Friday, February 19, 2010
Visual Storytelling with Michael Hauge
When working with new clients, or when visiting with participants at my lectures, I often ask writers why they want to be screenwriters or novelists. I always find it interesting that screenwriters often say, “I’m very visual,” but novelists never do. This seems to me kind of backwards.
I assume what these screenwriters actually mean is that they picture what we will see on the screen as we watch their movies. They think in terms of camera angles and shots and backgrounds. But these are not things screenwriters should be worrying about. Screenwriters are not so much “visual” storytellers; Screenwriters are storytellers who use only action and dialogue.
Certainly a screenwriter must briefly describe characters and settings. But screenplays are stories told primarily though the things the characters say and do. No omniscient narration, no interior thoughts or monologues, no author’s asides or commentary, and no character backstory (unless it’s in a flashback, a prologue, or dialogue). Movies are certainly visible – the characters must pursue visible goals and face visible obstacles – but the writing is not visual, in the sense of including every single thing we see on the screen.
Good novelists, on the other hand, must be visual writers, because the stories they tell are fully contained on the page. No one (unless it’s a graphic novel or children’s book) is going to come along and supply pictures to go with their words. So it falls to the author to envision what is happening in the story, and then to select the specific details of that setting and character and movement to write about – to create clear images in the mind of the reader.
So if you’re a screenwriter just focusing on what’s visual – you’re omitting the more important elements of your story: the invisible elements of your characters (fears, longings, inner conflicts and backstory); the desires of your hero and love interest and nemesis and best friend that drive the story forward and create the conflict for the hero; and the dialogue that will punctuate the action and reveal these invisible elements when the action alone cannot.
And if you’re a novelist and you’re not thinking visually – if you’re dwelling on thoughts and meanings and opinions and backstory and inner conflicts and dialogue and style – then you’re failing to create the vivid images in the readers’ minds that will draw them into the story you’re telling, enthrall them completely, and keep them turning the pages until they reach that last, powerful image.
Michael Hauge is a story consultant, author and lecturer who works with novelists, screenwriters, filmmakers and executives on their screenplays, film projects and development skills. He has coached writers, producers, stars and directors on projects for Will Smith, Julia Roberts, Jennifer Lopez, Kirsten Dunst, Charlize Theron, Jada Pinkett Smith and Morgan Freeman, as well as for every major studio and network.
Michael is the best selling author of Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds: The Guaranteed Way to Get Your Screenplay or Novel Read, as well as Writing Screenplays That Sell, which is now in its thirty-fifth printing for HarperCollins, and is a definitive reference book for the film and television industries. A number of Michael's seminars, including The Hero's 2 Journeys with Christopher Vogler, are available on DVD and CD at bookstores nationwide, and through his web site below.
Michael has presented seminars and lectures to more than 40,000 participants throughout the US, Canada, Australia and Europe. He is on the Board of Directors of the American Screenwriters Association and the Advisory Board for Scriptwriter Magazine in London. He can be reached through his web site at www.ScreenplayMastery.com.
DVD 1: The Outer Journey: Explains the important structural principles that move any successful plot forward.
DVD 2: The Inner Journey: The deeper aspects that form the heart of the story. The Hero’s self is experienced or revealed.
DVD 3: The Journeys of Erin Brockovich
Bonus CD 4: Over 6 Hours of Bonus Audio! Michael Hauge’s Screenwriting For Hollywood and Chris Vogler’s Using Myth To Power Your Story
A note from Tina Russo Radcliffe:
I had the opportunity to hear Michael Hague speak at RWA in 2006. The topic was From Identity to Essence. It was his first RWA conference and the room was packed. I took notes as fast as I could but when the program was over I knocked over people in my rush to get to the front of the room to purchase the DVD of The Hero's Two Journeys by Michael and Christopher Vogler. Being a visual learner I can tell you this DVD has had a tremendous impact on my writing. I have since gone on to purchase all his instructional DVDs. These aren't writing tools that sit on your shelf and gather dust. I listen to his CDs in my iTouch constantly and watch the DVDs before starting any new project.
Today Michael has given us permission to share one of his short articles with Seekerville. Soak it all in because this is good stuff. Michael will also answer any questions you may have in another Seekerville post.
I also recommend you sign up for his monthly newsletter where he features articles and question and answers submitted by writers.
We will be drawing two names for a copy of The Hero's Two Journeys DVD sets. All you have to is post a comment on visual storytelling, or ask a question today. You must have a valid email address in your comment or a link back to your email address. Winners will be announced in the Weekend Edition.
More Articles from Michael Hauge:
Mastering Outer Motivation
Ten Simple Keys to Plot Structure
A final thank you to Marissa for coordinating this and Michael Hauge for donating a copy of The Hero's Two Journey's for today's giveaway in Seekerville.