramble (With Another Comic Preview)

2016 Artwork Inspiration From Other Mediums article sketch

Well, for today, I thought that I’d talk about one of the easiest ways to get extra inspiration and to come up with interesting ideas. If you’re a writer, artist and/or comic maker, then this is probably something that you’ve already done several times before in some way or another, but I thought that I’d talk about it nonetheless.

I am, of course, talking about taking inspiration from other mediums.

Whether it’s using music to get in the mood for writing or making art, or using cinematic techniques in your comic, it always interesting how different mediums can be a powerful source of inspiration. But, you already know this. I mean, it’s the kind of thing that we do without even really thinking about it too much – like in this panel from a webcomic update of mine that will be posted here in mid-August.

 The comic series is set in a slightly surreal version of modern Britain but, well, I just couldn't resist including a "western"-style update featuring two of the characters.

The comic series is set in a slightly surreal version of modern Britain but, well, I just couldn’t resist including a “western”-style update featuring two of the characters.

But, more importantly than this, other mediums can also inspire you to create in slightly different ways and to think about the things that you make in different ways.

To use an example that I’m sure I’ve given before, when I finally got back into making webcomics again, I knew that I didn’t really have the ideas, creative attention span or energy to make a traditional “endless” long-running daily series. Yet, I still really wanted to make webcomics.

In the end, I settled on the idea of making multiple “mini series” of about 6-20 daily updates, and taking a break from comic-making between each mini series (eg: I’d return to just making “ordinary” watercolour paintings/ drawings instead). Whilst, in previous years, I might have despairingly thought of this as a lazy half-measure, taking inspiration from television has actually helped to keep me motivated.

Why? Because instead of thinking of my webcomic as being a fragmented thing that isn’t a “proper” webcomic, I think of each mini series as being closer to a “season” of a TV show. This instantly makes creating a webcomic feel about ten times cooler than it already is.

Once I’ve finished each mini series, I post an article that collects the entire mini series together in one place, like a DVD box set of a TV show. So far, I’ve made four “seasons” of my webcomic (which can be viewed here, here, here and here), with a fifth one that will appear here in early August. Thinking about my webcomic this way has really been a great way to motivate myself.

I’m guessing that you can probably do the same thing with other mediums too. I mean, I tended to think about themed art series in a similar way (although I saw them as being closer to a CD album, than a TV series), and it’s probably not too much of a stretch to imagine the chapters of your novel or your individual short stories as being like episodes of a TV show.

In addition to this, when I started making webcomics again, I also took a small amount of inspiration from computer games, literature and films too. Instead of just titling each mini series “series one”, “series two” etc… I looked at the titles of movies, games and books to come up with something more dramatic.

My current titling system for my mini series is to call them something like “Damania Re-“. This originally started off as a subtle way of pointing out that I was re-starting an old webcomic series of mine, but it also allowed me to parody sequels and “director’s cut” versions of films too.

For example, the title of the first mini series (“Damania Redux”) is a parody of “Apocalypse Now Redux“. The second mini series’ title (“Damania Resurgence”) is an unintentional parody of the title of the second “Independence Day” film. The title of the third mini series (“Damania Returns”) is a reference to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Return Of Sherlock Holmes” etc…. This title format also took a bit of inspiration from the titles of Dave Gilbert’s excellent “Blackwell” games too.

The thing that I’m trying to say here is that there are lots of different ways to take inspiration from different mediums and, sometimes, the most effective types of inspiration can be subtle structural things rather than more obvious things.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂