I have amazing movies in my head. The scenes grow from subtle details like lighting and body language, to breathtaking action powered by strong emotion. Of course there’s snappy dialog, too, delivered with tone of voice and driven by deep internal motivation. I’m talking epic stuff, here. Big, good, funny.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a movie projector in my skull—I can’t point my head at a screen and charge theater prices for popcorn. I can’t even stick a USB cable in my ear and brain-dump my mental productions into MS Word. There is no app for Kurt’s psyche (consider yourself lucky). So... I write. I convert my omniscient writer/director dreams into two-dimensional, black and white text.
To help me translate detailed action sequences into text, I sometimes act out the scene, while narrating it aloud. With luck, I can describe the action in everyday words, and even remember them long enough to type them into my computer. But acting doesn’t work when I need to freeze a moment and see it from the outside. That’s when I borrow a trick from movie making, called storyboarding, and run it backwards.
When a movie director translates the written word of a screenplay into the lights and sound of a movie, he or she will often start by drawing pictures. These cartoon-like images, called a storyboard, show freeze-frame moments of action from the audience’s perspective. By studying the pictures, a film crew can figure out lights, cameras, marks, eye lines, and so on. Words become pictures, which become movies. All I do is reverse the process, going from pictures to words, except that...
I don’t draw well. My brother is the cartoonist in the family (shameless plug—you can see his work at www.theregularscomic.com. I’m the unseen brother in strip number 109, and no, you can’t have my Prada sneakers). Anyway, I don’t draw, so I use a camera. Most recently, I made a storyboard for a rewrite of a car chase. The scene is too dangerous to video, so I used still photos instead. In this scene—which is the modern equivalent of the stagecoach robbery in an old western—the absurdly macho Hammerfist hangs out the car door, brandishing his club.
Picture 1: Hero-wannabe Hammerfist prepares to hurl his club (I think he’s compensating) at an SUV full of ninjas.
Picture 2: The car drifts into a rut, tilting the car and dropping Hammerfist perilously close to the ground.
Picture 3: The car slides into an opposing rut, swinging the door closed. Crunch!
Not only do I have these images to study and translate into words, but I have also demonstrated that the actions are humanly possible—an important detail, because my top-notch critique group asked.
Storyboarding works for me, maybe it can work for you. Or maybe you have another trick of the trade. Let me know, and post a link if you’ve got an example on your website.