Last blog post, we discussed "to be" verbs, and the best methods of destroying them. Now let's take a look at active verses passive action. That's right. It's a sequel blogisode!
For this issue, let's take a look at the opening to one of my favorite trilogies: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. For the first, I dunno, six hours of the film, we are treated to the exemplary Cate Blanchett narrating the history of Middle Earth. She covers literally thousands of years in a well-written speech, and then drops the audience off in the Shire to finally start the movie.
In Gladiator, a phenomenal movie about...something...we open on a senior thesis detailing the exploits of the Roman Empire. Same for basically any movie set earlier than 1950. Even Mad Max: Fury Road, easily the best movie of the last few years, opens with narration.
When I was in school, my teacher often said that "Voice Over is the crutch of a lazy writer." Instead of taking a few extra minutes to organize the story, the author simply dumps a load of information on the audience and moves on. These packages of exposition violate the primary principle of good writing: Show, don't Tell. Voice Over, or text narration, rob us of action and adventure.
So how can you avoid being passive while at the same time building a unique and glorious world? How do you engage the viewer and inform them at the same time?
Through dialogue and action.
Take a look at John Wick, another great film with a relatively simple process. We aren't hammered over the head with a bunch of exposition (with the exception of an unforgettable monologue by the antagonist). Throughout the film, John is reminded about certain "rules" of this universe. There are places where "business" is not to be conducted. Whenever John's name is mentioned, the entire room grows silent. The history is implied and shown rather than downright told.
Remember the opening to 28 Days Later? A man wakes in a hospital and finds himself alone in a world gone silent. He wanders the streets in his gown, screaming "HELLO!" We're not told the timeline of infection and the destruction of England. We are shown the effects. We have to use our brains a little.
And therein lies the crux of this argument. Lazy writers tend to be distrustful of their audiences. Instead of banking on the viewers understanding motifs and emotions, they make their characters say those things out loud (cough*Twilight*cough). Instead of trusting adults to infer history based on visual and context clues, they have an old bard spin a tale and lay out the backstory.
As a writer, you need to trust your audience as much as they trust you. If that trust is lost in either direction, then the story is dead. Writing passively makes you seem uncertain of your tale. It comes across as timid and anxious, and that emotion can be transferred to the reader...and not in a good way.
Next week, we're going to take a look at exposition, and the best way to introduce a main character. Until then, get back to that keyboard.