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Writers can STEAL this from Stranger Things.

by Kieren Westwood 2 months ago in feature
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Some cinematic writing techniques, to smooth over the cracks in your story.

Everyone loves that ‘cinematic’ feeling when they’re watching a movie or a TV show.

Recently, when I was watching Stranger Things (along with the rest of the world) I started thinking…

Can we, writers, bring that effect to our novels too?

That cinematic feeling, after all, is just a style of storytelling. It’s just a method to create immersion in stories.

With the rationale out of the way, here’s a couple of methods for making your writing a little more cinematic, especially in those in between moments where we risk losing our reader’s attention, or when they’re most likely to put our books down.

The first way is something Stranger Things does quite a lot.

In film, it’s called a match cut, and it’s a transition technique between two scenes, or as Wikipedia puts it:

“…a cut from one shot to another where the composition of the two shots are matched by the action or subject and subject matter.”

So essentially, it’s a matching image or action on either side of a changing shot.

There’s a really prominent example of this in one of the season 4 episodes of Stranger Things, which you can see in the video version of this article above.

It happens when the dreaded Dr. Brenner (Papa) seemingly affectionately (but actually condecendingly) boops Eleven on the nose.

The condescending boop.

The interesting thing comes when that shot immediately switches to the same hand, punching in the code to some kind of access panel.

The matched action in the next shot.

So in this case, it’s the action that matches.

In a novel, we have shots, just like a movie, albeit they’re usually a lot longer.

We also definitely have moments we need to move the reader between.

I thought theoretically then, we should be able to use match cuts in a novel or a short story, just fine.

So I tested it, and it worked.

Here’s an example I came up with from the novel I’m working on right now. We start in a tunnel, and transition to an alleyway:

“For a moment he forgot where he was, he just saw the light and kept moving down the tunnel, kept putting one foot in front of the other

‘Richard, hey Richard?’ Someone called from the darkness behind him.

*

He turned, keeping a hold on his backpack. Down the alley he’d just come from, a man was waving to him, jogging to catch up.

‘Richard, I thought it was you,”

In this case, the ‘matching’ element, is the framing of the location. The tight, narrow setting of an underground tunnel, becomes the tight, narrow setting of an alleyway.

To me, that effect is pretty much the same thing as an on-screen match cut, and I think it’s a fantastic technique for transitioning between the present and the past in a story.

It’s far smoother than ending one scene, creating a hard ending then introducing a whole other unrelated one, while making sure the whole time the reader knows what’s going on.

With a literary match cut, you never really drop the reader, you just kind of change which hand you’re holding them in as you carry them with you.

TOP TIP: Use these to transition from the present to the past

Another technique that I think we can use for pretty much the same effect, is overlapping dialogue.

I pretty much did this one in that last example, as well as the match cut effect, but essentially what I mean by overlapping dialogue is ending a scene with dialogue that bleeds over from or through to the next scene.

Again, there was another great example of this in Stranger Things, which is also in the video above.

It’s all about transition again, and a smoothing effect. In film, these are called J-cuts and L-cuts.

A lingering, distanced shot of some of the main group kind of hangs, while an unknown voice begins to talk, without context.

The main group, as a voice begins to speak from afar…

The main group, as a voice begins to speak from afar…

That dialogue begins before the shot changes, so that when the shot actually changes to the face that matches the voice, the viewer is already halfway to understanding the new scene.

…the shot changes, bringing the voice to the screen.

…the shot changes, bringing the voice to the screen.

We can do the same thing with the dialogue we use in a novel. The only difference is we have to use dialogue on either side of the ‘shot change’ that sounds as though it could be the part of the same conversation but actually isn’t.

Something like this for example:

“Did you remember to get the tickets?”

“Yeah, got decent ones too?”

“You did? Where are we sitting?”

(scene change)

“Alright folks, second row from the front, seat 4 and 5, enjoy the show.”

“Thanks pal.”

Alright, maybe not the most gripping scene ever, but this demonstrates how we can move between scenes while keeping the context of the conversation the same.

That ‘sameness’ again creates a smoothness of transition. We don’t lose the reader by abruptly stopping and starting again, we just pull them along with us, like we did before.

It probably goes without saying, but I’d definitely suggest you use these techniques in moderation. Too many, too close together might be too noticeable which defeats the points of trying to make your writing immersive.

And I know, a lot of people will probably be gearing up to say:

Film and novels are different, it’s not the same kind of writing

They’re two mediums so should be kept separate and should never mix

How dare you do this?

And I’ll acknowledge that literature and film are not the same thing, of course they aren’t, but to me it’s all storytelling.

It’s all keeping people interested in our stories.

That’s what we’re all looking for when we write, isn’t it?

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About the author

Kieren Westwood

Kieren Westwood is writer of short fiction and novels usually focussed on the meeting point of literary and crime fiction. He also shares writing experience and flash fiction on his YouTube channel.

youtube.com/kierenwestwoodwriting

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Comments (3)

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  • NJ Gallegos about a month ago

    This is an interesting idea. I'll have to keep it in mind! Thanks!

  • Clay Douglass Majorabout a month ago

    Outstanding, thank you! Insta-subscribed to your channel, glad to have found the cross-post here!

  • Susan Wilkins2 months ago

    This information was so insightful that I went ahead and subscribed to you here and on You Tube.

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