I have a student who is writing a short film. The climax of the story involves the kids upstairs, getting their backpacks ready for school. They argue a little. Then they hear a huge crash from the kitchen. And another one. They run down stairs. Their mother is sitting in the kitchen amidst a pile of glass, crying. The father says he didn’t know the kids were there and leaves for work.
When I read the part about the huge crash, I thought, “Oh my. Mom has dropped a bunch of dishes.”
When I read the part about Mom sitting in a pile of broken dishes, I thought, “Oh my. Mom has dropped a bunch of dishes.”
You may have gotten it, but I did not.
Dad had been throwing the dishes at Mom. This was the big reveal that he is abusive and triggered her leaving. I missed it completely.
The writer knew exactly what she had in mind. She thought it was totally clear to the reader. I missed it. Is that the fault of the reader? I don’t think so. As my film school teacher said, “You can’t stand next to the screen and explain it.”
The writer’s job is to tell the story in such a way that the reader can only interpret it the way the writer intends. If you give the reader the chance to get it wrong, the reader will get it wrong.
This is also true in filmmaking. A shot that says exactly what the student means when they roll camera can take on a shockingly different meaning when they show dailies in class. “Oh my!” is what I hear from time to time. It meant one thing on the set and something else when screened for an audience.
Guess which one wins?