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Author Topic: New SciFi/Fantasy movies
wetwilly
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Extrinsic, I've been thinking about this lately, too. We're a generation of writers who have grown up with film as our main medium of cultural discourse. Even those of us who read compulsively (which is, I'm assuming, all or nearly all of us here) have grown up with TV and movies as the most important form of storytelling, if not to us, then at least to the society we live in. I wonder if this sometimes cripples, or at least handicaps, our ability to fully realize the advantages we have as prose writers. I think I, for one, tend to be a very visual writer, and I wonder if that is sometimes a detriment to my writing caused by TOO MANY MOVIES. I even have the habit of starting stories with scenic descriptions that essentially amount to cinematic establishing shots. Personally, I like those scenes (or maybe it would be more accurate to call them shots) in my fiction, but I also suspect they're boring, static openings. Maybe they're just an example of movies having warped my brain and damaged my writing.

This has been made very clearly to me as I have been teaching a high school creative writing class, and a lot of the kids are only really capable of writing in pictures. Granted, 90% of them have no aspirations of being writers (they just want the extra English credit), but a handful of them really want to write. The vast majority of those stories read more like screenplays than prose fiction, though.

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extrinsic
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wetwilly, I'm not visual rhetoric pro or con. I understand that Western youth are raised on graphic, television, and film's convenient entertainments. Where the Internet, iPods, and cell phones are the technologies and culture-kitsch of post 1990 youths, my generation's was auto mobility, television, and portable transistor radios. Adult prior generations of my era declaimed misspent youths immersed in and indoctrinated into self-gratifying entertainments. Their predecesors too similarly bemoaned the upcoming generation, and so on, way back through until the earliest times, I imagine.

Cinematic written word narratives are to my thinking stronger than narratives with limited or no setting emphasis, because today's audiences want visual stimuli. In fact, visual rhetoric is an access to developing creative imaginations. Cinematic or graphic devices are a pictorial shorthand that may not readily translate to written word; however, visual rhetoric has influenced written word in subtle and profound ways.

My grandfather couldn't track a film's timeline when jump transitions skipped over time and space spans. A leading lady goes into a darkened doorway wearing a red dress and comes out a second later wearing a flannel shirt and dungarees. How did she change clothes so fast? Grandpa couldn't process that the film had skipped time. Yet everyday film today does that all the time and audiences don't miss a beat.

Many audiences watch films' cinematic spectacles and ooh and ahh. The Grand Tetons are a majestic sight worthy of awe and wonder. However, such cinematic devices subtly establish exterior world relativity in terms of settings and preposition setting as a dramatis personae. They as much as declare this happens here because of this as show vivid and dramatic places. We've been taught how to interpret film's foregrounds, panoramas, and landscapes; how to interpret nonverbal expression and gesture cues, including verbal intonation; and how to interpret tangible dramatic action by filmmaking devices. Not much is taught or learned, however, about expressing or interpreting intangible meaning, not without effort.

Youths are less able than adults to interpret the intangibles of visual rhetoric. Many adults can't either and unwittingly fall prey to film and graphic persuasions. For example, the overt and often subtle persuasions of sexual appeals. I've wondered, for instance, if men like the way women wear makeup; some looking perhaps enhanced and more appealing, some looking degraded, some looking like they wear makeup like it's armor and weapon. One of my relatives claims women wear makeup to compete with each other's ability to apply makeup and look like the latest fashion models, not to appeal to men. Yet makeup and makeup advertising is a billions-of-dollars industry that drives wearing makeup. All of which thrive on visual rhetoric.

My earliest creative writing class assignment, before high school, required watching television and noting the persuasive visual appeals subliminally presented. Beer drinking is sexy, for example. Smoking. Owning a sportscar. A quadraphonic entertainment system with 8-track tape player, LP disc player, and FM stereo radio. A 27-inch color TV. A sleek slimline telephone. Yada. Yada. Yada. Kids' advertising hasn't changed either. Cool gadgets. Awesome toys. Pretty-pretty baby dolls. Neato superhero costumes and fashion-plate apparel, all to compete within each's esoteric cohort, often intra-gender and ethnicity targeted and driven.

What draws the eye, is emotionally persuasive, is dramatic, and appealing, with both tangible and accessible intangible meaning, that's about it in terms of using visual rhetoric principles for expression in written word.

[ September 26, 2013, 12:25 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Robert Nowall
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I don't see why one shouldn't take a certain way of telling a story from the movies and use it on the written page...a certain amount of shorthand in how the story is told (ever notice how guys in movies always get a parking space right up front?) keeps things moving, and trying to explain what one sees in a split-second shot will be good exercise for a writer to find out what works in description and what doesn't.

I gather the late Fritz Leiber often structured his novels and stories as plays---The Big Time all takes place on one set---it reflects his own stage background. It makes me regret some of these haven't been filmed. (The only film from his works I'm aware of offhand is Conjure Wife, filmed twice, I believe.)

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MattLeo
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Speaking of visual rhetoric, remember the final shot of John Ford's The Searchers, where Ethan (played by John Wayne) returns the kidnapped Debbie to her parents? It's visual poetry that packs a huge amount of meaning into a few gestures and camera tricks. I don't think most people decode that meaning consciously, but they know it's there.

Of course if they made that movie today, there'd have to be a *Searchers II*, which would totally undermine the closing shot's pathos.

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MattLeo
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Speaking of visual rhetoric, remember the final shot of John Ford's The Searchers, where Ethan (played by John Wayne) returns the kidnapped Debbie to her parents? It's visual poetry that packs a huge amount of meaning into a few gestures and camera tricks. I don't think most people decode that meaning consciously, but they know it's there.

Of course if they made that movie today, there'd have to be a *Searchers II*, which would totally undermine the closing shot's pathos.

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Robert Nowall
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Well, we don't actually know what happened to Ethan Edwards after the door closed, so there could be a sequel in there...

There's a book out, whose exact title I don't recall (but which I read,) about the making of The Searchers, covering the real-life legend, that inspired the writing of the novel, that led to the film shoot and hit movie. Interesting stuff...

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rcmann
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I don't really think growing up with movies is the reason that so many novels start off with visual desriptions to set the scene. Take The Three Musketeers. The entire first page of my copy consists of a description of a curious crowd running to gather around an odd-looking stranger. He has just ridden into town on an old yellow horse "without a hair on its tail, but not without wind galls on its legs". He goes on at length talking about the face and figure of the unknown young man (of course, it's Da'artagnan), giving enough detail that someone from his time period could easily tell his economic and social class. All of this before the would-be musketeer draws rein and dismounts.
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MattLeo
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rcmann -- Well, the Three Musketeers does start with a street scene, but it's mostly the narrator telling us about the milieu and the characters. But essentially you're right. I think it was Flaubert (1821-1880) who really got the narrative cameras rolling.

I don't see anything wrong with opening with a scenic description; the problem is opening with a visual cliche. For example, don't open a fantasy novel with the hero on his horse surveying a smoking city or the heroine picking herbs. It might work in a movie because you can elaborate the picture to make it striking and the viewers don't have to work as hard as readers to extract that novelty.

Robert -- I don't think there's more story to tell about Ethan *after* the closing shot of *The Searchers*, because what we see in the last few minutes of the film is that it isn't about rescuing Debbie, it's about redeeming Ethan, who is every bit as cruel and pitiless as his nemesis Scar. He's not out to rescue Debbie, he's out to kill her for being polluted by living as one of Scar's wives.

The final shot is Ethan's apotheosis, after his redemption. The others are moving on with their lives and Ethan is fading into the mythic past. It's one of those elegiac western endings, and stories of Ethan's further adventures would ruin it by turning it into melodrama.

I *do* think there's a couple of interesting stories to tell from Ethan's backstory. For example, for someone with such a rabid hatred of Comanches, Ethan sure knows a lot about them. How he came by that knowledge and hatred would make an interesting story. In the movie it's also suggested that Ethan was one of the Confederate veteran mercenaries whom legend claims turned on Maximilian I of Mexico, robbing his treasury as he attempted to move it out of the country after the collapse of his regime.

So I'd envision an Ethan Edwards trilogy. The first book would be the Comanche story of Ethan's tragic fall from grace. The second would be a cynical heist comedy along the lines of *The War Wagon*. The final chapter would be *The Searchers*, in which Ethan is redeemed.

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Robert Nowall
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There is a novel...I haven't read it, but it might have more information. Or it all might have changed for the movie...Ethan Edwards has a different first name in the novel, I gather.
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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by Robert Nowall:
There is a novel...I haven't read it, but it might have more information. Or it all might have changed for the movie...Ethan Edwards has a different first name in the novel, I gather.

*The Searchers*, by Alan LeMay; it's available on Kindle for only $4.49. I think I'm going to have to read it; there's so much in the movie that's just visible under the surface, and I wonder who put it there, LeMay or Ford?

There's things about the movie which mystify me. For example, I think very few moviegoers in 1956 would be able to even entertain the notion that there could be any comparison between Ethan's final heroic assault on the Comanche camp, where he shoots down men scrambling to get out of their teepees, and Scar's terrifying attack on the Aaron homestead. Yet I'm pretty sure scriptwriter Frank Nugent means to draw parallels between them.

But if that's so, how did the writer intend for that to work? Was it just an Easter egg for the ironically gifted? Or does it somehow add texture for the majority of people who'd simply accept the righteousness of Ethan's attack as given?

It'll be interesting to see whether those same complicated moral shadings are in the original book.

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extrinsic
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MattLeo,

You're in for treat from LeMay's writing. LeMay writes stronger prose than G.R.R. Martin and in the voice manner you favor. Rare but at times awkward diction is the only noteworthy shortcoming I see with LeMay's aesthetic.

The film and the novel, too, are far apart, mostly from the novel portraying the Comanche nation and Scar in a more historically authentic light than the film.

The film was produced during the era of the House Un-American Activities Committee and McCarthyism and the Hollywood Blacklist. Filmmakers of the era toed a restrictive line that would have condemned the film and caused problems for Ford if it had been faithful to the novel's somewhat objective portrayal of Native Nation people. What, portray interior enemies of the state as sympathetic freedom fighters? Red communism!?

That's Hollywood, though; reimagine when striving for high box office numbers. Hollywood then and now, the oohs and aahs of audiovisual spectacle are its strengths.

Amos Edwards for the novel instead of Ethan Edwards for the film.

[ September 25, 2013, 01:51 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Robert Nowall
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What works on screen and what works on paper are two different things, and when you move from paper to screen...The Lord of the Rings, book and movies, is proof of that, I think.

The "making of The Searchers" book I mentioned had more info...but some of it is in the nature of spoilers, so I won't go into it.

I just now looked that book up on Amazon-dot-com---something I should'a done in the first place---
it's The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend, by Glenn Frenkel...but there are several others around (and apparently you can get the original novel in mass-market paperback as well.)

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LDWriter2
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This isn't TV or movies but try this Facebook or whatever Video

Harry Potter like??


It's one of a kind even though it sounds like a series.

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Merlion-Emrys
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quote:
Originally posted by wetwilly:
Extrinsic, I've been thinking about this lately, too. We're a generation of writers who have grown up with film as our main medium of cultural discourse. Even those of us who read compulsively (which is, I'm assuming, all or nearly all of us here) have grown up with TV and movies as the most important form of storytelling, if not to us, then at least to the society we live in. I wonder if this sometimes cripples, or at least handicaps, our ability to fully realize the advantages we have as prose writers. I think I, for one, tend to be a very visual writer, and I wonder if that is sometimes a detriment to my writing caused by TOO MANY MOVIES. I even have the habit of starting stories with scenic descriptions that essentially amount to cinematic establishing shots. Personally, I like those scenes (or maybe it would be more accurate to call them shots) in my fiction, but I also suspect they're boring, static openings. Maybe they're just an example of movies having warped my brain and damaged my writing.

This has been made very clearly to me as I have been teaching a high school creative writing class, and a lot of the kids are only really capable of writing in pictures. Granted, 90% of them have no aspirations of being writers (they just want the extra English credit), but a handful of them really want to write. The vast majority of those stories read more like screenplays than prose fiction, though.

Ok first let me say, your opinion is your opinion and your feelings are you feelings, so none of what I am about to say is aimed at you, only at the ideas expressed.

I couldn't possibly disagree more and find this whole concept nearly incomprehensible. Human beings are by and large strongly visual creatures-it is our primary sense and a huge amount of how we speak and think and act is based around the visual. Storytelling has set scenes and painted pictures since long before there was any such thing as movies or television.

The idea of one's writing being "damaged" by anything is hard for me to comprehend...possibly because I don't make value judgements or better/worse comparisons. Your writing is whatever it is. I guess if a particular person feels their writing is too visual than that is a problem for that person but...the whole concept to me just tends to smell of medium elitism of some kind.

Certainly there are things one can do more easily or more effectively via prose than via film, and vice versa, but I guess I just don't see or understand how this would be prevented or interfered with by taking in a lot of film media.

I guess to me the main "advantages" of prose would have to do with conveying character thoughts and also with exposition. But from what I can tell, the current trends in writing and writing "wisdom" place so much emphasis on "character penetration" that it seems unlikely for a writer to loose awareness of this...and conversely, people seem to have a hearty dislike for direct exposition (which I consider to be probably the strongest advantage of prose, especially in the speculative genres...the biggest thing I often find lacking in fantasy and science fiction movies is explanation and detail of the inner workings of their speculative elements) so, again...it just seems weird to me.

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wetwilly
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Merlion-Emrys: yeah, I'm not sure I really think that, either. More just wondering out loud than stating an opinion. "I wonder if..." not "I think that..." A lot of my students who are more familiar with movies than books seem to see their stories in their heads as movies, and then just describe what they see, so what I get feels like a summary of a movie rather than a story. That got me wondering if I am sometimes guilty of the same thing to some degree. For example, the "establishing shots" I was talking about are something I suspect work better in movies, where the shot only takes a couple seconds and you can do it while the opening credits are rolling and the viewer is waiting for the "real" movie to begin. No such luxury in prose. Just speculating off the cuff that being used to seeing stories in movie format may make my writing less effective. Maybe it's true, maybe it's not.

No worries: you can hate my musings without offending me or hurting my feelings.

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Merlion-Emrys
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Well, I have seen similar things expressed more seriously.

I enjoy descriptive writing and am a big fan of setting and atmosphere.

I also like stories that start with setup, visual or otherwise.

Also I kind of think we are...given a little to much reason to worry about things making our writing less effective. I'm a proponent of just telling our stories without worrying so much.

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