We’re pleased to welcome writer and blogger extraodinaire Ollin Morales to the RU campus! We met Ollin through the WriteToDone Top Ten Blogs for Writers contest. His blog, Courage 2 Create, and RU were among the top ten for 2012.
Today, Ollin discusses the vital role of imagery in creating a compelling story.
What Charlie Chaplin Can Teach You About Writing A Great Love Story
Charlie Chaplin is widely known as one of the greatest silent film directors and performers of all time. Even though he stopped creating films decades ago, his influence on storytelling can still be felt, even today.
Chaplin became one of the first filmmakers/performers to achieve international acclaim and worldwide stardom. Chaplin’s success was largely due to the powerful images he was able to create onscreen.
He was especially a master at creating powerfully moving portraits of love and romance. When you watch one of Chaplin’s silent films, you can’t help but feel your heart stir. You find yourself having a deep emotional attachment to each character—almost instantly.
Writers can learn a lot from Chaplin.
By utilizing powerful images (or tableaus) in our writing, we too can create powerful stories that are both unforgettable and universal.
What is A “Tableau”?
A tableau is a striking or powerful image.
Tableau’s are everywhere in literature. You might recognize them if I were to list some of them for you: a youthful Dorian Gray gazing into a portrait of his aging self; Anna Karenina walking onto the train tracks just as a train approaches; Jean Valjean, the wanted criminal, making a grand escape through France’s ancient and vast sewer system.
Powerful tableau’s can also be found in popular films: an adorable-looking alien, named E.T., using his powers of levitation to lift a young boy, and his bicycle, into the night sky; Thelma & Louise driving their Ford Thunderbird convertible straight into the Grand Canyon; the enormous, majestic tree in Avatar falling into a cloud of ash and fire.
As you can see, many of the best stories ever told have been told through a series of tableaus: powerful, moving images that help drive the emotion of the story forward.
A Study of Charlie Chaplin’s Use of Tableaus
One of Charlie Chaplin’s best films is called The Kid.
The plot of the movie is fairly simple, but it’s one of the most heart-wrenching love stories you’ll ever see in film.
In The Kid, Chaplin reprises his famous role as The Tramp: a poor, working-class American willing to resort to pretty much anything (even stealing) to get by.
Now, if we cut the movie down into a series of tableaus, we might see what makes Chaplin’s story so emotionally potent for its audience:
Tableau Number #1: The film begins with an image of The Tramp picking up an abandoned baby at the side of the road.
Tableau Number #2: The Tramp is having breakfast with a small boy (the baby is now grown up) and we see the Tramp counting the number of pancakes on his plate, making sure the number of pancakes on his plate is equal to the amount on the boy’s plate.
Tableau Number #3: The authorities are holding The Tramp back while the boy stands alone on the back of a truck. The boy is reaching out for his adopted father and is sobbing uncontrollably.
Tableau Number #4: The Tramp, his adopted son, and the adopted son’s biological mother are re-united on the front porch of an extravagant-looking household. The End.
As you can see, I don’t even need to give you a detailed summary of the movie itself. You can already gather the whole story just by becoming familiar with just a few of the striking tableaus that Chaplin utilized throughout the film.
My description of these images in succession may have already stirred strong emotions in you without me having to show you the actual film.
And that, my friends, is the power of using tableaus.
Utilizing Tableaus To Help You Write A Great Love Story
Now that we’ve studied the way Charlie Chaplin utilized tableaus in his films, we can try using some of the same techniques to help us create powerful images in our own fiction.
Here’s how to do it:
1. Cut your story down into 3 simple, tableaus, with each tableau representing the beginning, middle, and end of your story. (You can draw out these three tableaus, or you can write them out, whichever you prefer.)
2. Once you’ve created your 3 tableaus, ask yourself if these images stir any powerful emotions in you. If they don’t, you may need to work on creating more striking images—images that will really stick in your readers mind and make them feel for your characters.
3. Finally, insert these three, new and improved tableaus back into your story.
Hopefully, you’ve learned something new today: that tableaus can help you improve your romance story. Creating powerful images throughout your novel can help drive the emotion of your story home, and can create a tale as universal and unforgettable as a Charlie Chaplin film.
What are some of the most memorable scenes you’ve seen or read? What techniques do you employ to visualize a scene? Share with us!
Author Lucy Monroe presents Because Romance is Healthy on Wednesday, May 23rd.
Bio: Ollin Morales is a fiction writer, freelance writer, ghostwriter and blogger. His blog, Courage 2 Create, chronicles his journey as he writes his first novel. The blog offers writing advice as well as strategies to deal with life’s tough challenges. His blog was named one of The Top Ten Blogs for Writers by WriteToDone two years in a row (2011, 2012).