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Story Stuff Is Story Stuff

CreativeCOW presents Story Stuff Is Story Stuff -- Art of the Edit Editorial


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I like writing. I always have, and I've always been okay at it. It makes a lot of sense to me when editors also write – blogs, scripts, whatever – because the tasks are so similar. It mostly comes down to constructing a story of some kind, and the same pitfalls seem to apply more and more as I keep editing and writing stuff.

Since I'm sufficientish (or maybe proficientish? I don't know words) at writing and I want to be AWESOME, I did the obvious and looked up advice from famous authors so I could copy off...er...attempt to emulate their success in small ways. I got hooked into a bunch of articles by awesome writers talking about being awesome a couple months ago. Since then, I've been noticing more parallels between good editing and good writing. Story stuff is story stuff, but it's been interesting to apply tips meant for writers to editing video – unscripted or narrative, or whatever you might be cutting.


Don't go into great detail describing places or things. – Elmore Leonard
In unscripted stuff particularly, I've seen a tendency for editors to use a whole bunch of b-roll at the beginning to describe a place. It's kind of like the editorial equivalent of four pages of describing the weather and town instead of actually getting to the story. It's so much better when a place or thing is built through a character experiencing it.


Every sentence must do one of two things – reveal character or advance the action. – Kurt Vonnegut
If a cut isn't revealing character or advancing the action, then why is it there? This has been especially interesting to me while cutting narrative. I'm not just assembling a scene. I'm editing a script, after the fact.


Your story will always be stronger if you just show the physical actions and details of your characters and allow your reader to do the thinking and knowing. – Chuck Palahniuk
Palahniuk goes on to talk about the differences between two kinds of passages. In one, the main character is described as anxious about missing a bus. In the other, the circumstances of the main character's anxiety are laid out. You're in her head and getting a sequence of events that leads you to feel anxious FOR her, but the text itself doesn't say "X was anxious."

In editing, I've seen something like this: you're following a protagonist who is about to embark on a scary adventure after a restless night. In one version, you dip to black, put up a descriptive title slide, then move onto the action of the next day. In another version, you find key bits in the b-roll (maybe even in different parts of the day or from another day) that build the anxiety of the night leading into the action of the day. Easier said than done – you often don't have the b-roll – but some creativity and intent is sometimes all it takes to help suck the audience in a little bit more.


Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted. – Kurt Vonnegut
In the subjective world of writing and editing, it's hard to please everyone. And that's not what this is about. Tell the best story you possibly can with what's been provided to you. Don't be lazy, don't cut narrative corners, and don't assume your audience are imbeciles (unless that's your target, I guess.) If someone feels their time was wasted by watching your story, that's their problem.


If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. – Elmore Leonard
If it looks like editing, edit it differently. This is the one I've had on my mind the most over the last couple of months. Sometimes I come into contact with sequences cut by people I don't know and have the opportunity to examine them closely. So often I'll find that a good opportunity for an invisible edit is squandered by a flash to white or unnecessary speed ramp. Style over content.

The footage is good. The right music change, natural sound, and arrangement of cuts would be sufficient to end a thought (or paragraph) and go to the next one. This bit is more than just an inability to transition: cuts that are too clever or on the nose or perfectly to music, unintentional jump cuts, star wipes (eh) – any kind of edit that reminds a person that editing has happened.

I suppose it's extremely obvious to compare writing and editing since it's all storytelling, and often as an editor you actually ARE rewriting a thing someone said. Plus, how many times have you been searching for editing jobs online and found a bajillion copy editor gigs instead? Story is story and editing is editing, but some timeless wisdom has served me well in the edit suite lately.







Comments

Re: Article: Story Stuff Is Story Stuff
by George Roulston
A musical analogy: J.S.Bach was the master of multipart contrapuntal compositions. As a pianist or organist has only so many fingers, his genius was to write just enough for each part (or musical thread) to enable the listener to construct complete musical themes from interwoven fragments.

Editors are in a similar position. There is only so much screen time available to us and elaborating every detail in every storyline would bore the audience to tears. So we practitioners of the 'invisible art' must always be second-guessing our audience. Is this short scene enough? Will they understand the dilemma of our protagonist from this one close-up or do I need dialogue here? How do I convey the evolving relationship of two or more characters? 2-shots? Close-ups? Music? How much time do I want to spend setting the location?

I've been doing this for twenty years now and still haven't found any simple answers. Every movie is a new adventure, I guess that's why I'm still doing it.
Re: Story Stuff Is Story Stuff
by Stephen Menick
Smart stuff. Thank you.
Re: Story Stuff Is Story Stuff
by Shawn Hare
Hi Kylee,

Your article was thoughtful, well researched, and meaningful.

Ray Bradbury claims to have never rewritten a single page of any of his novels. Quite frankly, in some instances (a la Something Wicked This Way Comes), it shows. While I enjoyed Fahrenheit 451, and some of the Martian Chronicles stories, there are equal numbers of stories by him that have been thoroughly disappointing, and it's precisely because he broke all of the rules that you centered upon.

I believe that a good writer reads, re-reads, and reconsiders, and alters what (s)he has written, and thinks about the edit as (s)he goes along in the creation of the story, as much as a good director shoots for the edit to the best of his/her abilities.

Getting the story across, as you said, without insulting the audience's intelligence, and moving the story forward -- not wasting a moment of precious, irreplaceable time, all the while working to create as invisible an edit as possible (unless you're actually aiming for an obviously edited piece ... though it certainly removes any possibility of story immersion and suspension of disbelief) should be the modus operandi.
Re: Story Stuff Is Story Stuff
by Clay Couch
Don't go into great detail describing places or things. – Elmore Leonard

John Grisham would disagree :)

Clay Couch
buddy.couch@gmail.com
@Clay Couch
by Kylee Peña
Vonnegut: "The greatest American short story writer of my generation was Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964). She broke practically every one of my rules but the [one about not wasting time]. Great writers tend to do that."

blog: kyleesportfolio.com/blog
twitter: @kyl33t
demo: kyleewall.com


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