“The plane took off over an hour late…

…on my way back to London – back in March.”

A good way of dealing with day-to-day irritations is to realise how unlikely it would be for you to tell the tale of your frustration to a loved one a few days or even hours later. The late train, the mislaid keys, the burnt toast. In the moment they happen, you take it so personally: “Why is this happening to me?” As time passes, you realise that these events say nothing about you personally – they are not part of the story of your life. They aren’t usually important enough to tell anyone – unless you are giving an excuse.

To be good storytellers, we need to know what to leave out. A good number of people understand the editing job to be ‘put the film together – leaving out the bits that didn’t work’. That’s not far off what the writer needs to do as well.

We tell our stories with the irrelevant parts absent: we don’t hear about the valiant prince pitching a tent each night on his month-long journey to Repunzel’s tower. Why do our heroes never eat or drink, have problems hailing a cab or finding a parking place? Because how they do these things doesn’t make the story any better. We only show what is needed to tell the story. To make our point. That doesn’t mean only the actions of the people involved. We also show things that add atmosphere, build tension and build irony.

One of the tasks that writers and editors share is to ‘cut the boring bits out.’ They need to choose which version of a moment to use, and in what proportion and rhythm. It’s just that writers have every possible thought to choose from, whereas editors have to deal with the pictures shot and the sounds recorded by the rest of the film making team.

Which set of ingredients are you most happy to work with?

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1 comment
  1. Norman said:

    I don’t really look at it as “cutting the boring parts out” exactly — that’s just one part of it.

    Instead, I use this (probably Aocryphal) story about Michaelangelo sculpting the Pieta. In this tale, he spent years looking for the right block of marble, scouring Italy high and low. Finally, he found the perfect block and took it back to his studio.

    “Now I have my Pieta” he said. “All I have to do now is chip away everything that isn’t the Pieta.”

    That is closer to what we do — cut and shape everything that isn’t our movie.

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