This week, I did a bit of informal research into the widespread appeal of “Mad Men”, 5-season hit drama from AMC. As one of the biggest successes in recent television history, I wanted to know what draws the people I know into this world of selfishness, callousness, ignorance, and much-discussed misogyny. Those who responded were fairly diverse within a somewhat narrow slice of contemporary society but as far as ratings are concerned, they also represent the choicest slice.
You’d think that with all the hype and chatter that the discussion would revolve around a core set of points: Walter White on “Breaking Bad” is heartbreaking and amazing; Tony Soprano of “The Sopranos” is terrifying but a sweetheart; “Arrested Development” is all about the writing. That sort of thing. But for “Mad Men”, the responses were surprisingly vague. Read on …
Literary scholar Jonathan Gottschall gives us a peek into the ways that scientific inquiry is beginning to validate our innate connection to stories.
In his new book, The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, Gottschall offers what he dubs “the first unified theory of storytelling”: validated proof from neuroscience, psychology, and evolutionary biology that the more absorbed we readers are in a story, the more the story changes us.
We writers know this intrinsically but it’s nice to have the skeptics on board every now and again.
In 2011, writer/director Julia Leigh offered us a look at visual storytelling at its best in her Australian film Sleeping Beauty. Through careful, photographic composition and thoughtful connection of images, a story unfolds that is cinematic, beautiful, and haunting. All with minimal use of dialogue.
In this project, Leigh frequently trades exposition for visual interpretation which can be a difficult choice given (as evidenced by the body of critical and casual reviews) that the majority of viewers are more comfortable with a film that explicitly explains its every moment. Such a technique can be valuable not only in filmmaking but in all forms of storytelling; we may choose to paint our images and allow our audience the pleasure of interpretation rather than verbalizing our characters’ attitudes, and choices.
For a study in less-dialogue-is-more, have a look at the following: Read on …
Author Christina Baker Kline (Bird in Hand, The Way Life Should Be) did us the great favour of transcribing a recent interview with director James Cameron (Avatar,Titanic) in which he offers storytelling wisdom that is simple but oh so true:
It’s always about the characters and about how those characters express something that the audience is feeling. So it has to have some universality to it, having to do with relationships, whether it’s male-female, parent-child, whatever it is. And then you have to take them on a journey. And then you have to make it excruciating somehow.
And by the way, you can catch up on Ms. Kline’s latest right here on THE STORY SPOT: she’s now part of our Literati (updated live as bloggers post–if you don’t see her now, try again later.) Click through to read more and subscribe.
Pardon us for saying but this is bloody brilliant. Beat Sheet Central is author, screenwriter, and director Nicholas Jarecki‘s site where he collects breakdowns — *beat sheets* — of movies and tv episodes for your free learning pleasure.
Often when I’m writing a film or teleplay, I like to go back and look at movies and TV shows in similar genres and see how they are constructed. The point of this site is to collect beat sheets for every movie and TV episode, generated by you, the users, by watching the pieces and writing down exactly what happens.
(Novelists and memoirists, don’t go thinking you have a Get Out of Jail Free card. Nope. Learning to “beat out” your lengthier stories is every bit as beneficial. Bonus: if you can do it for a film, you can do it for a book.)