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Friday, October 19, 2012

Writing Lessons from FF Coppola's The Black Stallion

Show vs. Tell.

As writers, we're often told to describe our characters' joy, sadness, and fear rather than state it as a fact. Communicating relationships through dialogue and body language is an important part of the craft of writing...so why am I about to show you a movie clip?

Because the 1979 version of The Black Stallion, produced by Francis Ford Coppola of Godfather fame, does an amazing job of showing the emotions and character development of the young protagonist, Alec (and of the stallion, for that matter).

Once Alec is saved by the wild stallion he admired on a traveling ship (the ship goes down, killing everyone else, including Alec's father), the two create a hesitant, then powerful bond on the beach where they survive until they're found by fisherman. There is little to no dialogue for quite awhile, and I found myself entranced.

I highly recommend renting this movie (or your local library may carry a copy!) as an exercise in creating powerful emotion with a lead character who goes through an incredible circumstance, but doesn't use much dialogue or internal thought to express himself during or after.

Throughout the film, we rely largely on Alec's body language and facial expressions to know what's in his heart. And the same exact thing goes for the horse. We really come to know the horse's personality in this film, which I love.

A movie works in images, but a writer uses words to paint those images and emotions. I found wondering how I would describe the scenes I was watching and saying to the hubby, "This is a PERFECT example of show, don't tell, and less is more." The beach scene of this movie is so very poignant and elegant that I had to share it...but I couldn't find an isolated movie clip.

I DID find a video that combines scenes. The clip is long (seven minutes), transitioning between the deserted island, and the race that Alec eventually enters with the stallion. It offers a variety of images from the film rather than a single scene, but will give you an idea of how the cinematography acts as a narrator. The clip focuses on the stallion as a character, not Alec.

If you like the imagery you see (even if you only have time to view a minute or so), I urge you to find a way to see this beautiful film.

*You might want to scroll forward to about a minute and thirty seconds if you're bored with the film shots at the beginning~ it picks up :)







31 comments:

  1. I love this movie! I think we own it on VHS, but I'll have to dig it out now that you wrote this post. Thanks for the reminder about body language and facial expressions. When I revise my WIPs, these are the things I have to add in, because I've never done it enough.

    ~Debbie

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    1. I tend to be redundant in my body language and expressions. Lots of glancing and gasping and turning and looking :)

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  2. That's cool. I haven't seen that movie in years. I may have to check it out now.

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    1. It's great for a rainy or colder night :)

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  3. Okay. I must admit. I haven't seen the movie so I'm terribly behind the times on the movie.

    Second, I was intending to only watch a minute or two of the snippet provided but I caught myself tapping my foot and wagging my finger to and fro from that upbeat music that was played for it.

    Thirdly, I did actually pay attention and got to see what you meant. The sheer beauty of the movie would have to be watched to fully appreciate what was shared. And, oh my, "horse fight?" That was unexpected :-)

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    1. Yep, ya gotta love the River Dance music, right? :) And yes, the horse fight was pretty intense. Thanks for watching the clip!

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  4. I must admit that I just watched over a minute, but what a beautifully-filmed movie. I'll have to look for it - it would be perfect for movie night.

    Have a great weekend!

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    1. It's great for a movie night at my house, because it satifies both the adults and the kids, which is always nice :)

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  5. One of my favorite books growing up... FF Coppola had some amazing storytelling to work from.

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    1. I still need to read the book! I know, I know...but I read Black Beauty :)

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  6. Oh yes! Seen and loved it! It's a great family film and you're right. The cinematography and imagery are beautiful:)

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    1. I agree~ it's a great family film :)

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  7. I don't remember liking the movie very much, but I read the book sometime around middle school and really enjoyed it.

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  8. I need to rent that movie for the kids. They love horses. Your post made me think of Hemingway, who I've heard actually removed paragraphs so that people could just feel that they were there.

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  9. I love this movie! It's so true that so much can be conveyed through showing. But I think for me the trick is to get the words to do that for me without it sounding stilted or unnatural.

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    1. My strength does NOT lie in writing action or body language. It's a constant struggle that I have to tackle in revisions.

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  10. I loved the Black Stallion series and read all of them as a kid. I got a hold of one a while ago and was so disappointed with the writing. I've never seen so much telling or adverbs in one place. Learning how to write well has ruined my ability to enjoy old favorite books (and quite a few of the modern ones, too). I'm sure Coppola did a great job with the film though.

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    1. I still haven't read the books. I've had the same thing happen to me when re-reading books that used to excite me SO much, but somehow don't hold the same magic when I read them now.

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  11. I loved that scene in the movie and you're right, so very powerful and not a word spoken. I'm trying to think if my kids have seen this? May have to go rent it :-)

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  12. I loved that scene, too. This movie is an excellent example of what you are writing about. It's been so long since I read the book, it makes me wonder how Walter Farley handled this.

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    1. Exactly! I really need to grab the book from the library and check out the scenes to see how they compare.

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  13. I've never read the book or seen the movie but now I'd like to! How does one get to know "a horse"? It must be the small, almost imperceptible nuances since horses don't talk, smile or laugh. Good post and your previous one is making me rethink my Halloween strategy. I was going to be Rosie the Riveter but now I'm thinking Katniss would be super cool - my kids would think it AWESOME.

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    1. Rosie the Riveter is a great costume! I agree, though, Katniss would be pretty cool and would win more kid points :)

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  14. Banned complain !! Complaining only causes life and mind become more severe. Enjoy the rhythm of the problems faced. No matter ga life, not a problem not learn, so enjoy it :)

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    Cara Mengobati Vitiligol
    Cara Menghilangkan Infeksi Jantung

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