Tuesday, March 14, 2017
Storyteller’s Rulebook: Writers Aren’t Set Decorators
But now it’s time to describe that world, and anxiety sets in. How can you get your audience to see what you see? You’ve created these great non-generic visuals in your own head, so how do you show them all to your audience? The answer is that you can’t. You can only suggest what you see, in a few broad strokes. There simply isn’t time, whether you’re writing prose or a script, to describe the beautiful world in your mind.
Whether you’re writing prose or a script, you are not the set decorator, you’re not the costume designer, and you’re not the prop designer. You’re the writer. You can, and should, give us a few salient details about the objects, the room, and the clothes, and then let each reader imagine the rest, even if that means they’ll never see all the great details you see.
If you’re writing a script, once they buy your script, they’ll hire other professionals to create those details. If you’re writing prose, then it’ll only ever be up to the reader, so let’s hope they have a good visual imagination.
Are you picturing a fascinating tapestry behind the throne? Well too bad, because unless it’s super-necessary to the plot, you don’t have time to describe it. Your reader wants the plot to get going and keep moving, and they have no time for your tapestries.
J.K. Rowling was lucky. When they adapted her books, they revered her vision, which means that they asked her to help them fill in the rest of the details that she kept in her head and never had time to set down on the page, so that she could finally make her world come alive the way she saw it. For most of us, we just have to trust our readers and/or the filmmakers who eventually adapt the work.