For any of you who followed my last post (a writing prompt to base a short story on a song,) and were looking forward to my short story based off Hotel California by the Eagles, I wanted to mention that this last week has been very busy and I did not get around to putting the idea on paper. But for anyone interested, I did manage to make a rough outline of the story with a fantasy twist. Not all of my ideas are included, (there is a succubus, golem, cliché slave-hording evil Master, and my own rendition of vampires *eyebrow waggling*) but I took a scan of my (crappy, hand-writtten) outline to show you all how a song can become a story. I even added a dog. It might only make sense if you’re familiar with the tune, but you can see the outline here.
Now on to our post of the day.
If you’re like me, you spend more time envisioning how your novel would look as a film than actually writing it. You can see the lighting, the special effects, the artsy camera angles and all the pizazz that comes with a well-executed Hollywood blockbuster. If you are me, you also procrastinate writing because you get hung up on how to make that movie play out on paper.
Well today we’re going to call upon our inner Movie Director and brush up on a little camera-movement jargon so that you will not only tell your story, but show it using different positions in your story world’s physical space, and influence your reader’s imagination until they can see a picture that’s a bit closer to what you see in your mind. (That was a very long sentence, I know, but I just get so excited.)
The terms and short descriptions in this post are courtesy of a quiz I found on Quizlet, directly copied. The ‘how to achieve’ and examples are by yours truly.
Rack Focus || This is a lens movement not a camera movement. Focus on one object, like an actor’s face, and have everything behind him/her out of focus. Then adjust the focus so his/her face becomes blurred and the object behind the actor becomes clear.
How to achieve it: Describe the first object in detail, and then describe the second object with very scarce, very precise detail for a jolting shift in focus.
Barry, a large man with a dark beard wearing a quilted blue jacket with dingy yellow boots, stood unmoving at the edge of the clearing. He did not dare to zip up his pants again or even to breathe. His cigarette smoldered between the corner of his lips. He was very aware of his heartbeat and the clammy dampness gathering on his forehead and back of neck. The dying fire lit the left half of his face from underneath while the other half remained in shadow. Was this how it would all end? With his fly unzipped?
Behind him, the monstrous kodiak bear with scarred muzzle and one eye missing sniffed through the picnic baskets.
Zoom || Technically this isn’t a camera move, but a change in the lens’ focal length which gives the illusion of moving the camera closer or further away.
How to achieve it: Use this when you want to put weight on a certain character, object, or detail that is important for the reader to notice (or a finer detail used to ground a reader in one of their five senses.) Or conversely, zoom out from one character or object to reveal its position/importance in a larger scene.
Zoom in: The club’s walls pulsed with the deep bass and the air tasted like wet ash. Lights flashed. Dancers groped and throttled like animals in a frenzy. In the middle of the writhing crowd, on the dance floor, was Charles. Standing still. Alone. He put his cigarette to his lips once more and drew in a breath, making the cherry burn brightly for only a moment.
Zoom out: Grayson refrained from licking his chapped lips. As it was, he could already taste the coppery flavor of blood trickling into his open mouth. Every gasp of dry air he sucked in felt as though his lungs were filling with sand. His shoulders were beginning to burn as well. The desert was white, blinding, and offered no coverage from the pounding heat. Its cracked, hard surface stretched from Grayson’s shuffling feet toward a horizon with no end, with only one tree to break up the scenery and it appeared very small, very far away. The bones of animals came and went as he walked. Drought and death for miles in every direction.
Aerial Shot || Usually taken from a helicopter or cabling suspension system.
How to achieve it: The opposite of zooming in on details, this one is a trick to capture the entirety of a large setting, or a setting from a particular angle. Think of the possibilities. A battle, a stadium, an entire country from space.
Sandler the hawk glided over the battlefield, searching for his master, Kahn the Hun. The humans below, usually appearing so large in their vertical stature, now appeared as glinting dots scattered and thrashing across the muddy ground. They tripped over their dead, strewn like fish struck out of water. Some of the fighters had had their helmets thrown off. The soldiers from Kahn’s army had matted, sweaty black hair set on the wide shoulders of a warrior. The soldiers from the Emperor of Flugon’s army were mostly pale-haired and braided, a sign of honor. Kahn had a spot of pure white hair in the middle of his black locks, and this is how the hawk knew he’d found him. He dove into the battle toward his master.
Hand Held || Hand-held camera or hand-held shooting is a film and video technique in which a camera is literally held in the camera-operator’s hands–as opposed to being placed on a tripod. The result is an image that is perceptibly shakier than that of a tripod-mounted camera.
How to achieve it: If you’re a fan of ‘found footage’ (usually in the horror genre) then you know exactly what sort of effect this has. It’s shaky, it’s creepy, it’s usually in first-person and makes the fictitious story seem like you’re watching a the film off a camera someone found in a cave with a lost shoe and some blood. This can be trickier to replicate in writing, but it’s possible. Clipped sentences and a lack of true focus can help.
He tapped me on the shoulder but I didn’t look. Didn’t want to. Not now, not here. Not in the dark. If I looked at his face, it would all be over. So I stared straight ahead toward the speck of light. I had to get out of that tunnel alive. His breath on my neck. My feet scraping pebbles. Knees weak. Lip trembling. Flickering light bulbs above. Sound of water somewhere–maybe the sewer drain. The smell like death. Was it him? The sewer? Closer, I was getting closer to the light. Knee buckled, almost fell, but didn’t. Not yet, but maybe soon. Maybe before help.
He followed. I could feel it but could not hear him anymore. Where was he?
Tilt || Vertical movement of the camera angle, i.e. pointing the camera up or down (as opposed to moving the whole camera up or down.)
How to achieve it: Think about real-life perspective and how it relates to the size of objects. Start at one angle and either enlarge or shrink objects as you describe them.
Downward tilt, starting high: The treehouse was built out of hefty rolls of timber, like a real log cabin. It had a real-sized couch and a real-sized chair. The view was gorgeous, of the whole neighborhood, beginning with Tom’s own yard. First he could see his roof, almost eye-level, then the driveway where his little sister seemed smaller than normal. All the way down the street from this height, the Carlsons looked like little ants in their driveway.
Upward tilt, starting low: The ground was soft and peaty from the rains. She was certain if she concentrated hard enough, she could feel the earthworms sliding under her splayed palms in the soil. Squirrels gathered at the fat trunk of the maple tree nearby. Two of them chased one another up the peeling bark into large, sturdy limbs and they kept climbing until the thinner limbs fanned apart wider and wider. The shock of green leaves overtook the sky, but not so much as the white clouds.
Pedestal || Moving the camera position vertically (up and down) with respect to the subject (different than a tilt, the camera remains horizontal but moves vertically).
How to achieve it: Follow an object as it rises or falls, and change the scenery appropriately.
Superkid chased Evildude down the sidewalk until the villain climbed into his getawaymobile and launched into the air. Despite the presence of civilians, Superkid was forced to show his flight powers while still dressed as his secret identity Gus Grover; with a mighty jump, Superkid blasted off the sidewalk toward the sky. Telephone poles swooshed past him. The tree leaves rustled as he went by. He swerved around a bird. Moments later, he barely missed an airplane.
Dolly || The camera physically follows the subject at a more or less constant distance.
How to achieve it: This would be the ideal ‘stalker’ or ‘observer’ technique and would be best for watching a secondary character through your POV character’s eyes.
Larry rounded the corner ahead. Jake was nervous when he lost sight of him, but forced himself to take it easy. He kicked a rock. Stepped on a leaf. Then rounded the corner and searched until his eyes locked on Larry again: buying a hotdog across the street. Jake stopped and leaned against a low brick wall.
Soon Larry had his hotdog in hand and he started walking again, headed for the park. Jake eased away from the wall and followed. The delicious smell of hotdogs hit him when he got close, but he made himself keep going.
And that’s all for today. I hope you found this interesting and useful! Have any thoughts on different ways to handle these particular movements or other techniques I didn’t cover? Comment below!