Very few filmmakers manage to capture the very essence of cinema, the definition of which has tortured the minds of so many great classical film theorists. Is it art? Is it reality? Is it expression? Is it impression? To me, its essence is time. BFI's Sight and Sound beautifully ponders director Richard Linklater's romance with cinema and time in a short video essay, which reflects on the temporal bond of his films, which are less sequential still images of captured light than poetic soliloquies about existence, about life -- about time.
Time is everything to cinema. When we see a film up on the big screen, chances are we're not seeing 2 hours of uninterrupted seconds; it's edited down. Time is manipulated. It's controlled. And in the end, it's what we capture, as well as what we experience.
Filmmakers like Linklater have grasped and obsessed over the depiction, interpretation, and expression of time -- how it passes and how people respond to it passing. His Before series (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight) is an excellent example of this, because, not only do we see the characters Jesse and Celine age over the course of nearly 20 years, but as Jesse says, and Sight and Sound explains, there is "poetry" in the mundanity of life: sleeping, cooking, working, tying your shoes and looking in the mirror.
It's a direct counterargument to that saccharine quote that's on every college girl's dorm room corkboard: "Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away." No, Linklaters filmmaking sensibility would argue that the true beauty of life isn't found in the breathtaking, but in the taking of breaths -- every single one.
The grandest way Linklater could have invited his audience to experience this idea of time is through growing up and growing old with his characters in the Before series. Truffaut did it with Antoine Doinel (who some say represents the director's alter ego), spanning 20 years from 400 Blowsto Love on the Run.
The connection between we, the viewers, and them, the characters, becomes personal, naturally, because as we grow older and change, they do, too. As filmmakers, though we don't necessarily have to follow Linklater's or Truffaut's model of having recurring characters, we can learn from their ideas that time, or moments, are the "building blocks" of cinema. As Sight and Sound so eloquently puts it, Linklater's films are an "ongoing conversation with cinema, which is to say, a conversation about time passing."
Feeling existential? What do you think about Richard Linklater's filmmaking sensibility in terms of representations of time?
In the realm of narrative arts, "economy in storytelling" stands as a pillar of effective and compelling writing. It’s a principle that transcends genres and mediums, shaping stories that resonate deeply with audiences.
Whether you’re a budding writer, an avid reader, or a film enthusiast, understanding this concept can transform your approach to storytelling.
Today, we dive into the essence of this principle, exploring how brevity and precision in narrative can create a powerful, lasting impact.
"Economy in storytelling" is a phrase commonly used among writers, and it refers to the practice of telling a story as efficiently as possible. This concept is key in all forms of writing, but it's especially crucial in screenwriting and other mediums where space or time is limited.
Why Do Writers Use Economy in Storytelling?
Credit: HBO Max
In essence, economy in storytelling is about making every word, scene, and character count. It's a skill that involves careful planning, editing, and a deep understanding of what is essential to the story's core message and emotional impact.
Here are a few more reasons why you should employ it in your own work:
Conciseness and Precision: Using the fewest words to convey an idea. This doesn't mean the story is rushed or details are omitted; rather, every element included serves a purpose and contributes to the overall narrative.
Show, Don't Tell: This is a staple of economical storytelling. Instead of explaining through exposition or dialogue, actions and visuals are used to convey information. In screenwriting, for instance, a character's emotions or backstory might be shown through their interactions or setting, rather than explained in dialogue.
Removing Redundancy: Cutting out repetitive scenes, dialogue, or descriptions that don't add to the story. Redundancies can slow down the pace and bore the audience.
Streamlining Plot: This involves focusing on essential plot points that drive the story forward. Subplots that don't contribute to the central narrative or theme are often minimized or eliminated.
Balancing Detail and Brevity: While brevity is key, it's also important to provide enough detail to create a rich, immersive world. Economy in storytelling is about finding that balance.
Impactful Storytelling: Ultimately, the goal is to tell a story that is impactful and engaging. By being economical, writers can create a narrative that maintains the audience's interest and delivers a powerful message or experience in a concise manner.
Meaningful Character: Writers focus on developing a few well-rounded characters instead of crowding the narrative with many underdeveloped ones. Each character in the story has a distinct purpose, whether it's driving the plot forward, revealing key themes, or contributing to the protagonist's journey.
Trimming Excess: During the editing phase, writers look critically at their work to remove any elements that don't serve the story. This might involve cutting redundant scenes, streamlining dialogue, or even removing characters that don't add significant value to the narrative.
Focusing on Key Themes: Economy in storytelling is also about ensuring that the central themes and messages of the story are clear and not diluted by too many diverging ideas or motifs.
Leveraging Subtext: Instead of stating everything explicitly, writers often use subtext—meaning that is implied but not explicitly stated. This technique allows the audience to read between the lines and engage more deeply with the story.
By embracing economy in our narratives, we learn to value each word, cherish every scene, and develop characters with purpose. This approach not only streamlines our stories but also deepens their impact, leaving a lasting impression on our audience.
Whether you’re crafting a novel, a screenplay, or even a short story, the art of saying more with less is a skill that will undoubtedly elevate your storytelling craft.
Now, go get back to writing.
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