A blog about writing and all things story…
Clark Kohanek’s class at the Willamette Writers Conference, Visual Storytelling, was the first in a three part workshop addressing subtext represented in objects, images and symbols that surround your characters. Clark says visual subtext saves time by condensing exposition through the subtlety of form, expressing the spirit of theme in story through a world of metaphor like the symbol of the moth in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, or the mirrors in BLACK SWAN. This workshop explored concepts and tools that utilize imagery to create a visual frame of reference between form and idea, where the subtext of a – thing – gives way to mood, tone and meaning.
Excerpt; WHAT IS SUBTEXT?
SUBTEXT: The implicit meaning or theme of a literary text, speech or performance. Related to Actual Meaning – the why and or interpretation. It’s also the most efficient way to express exposition about a character, time and place. Subtext is the content hidden within meaning of a word, image, symbol or action. It’s an emotional signpost pointing a way to a concept or thing. In story telling, subtext deals primarily with the interests surrounding the expressions of symbols, metaphors, themes and motifs.
Visual subtext presents images juxtaposed with characters that reflect thoughts, but more so imply or suggest emotional states of being. Costume, scene, time and setting play a large part of the subtext surrounding characters before they ever say a word. Visual subtext does most of the heavy lifting for themes in stories as I will explain with an in depth look at the film – THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO.
Film clip – GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. One of the primary visual themes deals with the discrepancy between the way the charactersSubtext part 2 (and settings) appear to the world. And how they present themselves and the way they actually are.
Lisbest Salander has a very distinct appearance not just her tattoos and clothes but her personality. Every aspect of her nature speaks to something beneath the surface – a story within. She’s terse and laconic in that she uses very few words to express a volume of content and emotion.
She appears isolated and withdrawn to the point that people underestimate her potential when in fact she’s quite bright, competent and capable. If she had one issue in a word it would probably be contempt. For what? – sooo many reasons, her need would be trust, set in the form of a question – who can I trust, looking to trust, – have a need, desire and hope to trust so she can build the other things in life she hopes to create based on that need.
Take a moment to think about this in your own story and life. Listen to what your characters say. Try to listen for the meaning behind the words you find in conversations with people. Is there an issue unrelated to the topic they have brought to you? Is there a need left unspoken they cannot express?
Clark’s background in dealing with troubled youths and the psychology of imagery in storytelling gives him an insight into how we, and or our characters deal with trauma through subtext and imagery. He also talks about interviewing our characters when we’re stuck in a scene. Here’s a snippet of Clark’s class –
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