Tag Archives: character

… what writers can glean from cinematographers …

Like writers, filmmakers manipulate time. They take a story apart and re-assemble it.

Robert Bresson, inquisitor and humanist, stimulated filmmakers and enriched the experience ofrobert-bresson2 viewers. With a tiny leap of the imagination his ‘Notes on the Cinematographer,’ publ. by Quartet Books in 1986, transl. from the French by Jonathan Griffin, also offer inspiration to writers of stories. Here are a few  brief notes I collated during my vocational film degree in the early 90s:

An image is transformed by contact with other images as is a colour by contact with other colours. A blue is not the same blue besides a green, a yellow, a red. No art is without transformation.

For the writer – this would apply to action and reaction, resonance or dissonance, anything that develops the dynamic interactions of a narrative.

img108 adjustedTo create is not to deform or invent persons or things. It is to tie new relationships between persons and things which are, and as they are.

This equally holds for writing. Characters discover themselves through relationships.

Something that failed can, if you change its place, be a thing that has come off.

If a writer’s darling idea distracts in one place, in another place it may earn its stay.

One dismantles and puts together till one gets intensity.

This reminds me of a Goethe quote … Dich im Unendlichen zu finden, must unterscheiden und verbinden … To find yourself in infinity you must differentiate and combine … Details works best if they have a purpose in the protagonist’s quest, especially when it comes to turning points.

An old thing becomes new if you detach it from what usually surrounds it.

This is what creativity is all about. Entrepreneurs seem to grok this.

What is for the eye must not duplicate what is for the ear (within.)

This serves as a reminder not to overwhelm a reader with sensual information.

The cause which makes him/her say this sentence or makes that movement is not in him/her, it is in you. The causes are not in the models. On the stage and in films the actor must make us believe that the cause is in him.

A one-up on the ‘show don’t tell’ writing mantra. Both telling and showing have their place, though we connect to a character more intimately through being shown the interactions with him/her self and others.

The omnipotence of rhythms – nothing is durable but what is caught up in rhythms.

We love rhythm. It measures time and gives coherence, while a counter rhythm can surprise and quicken our heartbeat. In film as in writing this might be the repetition of quirky character traits, tone of voice, tempo, mood, atmosphere, or reoccurring shifts in style and perspective, in the way we enjoy how adagio and presto in music enhance each other.

P1090890 - Copy (2)Translate the invisible wind by the water it sculpts in passing.

This ventures into the domain of poetry …  the ongoing challenge to find ways to express in words or images what rushes past us in daily life, but nevertheless affects us deeply.

The eye is (in general) superficial, the ear profound and inventive. A locomotive whistle imprints in us a whole railway station.

This is about trusting the imagination of the viewer, or reader.

Let the cause follow the effect, not accompany it or precede it.

Robert Bresson shares: The other day I was walking through the gardens by Notre-Dame and saw approaching a man whose eyes caught something behind me, which I could not see: at once they lit up. If, at the same time I saw the man, I had perceived the young woman and the child towards whom he now begun running, that happy face of his would not have struck me so; indeed I might not have noticed it.

Build your film on white, on silence and on stillness.

Profound. Allowing a unique story to emerge requires intuition, and an inner kind of listening.

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A touching interview of R Bresson. And some video clips relating to cinema, including hand gestures R Bresson used in film.

As writers, how do we move a story from one setting to another?

In film, a sudden jump of scene is kind of lazy, unless intended to shock. In writing, too, there are more elegant ways to transit from one place, or time, to another, mainly through matching parallels or correspondences. This could be: A keyword in a dialogue repeated in the next scene, or a similar action, direction of movement, speed, light, colour, shape, sound or mood. It could also be an artificial device, featuring a narrator, or a recurring (out of time) interlude which can form the spine for the narrative.

I have time-jumps in my novels (yet to be publishend.) It remains to be seen whether they work.

Regarding spatial/temporal suspensions of linearity, I remember the beginning of the film Space Odyssey 2001. A victorious ape, having discovered a bone can be a weapon, spins his tool high into the air … time leaps … and next we see a spinning space station, shaped like the femur bone.

More recent, in the TV series The Last King – 1st episode, a time leap works well … The Saxon boy, Uhtred, captured by Danes and taken under the wings of Earl Ragnar, is pushed by him playfully into a river with the words ‘You’re as a son to me.’ In the next scene Uhtred steps out of the river as a grown man, albeit with conflicting localities.

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On a personal note, as my life’s narrative is concerned, having made professional sacrifices ten years ago, in order to write, I wish I could shift to a scene and time that did not involve worrying about keeping my roof over my head.

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… the mystery of character versus genre …

Flicker, flicker, speed, speed – time is flying – here is a genre – an inviting golden bowl – let’s drop a story into it. A well-defined genre promises the best route to financial success for many aspiring writers.

the golden bowl of genre Human traits that make up characters are unfathomable in their combination, which is why we traditionally veer to an index of types. The adage of the writing guru – don’t tell, show – suggests character is revealed through traits that imply qualities. Traits fascinate us, but if they are mechanical in their emotional and logical processes, they seldom surprise. In such case the page-turning tension must be provided by the plot.

During the nineteenth century’s advent of psychology and individuation many writers moved away from the Greek model of plot-driven stories. Curiosity shifted to the complex inner life of characters and their individual way of creating meaning was employed to unfold narratives.

The search for a unique self beyond the collectively orientated ego personality is relatively new, and while time-engraved archetypal energies hold us in their emotional grip, we have now psychological maps to help us become more conscious of their compelling powers, more conscious of our personality, which, for the writer, informs their fictional characters and opens new worlds and new choices. Irrespective of the rich psychological and scientific knowledge available to us, the process of character formation present us with the greatest mysteries of our time – as exciting as discovering new territory, new planets, new eyes on the universe.

Here I am making up a scene from scratch:

He stiffly dragged his feet along the polished marble floor of the shopping mall, his head forward as if pulled by a rope, though his eyes did not focus forward, nor up or down, they swivelled, left, right, left right, alert for what? Alert for anyone who might observe him? Nobody did – apart from one person who sat still on a seat moulded into the stone replica of a toy train. She raised her eyes from her book and looked straight at him …

Now as reader, and as the writer of this entry into a scene without blueprint for a story, I’m curious – where is he heading, where is this going? I search for a deeper layer, a narrative unfolding from the mysterious core of the character walking through the mall. I want a substance to chew on, to extract a flavour from his unique world.

The woman’s stare broke his set rhythm of surveillance. His face contorted in fear, his feet lost touch with the marble floor, sailed on air, while his arms flattered like duck wings failing to lift. All he could think of before his fell flat was – she knows, she knows I’m not present in this body. All he perceived were veins of light in a glittering darkness. He chose to vacate.

Are you hurt? While approaching the sprawled body of the man, the woman shot a stern glance at her boy who stood by guiltily. She had noticed him drop the sweet wrap. She had noticed the man stepping on the slippery cellophane. She had caught his eyes – and what she saw in that instant had made her shiver …  

I’m not going to follow up this scene. Anyone who reads this is welcome to do so. It would give me a thrill.

We all enjoy our stock characters and their antics, types set into situations and conflicts we can readily identify with, heroes we can like, villains we can despise. We enjoy themes that fall into definite genres that entertain us away from tedious daily concerns. I’m not knocking these stories. I enjoy them myself.

But hey you, all writers out there, why not take a risk and be drawn to the mystery of the unpredictable that challenges you to think in new ways, why not evoke characters who, even while using known containers, allow their (your) unconscious past and future to fill in the content, characters who explore their personal experience to a depth where it becomes universal, characters who play with time and space and are directed from their inner spirit, even when it requires a new container?

In my writing, I like the adventure of discovery, a nut to crack. I like to allow my character to walk ahead and unfold the story, and if it spills over the frame of a convenient genre, so be it.

P1100981And here my little gripes with how-to-does:

The advice-filled internet spheres turn and turn like gyres.

Answers sum up being and are full of promised abundance – yet they are dead.

Questions sum up becoming and are full of challenging limitations – yet they are alive.

 

 

‘One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.’

Andre Gide

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