Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Many Genres Writing Tip from Michael A. Arnzen
The other day I stumbled upon a website that made these neat pieces of art by compressing every frame of a film down to a teensy ribbon only one pixel in width, then lining these ribbons up side-by-side, sequentially in the frame. The site (http://moviebarcode.tumblr.com/) calls these images "movie barcodes" but it's much cooler than that sounds: the result is a beautiful curtain of color and shade. It's artful because it changes the way you think about the movie, compressed down into a visual summary that you can't really sort out logically, but upon closer study nevertheless effectively captures the "feeling" of the entire feature-length film.
[ Example: Blade Runner from http://moviebarcode.tumblr.com/post/4438993828/blade-runner-1982-prints]
Change is everything. As colors change across the picture, the image implies different moods that emerge from various regions of the plot, as the story moves from beginning to end.
I wondered what my novels might look like if they were compressed and rendered in the same way.
The lesson here is that sometimes it is what we don't see, but what's still there, that gives shape and structure to our stories. Writers might consider outlining the mood (or other subtle elements) of their story in the same way that they outline their plots. Color code it. It pays to think about how expository cues--like colors, symbols, shapes and other images--change over the course of the novel, giving shape to not only the mood you hope to set in any one scene, but how that mood moves the reader across the whole book. Too often we put all of our attention into the obvious actions and the external character changes when plotting out our books. It's all foreground. We shouldn't forget to think about the chronology and coherency of the background, too.
One time-tested trick for setting a mood, for instance, is to use the weather in the setting to suggest the emotions of any given scene. But that scene is just one ribbon of time. Don't just think about the weather in isolation--weather is constantly in flux, moving one season to the next. Seasons can change over the course of the book, depending on the chronology of your story. Have you thought about these? Have you chosen the best span of months to set this story? Map the motion of time--these changes in weather patterns--out carefully, and your book will have a natural and more meaningful feeling that the reader will intuit. Likewise, time of day for any given scene can transform a setting from "dark" to "light." Pay attention to this from scene to scene. Avoid writing a story that--if compressed in the reader's imagination--would just be one big emotional bar of the same color. The last thing you want to do is put a lot of work into something that emotionally flatlines. As characters change, so too should the backdrop that we see them framed within. Construct your book so that it creates a curtain of emotional color and it will feel more three dimensional, more transformative, and more natural in the way the stories moves over time than it otherwise might.
Articles in MGOC: "Genre Unleashed"
"Tuning Up Your Writing"
"The Element of Surprise: Psyching Out Readers of Horror,
Mystery and Suspense"
"Making Modern Monsters"
"Working the Workshop: How to Get the Most Out of Critique
Groups (Even the Bad Ones)"
Other Work: 100 Jolts: Shockingly Short Stories (Raw Dog Screaming Press, 2007)
You can purchase Many Genres, One Craft, edited by Michael A. Arnzen and Heidi Ruby Miller, through any of your favorite book sellers, including Amazon.