• In Defense of Visual Media

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in Strategies     Comments 7 comments

    The saying “You are what you eat” can apply to your media diet too. Don’t get me wrong, I love B movies and cop procedurals, but storytelling at its finest they are not. However there are techniques and lessons you can take away from artsy foreign flicks and super cheesy rom-coms alike–if you can sit through them.

    Sitting through a guilty pleasure and taking notes don’t automatically go together, but if you’re feeling particularly guilty, keeping a pen and paper around while watching 13 Going On 30 to note details and thoughts (good or bad) can fight the I-just-ate-a-dozen-donuts feeling after. I like to think of it as a detective game, discovering exactly what I find compelling and what is bad storytelling. It’s like Francine Prose’s idea of close reading, only with visual media. The one downside to this is that you may, on occasion, figure out how something will end. However it’s only bad if you see this as a curse and not a superpower. (Please remember that with great power comes great responsibility. And continually guessing aloud how TV shows and movies will end will not make you popular.)

    Movies and TV generally start out as written scripts, which is more than just dialogue. It’s the entire story—is the scene shot at day or night? Is it an interior or exterior shot? What are the characters’ actions? What are the characters’ physical appearances (clothing, make up, deformities, etc.)? When you’re noting the storytelling techniques, pay attention to background set dressing, especially if it’s featured by itself and for no apparent reason. Watch a classic like Citizen Kane or a guilty pleasure like Stranger Than Fiction, keeping in mind that shots of background actors and props can be important; there’s a reason the storyteller is showing you this and you’ll definitely see a pattern and more in-depth storytelling.

    I love Love Actually, a romantic ensemble Christmas-time movie. I love it so much I watch it at least once during the winter holiday season, even though I mostly see flaws. Editing that makes the end of a date happen before the date begins. This whole gymnastic scene with one of the kids that is wholly unbelievable. But I love it and watching it lets my mind take a break. It’s not complete white space, but I don’t have to think so hard about what makes this a story worth telling, and because I’ve already noted the bad storytelling techniques I don’t need to worry about absorbing them through osmosis.

    The media diets of artists are important—just like food diets, you get out what you put in, but an occasional piece of junk won’t kill you. Take notes, either mental or physical, of what is and isn’t working for the story. Apply it to what you’re working on right now. Don’t shame yourself for taking in a flick, because that type of behavior generally isn’t conducive to making yourself create different habits.


    What are some of your favorite visual media junk foods, WriteByNighters?


    Jacqui Bryant’s love for reading, ability to create adventure, and general curiosity for all things unconventional in life may outweigh her ability to write well. But she hopes not. 

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    Am I the only person who thought “Stranger Than Fiction” was actually quite creative and unconventional? I wouldn’t classify it as a guilty pleasure. But I haven’t met anyone else who thought it was that impressive. (Then again, I thought “Being John Malkovich” was stupid and boring, so take that as you will.) If you want to see remarkable editing in a rom com that enhances the story, I have to recommend “Next Stop Wonderland.” I hate most romantic comedies, but this one has great music, a charming background, memorable characters, and — again — editing that sharpens the story’s… Read more »

    Justine Tal Goldberg

    You’re not alone, Sarah! I’m all about “Stranger Than Fiction.” And “Love Actually,” actually. And “13 Going On 30.” Don’t I have tastes of my own? Well, yes, I do. “Happy Accidents” is the most original rom com I’ve seen in a while. It can feel a bit silly at times–it’s about a man who travels back in time to find the love of his life–but that’s the guilty pleasure part and, as Jacqui points out, that’s okay.

    David Duhr

    I’m a “Stranger Than Fiction” fan, too. WBN fully endorses that film. Sarah, I’d like to point out that in the above comment, you write “I hate most romantic comedies”; but on Twitter you write “Most romantic comedies make me want to stab someone.” Does Twitter make you feel extra-violent? (Because it does me.) And FYI, Justine usually stabs people who say they don’t like any Charlie Kaufman film. So watch out for that. My guilty pleasures? Sitcoms like Scrubs, Cheers, Seinfeld. “Oh, but the writing is fresh and creative.” Bullshit. It’s a sitcom. But I love ’em. Although, like… Read more »


    Duhr, I mentioned the stabbing on Twitter because you’ve met me and you know I’m not crazy. I generally don’t reference physical violence when I comment on blog posts because the whole world could read it and think (incorrectly), “That girl’s nuts.” That being said, I’m not sure how I feel about Twitter. It’s been making me feel alienated these days. Oh, the irony. THAT being said, the main guilty pleasure I’ve had lately is “House.” Er, it was “House.” I don’t like the new characters (especially Charlene Yi), and now I’ve seen enough episodes to be able to mime… Read more »

    David Duhr

    Umm, may we please see a few of those puppet show House reenactments next time you’re here? Because that would be the highlight of my life.

    Jacqui Bryant

    Clearly I’ve found my tribe, Stranger Than Fiction is one of my favorite movies. However as writers we may have a genetic predisposition to like it.

    Justine Tal Goldberg

    “Adaptation,” too. I heart Charlie Kaufman.

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