Writing Visually with Ludo Smolski

IMG_8466Development consultant and script editor Ludo is, he tells us more of a reader than a writer. And in the scripts he reads he’s been noticing a common issue emerging. A lack of visual storytelling. In an effort to take us away from that and encourage us to write visually with the richness that brings to a script Ludo took us through our process and showed us through work written and realised visually what the seen image brings to our characters and plots.

Firstly he encourages us to view the standard screenwriting mantras we tell ourselves as wrong, show don’t tell, less is more, only write what you can see on screen, instead he encourages us to view these ‘rules’ as loose guidelines and to try and think about how our work is being read and if it’s visual to the person reading it. He encourages us to let go of those stale mantras and instead see them differently, to be concise instead of show don’t tell, to be relevant instead of less is more and to write only what the audience can understand from what they see. The difference seemed subtle at best to me however as we moved on with examining visual storytelling I began to understand that it is a subtle art.

Taking a look at the Taxi Driver screenplay, we saw a dense, richly described text that is certainly no longer the norm (and was perhaps even unusually described for the period in which it was written.) Screenwriting of course is for most of us a tightly strict format that unless we’re established writers we’re unlikely to get away with veering too far from. Within the tight format there is however room to play. And that’s important because most of us when writing have an image of what we’re writing that plays in our head and the only means to get that same thing to play over in the head of a reader is through the screenplay. That’s a fragile process to try and transfer and reform that idea inside a stranger. Visuals though can tint a story and inform our point of view.

We take a look at a scenes seeing how they are coloured by the perspective the visuals give. A family outing with a sexual undertone that may play out from seeming innocence but with foreshadowing into something more sinister later. Another example as an ageing decrepit house but with solid floorboards in a different film allure to all we need to know about the elderly character who grew up there. A child in a strict school rebels against being hemmed in by rules in little disobedient ways that are seen through her non regulation shoes and a refusal to sing in harmony with the other kids.. she’s sent outside as punishment to stand in the hot sun where a fence creates a symbol of how she is caged in by the expectations of her society. At home, though more carefree and pursuing her independence in the things she occupies herself with her freedom is shown alongside scenes of her mother drudging in the kitchen. A future she will grow into if she doesn’t succeed in breaking free of it.

Thinking visually as we write helps our audience to understand our characters. We see them respond to their environment and we see how characters experience each other and look at them through the eyes of their peers. Visuals can indicate what’s going on inside a character. All these little clues we see on screen create a whole impression.

I could have done this all day, but our short session was over, it was an eye opener and something I’ll certainly be thinking of when I write from now on. Perhaps more effective because we ourselves experienced it visually rather than having it explained to us in words.

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