Like many people, my husband and I like to wind down from a long day by watching TV.
Sometimes we’ll put in a movie, or watch an episode or two of the latest season of our favorite Netflix shows.
However, our days have been… for lack of a better word, hard lately.
We come home and we’re tired – we don’t want to think, we just want distraction.
For us, that means putting on some stupid YouTube video and letting it play until we go upstairs to bed. Then I’ll read and my hasband will put on sports or play something on his Switch.
Eventually, one bedside lamp clicks off. Then the other.
Hours later, the first alarm begins to chime and we begin the whole cycle again.
It’s nice to laugh at the end of the day. It’s nice to unwind and not think.
However, this lack of engagement in visual storytelling has had a real impact on my writing, and I didn’t realize how much until I took the plunge and started watching Amazon Prime’s “Carnival Row” on my own.
SIDE NOTE: if you love sci-fi/fantasy shows and you HAVEN’T watched “Carnival Row,” DO IT.
I think writers often dismiss visual storytelling as a cop-out, that it doesn’t count. But writing for the screen – especially good writing – takes a lot of work.
Screen writing takes just as much work as novel writing, if not more so because you have things like production, actor style, and studio-driven themes and messages to consider.
Right now, we are living in a prime time for good quality visual storytelling. Streaming services have the budget and the following to put out content that regular old cable can’t even hold a candle to.
Visual story-lovers would be fools to not take advantage of all that is available thanks to streaming right now.
As would writers.
Writers need to be consuming stories as consistently as they write them.
In fact, I would argue that writers need to consume stories even more than they write them. Engaging with the stories that are already completed are how we learn to get our work to that level – or at least as close to it as we can on our own, without professional lit agents and editors and all that jazz.
Visual storytelling is also the best example of how to show and not tell: we don’t need a narrator describing the way the rain pools along the brim of Orlando Bloom’s bowler hat, or the haunted look in is eyes when he leaves a particularly gruesome crime scene: we can see it.
Those visuals paint the scenes, and it reminds us how important silence can be in creating aspects of characters, or showing elements of the world we are building.
Writers can do a lot with silence: we can portray thoughts, tell a piece of backstory, or simply describe a scene using language and imagery that foreshadows what is to come.
We don’t need to pepper our pages with unnecessary action or dialogue: a lot can go on when your MC is simply standing alone in a room.
Visual storytelling also provides the unique ability to, again, show viewers how all the different parts of the story fit together.
Of course books to this too – but when our imaginations are used instead of the physical screen, we are likely to lose some threads, or imagine characters and events that might not follow the authors original idea. This is bound to happen, but the author still needs to remember to at least attempt to tie all the stray threads together at the “end,” even the threads that the audience may or may not remember.
The best way to learn how to do that? Watch a tightly written TV show, where all the sub lots and side stories suddenly show signs of fitting together as the season reaches its end.
I watched more than half of the first season of “Carnival Row,” and then write 900 words of a new draft of my WIP that I’m really excited about.
Does thus story have anything to do with the show? No.
But it sparked that urge to creat in me, and allowed me to breathe some new life into a story I was worried was growing stale.
Beware the familiar, the safe, and the routine.
You learn nothing in that space, and your writing will suffer the longer you live there.