Master of the Cinematic Universe: The Secret Code to Writing in the New World of Media

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by John Bucher (@johnkbucher)

The world that writers live and work in has never changed as violently or quickly as it currently does. There are more opportunities for storytellers and scriptwriters than there have ever been. New outlets for telling stories seem to be popping up on a daily basis. However, the path of how to succeed as a writer has never been more confusing. How can a writer who has honed her skills crafting traditional film narratives suddenly and smoothly move to storytelling for motion comics or webisodes or interactive videos? Can Vines and vlogs be used to tell stories? Are there opportunities for writers in those mediums?

These are exactly the issues Jeremy Casper and I set out to explore when we wrote Master of the Cinematic Universe: The Secret Code to Writing in the New World of Media.

Storytelling is, of course, one of the oldest forms of communication.  It depends on a sender who encodes a message, the message (or story) its self, and often many receivers who will then decode the message (or story). But what elements can be encoded into a story? Are there elements that achieve certain purposes that other elements don’t? Can these elements be used to evoke certain responses in an audience?

It’s easy to let your head spin when new mediums for storytelling grab the public’s attention and all you thought you knew about writing seemingly goes out the window. It’s important to recognize that while mediums and methods continue to change, the basic tenants of story do not.

Aristotle suggested that communication exists to either entertain, persuade, or inform. Knowing which of these you are trying to accomplish in the medium you are working in provides a jumping-off point for how to proceed. For example, if you are writing a script for a piece to use in your crowdfunding campaign, the purpose is clearly to persuade. Sometimes, the temptation to make everything about entertainment is so strong we forget this. I’ve seen crowdfunding videos that never actually get around to asking people to give money. Most of them failed. If we know that our goal is to persuade our audience to get out their wallets and help us make our film, what should we mention in our script? While there are no formulas, there are certainly forms.

The Greeks went on to teach about the usefulness of ethos, pathos, and logos when communicating. We would do well to have a mastery of these concepts as storytellers. Knowing that pathos is needed for that crowdfunding video we are crafting becomes pretty important. So are narrative tools like irony, reversals, and internal flaws. Savvy creators will also tell you that there are differences between using YouTube and Vimeo to host the video you’ve created – and those differences also have a lot to do with your story and the purposes you have behind it. But what are all those elements and how can you use them in these new short form formats?

For starters, here are three things to keep in mind before you begin writing in the new world of media, whether it be for a short film, a music video, PSA, or any other short piece you are crafting to hold your audience’s attention.

1. Keep it Short

I’ve rarely seen any short content that couldn’t stand to be just a bit shorter. We’re living in an age where engaging content competes for every second of a viewer’s time. They don’t have one available second to waste on media that doesn’t benefit them in some way. The attention span of the audience shrinks every year. Those who learn how to cut every inch of fat from their stories will be those who succeed in the crowded market of competing content.

2. Keep it Strategic

Who’s your audience and what’s the one thing you want them to walk away with? Answering this question honestly can save creators a wealth of time. If you can’t answer these two simple questions, your media isn’t ready to release. Ideally, you will answer these questions before you even begin to create the story you are telling. One of the biggest mistakes creators make is trying to cram too much information into their story and expecting the audience to walk away with all of it. The only way they will remember ANYTHING is if you haven’t clouded your media with too many competing ideas. Being able to say, “My audience is in their early twenties and I want them to walk away laughing,” should be your goal.

3. Keep it Simple  

Simple Stories and Complex Characters – this has become the mantra that I live and breathe when I write. Amateur writers continue to believe that the more complex the plot of their story becomes, the more advanced their storytelling will appear. Nothing could be further from the truth. Complexity in the plot of your story will usually just serve to confuse your audience. The nuance and complexity of your characters is what people will find most interesting.

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Master of the Cinematic Universe: The Secret Code to Writing in the New World of Media by John Bucher and Jeremy Casper is now available at mwp.com, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble. Their on-going work around story, as well as their podcast, can be found at theinsideoutstory.com

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