Camera Angles in Fiction Writing

Melchior doesn't put all his eggs in one basket.

Melchior doesn’t put all his eggs in one basket.

Most novel writers have heard that their scenes should be cinematic. You want readers to imagine what they are reading as a film playing in their heads or as John Gardner said, “the continuous dream.” If your scenes are to be cinematic, you will need to know where the camera is in every scene.

Writing Tip for Today: Let’s take a look at a few ways you can employ camera angles in your novel’s scenes.

Panorama to Close-up.

A scene which begins with a wide-angle or panoramic shot feels slow to the reader. It starts gradually, often with a landscape, and homes in on a character or two. If you wish to communicate the importance of the landscape in a particular scene, or to set up the story, a wide shot crawling to a close-up can be effective. But be careful–readers aren’t likely to understand why they’re being shown this slow panoramic shot until the scene closes in on the character. A vista or panorama scene that lingers too long or which is included just because the scenery is just so darn beautiful may frustrate readers. Watch films you like for clues as to how long the camera takes to get to the close-up and apply this to the number of “wide-angle” sentences you write.

Quick Cuts.

When the story’s action heats up, movies often cut quickly from one picture to another. The fast progression of cuts adds tension to the scene and lets readers know exactly what to pay attention to. Many times, quick cuts are employed as close-ups. Think old westerns set in the saloon, where two dueling cowboys are threatening each other. In fiction, use these same quick cuts–back and forth in short dialogue clips, stares or other gestures, or inner thoughts or emotions. By pairing these camera cuts with shorter more direct sentences, you can recreate the film technique. Cuts are also useful when the scene has more than two characters. Back in the saloon, poker players are sitting around a table, cards in their hands. If the POV character is assessing (or suspecting!) whether a player is cheating, the camera may refocus more than once to include the POV and different players. In one shot, POV speaks to Players B and C. Then the camera cuts away and refocuses on POV plus D and E. You get the idea. This technique keeps readers reminded of all five players, even when some aren’t exactly in the spotlight.

The Dissolve or Fade.

Fade to black is a time-honored theater technique which lets the audience imagine what happens after the blackout or provides an ending. In fiction, you can simulate this idea with a few camera tricks. First, when you need to give readers the general suggestion of events (let’s say the POV goes to the saloon every day for a week), readers won’t want to read about every single day, especially if nothing much happens on those days. By showing only the barest of scenes where POV goes in to play poker, perhaps using narrative to summarize, you can give readers the idea without boring them. Then, the day that really matters will be more important and you can slow down to act out the important scenes. And at the end of a scene, you can fade to black if you don’t want the loose ends tied up so tidily. If readers know the general direction in which the POV is headed, readers can fill in their own versions of what comes next.

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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