Blogger: Wendy Lawton
Novelists have learned much from photographers and filmmakers over the years. Today I want to focus on the technique of using the appropriate camera angle. We are going to explore what can be accomplished by intentionally focusing the camera of our storytelling– an important element in fiction craft.
We’ve learned a lot about camera angle since the advent of Facebook and even more, Pinterest. We watch our social media friends continually refining their picture taking style. It used to be that the bulk of photos taken were the wide angle variety. You saw a bunch of small people against a bunch of background. The photo showed the subjects in context.
As our media have become increasingly visual, we’ve learned the power of the close-up. The image of a pair of grubby high tops on chubby toddler legs elicits emotion. No shot of the face, the playground, the child. . . our eyes were intentionally focused on only one aspect. Think of the photos that have touched us–a midsection-only shot of a bride and groom holding tight to each other. The gnarled hands of an octogenarian. The back view of a dog and a child. There’s no context in any of these shots– only the close-up.
We’ve also learned that a close-up can allow us to see exquisite detail in tiny things. The other day my walking partner leaned over and snapped a picture of a weed by our trail. I hadn’t even noticed the tiny blossoms that looked like miniature wisteria blooms but her photo magnified them and allowed me to see exquisite beauty I might have missed. Same with my own garden. I’ll often zoom in and take a close-up of the patch that is perfect-at-the-moment, in full bloom. My Facebook friends ooh and ahh but I feel a little guilty for not giving context– like the weeds that have crept into the border.
So what does this have to do with our fiction storytelling? Let’s look at a few things:
- When you are writing, you are the one holding the camera so to speak. You need to decide which details rate the close-up and which need the wide angle.
- The use of wide angle in storytelling was never so expertly used as in the opening of the movie, Forrest Gump. A feather floats over the town so that we’re given a bird’s eye view of the entire scope of the story-world until it drifts down and settles on one Forrest Gump. Brilliant. From context to close up.
- Being a mystery buff I’m even more aware of camera angle. If I’m watching a good British mystery, say, and the camera pans the room but settles for a second on the pocket of an apron, I know there’s something in that pocket that is going to provide a key clue to solving the mystery. The storyteller has subtly given us an unspoken clue.
- It’s the same with a book. If you name a character and describe that character then he or she had better figure in the plot. Once you move in for the close-up, we pay attention. If you are a suspense write and we hear a footfall, there had better be an intruder.
- And if you are giving us a context shot, each detail needs to tell us something about the character or the setting in which he has developed. For instance, remember The Odd Couple— Felix and Oscar? Their individual environments gave us the context for their characters and, in that case, the conflict that formed the basis of the plot.
A skillful writer manipulates the reader’s focus, not letting a single detail go to waste.
But let’s hear from you. What examples, both good and bad do you have for us? How have you used camera angle to draw the reader’s attention? Do you ever describe something just for the joy of describing, with no intention of any of the detail figuring into the plot or telling us something about the character or setting? Is that a mistake?
Fiction craft: Watch your camera angle when you are writing. Close-up or context? Click to Tweet
Fiction craft: How to skillfully manipulate your readers with the click of a lens. Click to Tweet