Once upon a time, many years ago, I could picture an entire movie in my head as I was writing it. I don’t know why I could. Or why I did. But it happened and, in theory, it helped me to write better descriptive passages.
I don’t really do that anymore. I write in a much more meat and potatoes type of way. This, I’ve found, is a detriment and makes clear, compelling writing much more difficult for me. What happened that drained me of my visual abilities?
Proposal writing, so far as I can tell. Also a lack of reading.
Proposal writing is akin to technical writing – it’s supposed to be merely informative, not compelling or even necessarily interesting in any way. You write to get to the point as quickly and as easily as possible. You overuse words like “ensure,” “provide,” and “method.” Any descriptive or flowery language is a waste of space that can be used to tell your reader (someone you’re looking to get money from) why you’re the best company for the job. I’m of the opinion that compelling writer will help to sell a product, but there are people with 35 years of experience telling me otherwise.
Secondly, I don’t read as much as I used to. Not prose fiction, anyway. I still read lots of screenplays, blogs, news articles, etc. but those don’t rely on descriptive passages like prose fiction does. Screenplays are a blueprint, essentially, and most amateurs are taught not to get too caught up in flowery language because, like proposals, it can often be a waste of space. Anything that won’t be shown on screen is useless, or so the school of thought goes. You’ll find arguments raging against that advice (or any advice that relies on telling a writer what they shouldn’t do) on most forums and the like.
However, if you’re doing descriptive passages right they should add to the screenplay, not waste space. This is why reading is so important. Yes, lots of prose authors don’t understand the concept of brevity but the ones who do are invaluable. I read a script the other day from a fellow amateur that had the simple phrase “swirling snow” and it immediately gave me a strong visual of inclement weather. And it had alliteration, which I’m a sucker for.
I was glancing through Stephen King’s book On Writing today and came across a passage discussing exactly what I am. He said, much more eloquently than I am, that in order to write compelling prose you must be descriptive and allow your reader to visualize what you want them to. It takes a special skillset to close your eyes, picture a scene, and then write it down in a way that translates clearly to other people. He said the only way to do that was to read and write a lot.
Screenwriting is exactly the same thing, but with different tools than a prose writer. Instead of describing green grass outside a house we write EXT – THE HOUSE, FRONT LAWN – DAY. We leave blanks for the reader/director/whomever to fill in, only taking care of the really important stuff. That’s tough to do.
I resolve to read more. I resolve to write more. And I hope that once I start working again (if I go back into contracting) I can do a better job of switching between technical Craig and creative Craig.