The Film on the Page


If I’m deep in a good book, I don’t read words. I don’t even see them. They pass straight through my eyes and get translated into a film in my brain. Admittedly it’s quite a fuzzy film, and I couldn’t describe the main actors to you, but it’s a film nonetheless.

So how important are things like music and art to telling a story in novel format? Because they don’t get used by the reader. This may be another one of those Resist the Urge to Explain things again, but I have a very definite soundtrack for each story I write and occasionally I think it would be nice to share this with the reader.

It’s been done. Bill Bryson occasionally lists key tracks at the beginning of chapters. But do the readers actually care, or is it purely a writing aide? Yet music is so vital to storytelling on celluloid. An interesting clash of formats.

And what about visuals? Again, I have a very clear picture of what my characters look like but, as a writer, I can’t describe each person and place in detail or I’d lose the audience very fast. Comics have an advantage there, but miss out on descriptive prose which (even if you don’t see all the words) can be a beautiful thing.

In comics, of course, you get wildly varying styles of art. Some of them are best described as impressionist, whilst others are photo-clear. In a way, I kind of see this as graphic’s version of word-choice – if the story is compelling enough to live inside the reader’s head, how important are the individual words or the specific art styles?

I had a very interesting conversation last night with Mr. B and the English Teacher about dreams. Lucid dreaming is a learnable skill and Mr. B was wondering why everyone doesn’t lucid dream every night – 8 hours of free entertainment and stories straight from your own subconscious! This got us to comparing styles of dreaming. Do you dream in colour or B&W? Do you dream music? Scents? Do you dream in first person or as an omniscient presence? I don’t put a lot of stock in dream translations, but I think that the way you dream is quite telling. Are you the narrator or the audience for your subconscious?

This one was quite rambly, I know. It’s a not-quite-finished discussion going round my head. With pictures.

3 responses »

  1. You could use a streaming music service like Spotify to set-up a specific playlist per chapter, but I suppose people read at different speeds. I’ve wondered if you could sync it with something like a kindle so when the reader hits a point in the text it can trigger music the author considers appropriate.

    The music geek club we’ve got going here in Cardiff ( picked a soundtrack as our new album of the month – specifically Olafur Arnald’s score for the film Another Happy Day and as a standalone piece of music, whilst impeccable, it’s impact is totally lost without the images it’s been designed to work with. Hrm, I’m not entirely sure what I’m trying to say here – possibly something along the lines that music that existed before the film it’s featured in can come with it’s own emotional baggage – if it’s a track that the viewer hates it can jar them out of the moment but if it’s a much-adored song it can enhance the story no end – but it’s unlikely that an original score can have a massive emotional effect without knowing its visual companion.

    I appear to be rambling. Sorry.

    • I like the Spotify / Kindle idea. And yes, emotion by association is a two-edged but very powerful sword. It’s a shame that scent can’t be involved, since I’m told that’s the strongest association-sense we have.

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