Wednesday Workshop: Narrative and Transition


Narrative and Transition
Wednesday Workshop
28 February 2018

Narrative and film have much in common. How do we tell a story? How do we tell it in words? How do we tell it in pictures? How do we tell it when we combine words and pictures? There is so much to learn about narrative from film.

I am watching a very “amateur” film on tv. The script editor is fallible and strange things are happening.  The protagonist’s car, covered in snow, turns a corner and comes out shiny black, not a snow flake on it. Hey: who are you kidding? We live in Canada. The back seat of the car is piled with luggage. The passenger turns and takes a set of files from an otherwise empty back seat. The two occupants arrive at their destination and each takes one bag from that same back seat, passenger side and driver side, leaving the back seat empty: no piled luggage.

I think you get the picture. A narrative needs smooth and logical transitions, unless the narrative demands the opposite. But even then, the transition must have a certain logic, even within the realms of surreal illogicality, a reality that has its own internal demands, often dream-like and thematic.

We are the creators of the universe we create. We determine its logic. We must have confidence in our own creative powers, and in the internal logic of the actions of our characters. We develop our instincts as we write and we learn to trust those instincts the more we write. Alas, very little work or thought was put into the movie I was watching before I broke off to write this.

As for the film transitions  themselves: (1) change of place; (2) change of speaker; (3) flashbacks; (4) dream-world; (5) change of camera angle on speakers; (6) close-ups; (7) middle distance; (8) wider panning … others are easily observable. To these, for our own written narratives, we can add (1) change of tense; (2) change of narrator; (3) change of point of view; (4) speeding up narrative; (5) slowing down narrative; (6) change of imagery / metaphor; (7) even, from time to time, a change of language, of print type, of  punctuation etc etc.

More important than anything, though, is the internal logic of the piece we are writing, be it long or short, poetry or prose. Another consideration is that of rhythm: all writing has its own rhythm and the rhythmic flow of transitions is almost as important as the magical flow of words.

6 thoughts on “Wednesday Workshop: Narrative and Transition

  1. Another good lesson. I often pay more attention to the background than foreground in movies, trying to catch the set designers in an error of commission or omission. When reading, it’s jarring when topics or people arrive or leave without explanation. When writing, it’s terrifying that they might. I’ve just finished writing a book, and after moving many of the elements around, I ended up with lots of ‘widows and orphans’, I.e. setups whose scenes had gone elsewhere, and conclusions ditto. Hard to find them, too, when every paragraph has become too familiar. One (me) assumes that what I’m saying must make sense…which is where volunteer readers come in handy. Cheers, -j

    Sent from Mail for Windows 10


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    • You are a word artist too, Jan: widows and orphans, indeed. A magical image. At yesterday’s workshop, a very good actress read the participant’s works out loud. It is always fascinating to hear one’s own words read by another voice. Part of the problem lies in (a) getting our own individual voice on the page (poetry); (b) getting the individual voice’s of characters onto the page (prose). When another reader lifts ‘our voice’ of the page, rhythms and all, then we can be reasonably happy with our work. As for the ‘widows and orphans’, a Beta reader is usually necessary, one who has time, one you can trust. Also a competent editor. We live in an age of team work: I won’t say the solo artist is ‘dead’ … but it is much harder work nowadays when everything is moving so much faster.


  2. Good morning, Roger. Glad to see Wednesday Workshop again. I have a hard time reading or watching something that has inconsistent or sloppy transitions. As a filmmaker, I’m not even sure how that level of incongruity would get past me! Well, I suppose one has to learn by trying and then receiving helpful feedback. Sometimes there is a good story and a poor story teller!

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    • I worked as script editor in several amateur production short movies with the NB film coop. You develop an incredible eye for tiny details. But yes, transitions are so important. You can have ‘leaps’, but even these should be within the bounds of logic: like, no car wash going round the corner … from dust and snow to sparkle!

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      • No kidding! You are a man of many talents! And yes, unless somehow your characters are going mad and losing touch with reality… the car stays dirty and the luggage stays piled in the back!

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