Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Essential Writing Concepts - Breaking The Frame

It continues to amaze me that I did a number of creative writing subjects at one of Australia's top universities, and there are simple concepts about writing which they never taught me. It was like they believed that to teach these concept would be to place restrictions on us budding authors and therefore somehow stifle our creativity.

Now that I'm a full time writer, I'm working hard to collect all these little bits of knowledge that other writers have worked out over the centuries, so I can skip ahead on making these mistakes myself.

Through reading and attending seminars, I'm finally realising that these concepts and rules could have saved me so much time and embarassment. Once someone pointed them out to me, they were so obvious! I don't feel in any way that they stifle what I want to write. Instead, they are secret short cuts to faster, better writing. Even if I decide to break these rules, I will at least understand what I'm doing and why.

Today's concept was revolutionary to me when I learned it at a writing conference in June this year:

Do everything you can not to 'break frame'. 

For a writer, the best times are when we completely get caught up in the flow, lost in our own world, seeing the story play out in front of us as we hurriedly try to keep up.

Why would we not want to pass this experience onto the reader?

My favourite books are those where I can completely lose myself in the world of the story, where I'm a silent observer, engrossed in the events. When reading like this, if someone calls me back to the real world, I stare around me blinking, wondering why it is now semi-dark or my tea has gone cold.

For me, this is what storytelling is all about, weaving such a world with words.

Breaking the frame is a cinematic concept, it refers to anything that comes within the frame of the shot that shouldn't, that suggests the images are all just constructs. For example, when you are watching a romantic scene, and suddenly the audio boom appears at the top. This has broken into the frame, and once you notice things like this, you are focused more on how the story is made than what the story actually is.

For writers, breaking the frame is forcing the reader suddenly out of the story. Now I understand that some people think it is 'artistic' to confront the reader, challenge them in their perceptions in a way that makes them uncomfortable. If you know why you are doing this, okay. However, there is one very good reason that should make you think before doing this: every time you break the frame for the reader, you are giving them an opportunity to put your book down and walk away.

Breaking the frame is anything that makes your reader realise that they are reading, that they are separate to the world being created. It is anything that jars the reader back into reality and breaks the spell of the writing over them.

That all sounds very dramatic, and a bit mystical, so let me give you a down to earth example in writing. One of the easiest ways that young writers do this is a sudden second person (the sneaky 'you'). While in normal conversation and communication, a second person works well because it shows the listener you are thinking of them, in a narrative it suddenly highlights that the reader is a being of their own, no longer lost in the story.

Simple lines like:

He walked across the lake. You know, it's difficult to walk across a lake in hiking gear. 

The 'you know' seems so harmless, and even give some texture to the writing. However, it is a break and the sudden change can be like a splash of water in the face of the reader. Whether it fully wakes them up or not, it has diminished your spell over them.

There are of course many other ways to break the frame, so start looking out for them and analysing their effect on the reader.

The more you understand about it, the more you can effectively use it. Sometimes the reader does just need a slap in the face in order to fully understand your point, but you should be really sure that they are going to appreciate it and not just walk away.

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