The opening scene shows a man and a woman on a bridge. The scene cuts first to the woman’s face, then to the cigar in the man’s hand, to the water, and back to the couple as they lean against the bridge and stare into the river as a boat floats by. The camera cuts briefly to the thief that approaches in the distance. The shot widens. The camera focuses in on the woman who sees the thief running towards them.
Camera work is the perfect analogy for writing. Your angle, your focus, your edits, stand between you and keeping your reader engaged. Without “camera work” and thinking like a director, you might lack structure and direction in your writing.
The difference between good writing and great writing often comes down to certain nuances and understandings about how to communicate, structure, and execute an idea and turn it into a piece that both communicates a message and engages a reader.
Unfortunately, without some kind of framework, we’re left with diary entries, ramblings, and reports that do little for the reader.
It's important to understand that writing isn’t merely relaying ideas or information, it’s a visual experience too. Readers often visualize while they’re reading which can determine whether you keep their attention for as long as your writing deserves.
The easiest trick? Think like a filmmaker. You’ll learn to communicate and structure your ideas in a way that maintains the reader’s engagement. These tips apply to whether you’re writing a story, an article, a script, or short form content.
Choose an Angle
Choosing an angle is the first thing you should do when writing about a topic or telling a story. Without an angle, it’s as if you are filming in a distant aerial view. Who would watch an entire movie in aerial view? No one. Same goes with writing.
There are very few new topics to discuss in today’s world. The key is picking your angle, your perspective, and your point of view. This is often revealed in your opening paragraph and carried throughout your article or story.
Be specific about what angle you’re choosing so you can better avoid writing more general formulaic informational pieces that already saturate the world of content.
Focus your shot
Once you’ve found your angle. Focus in even more. Open with your angle — one scene, one shot, one view that shows the reader what you’ll be talking about. Just as a film doesn’t begin with an opening scene narrating the general background of a script, your writing shouldn’t either.
A good film opens with one scene capturing the audience’s attention right away and pulling the viewer into the story and keeping them engaged throughout the narrative. Your focus is also the intention behind why you are writing an article or story. You don’t tell a story merely for the sake of telling the story. There is almost always a lesson, a takeaway, or something to be gained by telling a story or writing an article. The focus is the intention behind the words.
Focusing in on your shot also includes writing your message clearly without added fluff or unnecessary wording (or B roll…). Don’t get lost in showcasing the extra beautiful footage that doesn’t serve your story or the reader.
Frame your scenes
How does framing your scene differ from choosing an angle or focusing in? Framing your shot also includes every aspect of the story you’ll cover. Think of it as your mise en scène or the style and components of your composition. Know how you will be composing your content (what style), as well as the props, actors, and elements that are necessary for your story.
Get rid of anything extra that doesn’t serve the story or article. Is the scene over-propped and cluttered with unnecessary words, run-on sentences, or a distracting use of certain types of punctuation? (Hello semicolons and ellipses.) Are your paragraphs coherent, or are you using too many long drawn-out sentences?
Frame your shot with the right mise en scène that shows you know your style guide and that you have established the best way to communicate your message to the reader in the cleanest and clearest way possible.
Use the appropriate filter and lighting
Like with film, the lighting in your writing is everything. And by this I mean the voice and tone you carry through your story or article. If you want to establish yourself as a writer, it's essential to establish your voice. And you typically can't do this until you know your style and who you are as a writer.
The biggest filmmakers and auteurs have distinct style and direction. We know certain directors by their films because their style is carried throughout the film. This rule applies even if you’re a ghostwriter, which many content writers are. You must always know the tone and voice of the content you are writing.
If you haven’t established your voice, it’s okay. You may still be in the experiment phase. You will develop and evolve your voice the more you write. But regardless, each topic will have a certain tone, whether it’s humor, an activist, or a neutral reporter, because each piece you write you will have an underlying tone of the message or story you are relaying.
Editing ruthlessly is essential. Trim, cut, and take notice where the reader might stray off so you can edit out parts that shouldn’t linger. As mentioned before, there are many diary-like journal entries out there that do nothing for the reader but serve as an outlet for the writer. While this may work in some cases, ultimately, the best writing is written for the reader by a writer who has insight, a message, or a lesson to convey.
Read your content like a stranger and edit where your attention strays. Ask someone else to do the same. Tell them to mark where their attention drifted and see what kind of “cuts” you can make to keep the reader engaged.
Imagine a director kept all the footage that was shot? The movie would be endless and no one would watch it. Would a camera stay on one image for hours? No, it would show you only what is necessary. The same goes for descriptions in your writing. Don’t linger too long, and be sure to edit out what's unnecessary.
One way to greatly enhance your writing is to visualize it. Don’t just see it as words on paper. Visualize the process like you’re filming a movie. Choose your angle, focus in on your shots, and set up the right mise en scène.
If you can’t visualize what you've written, then you know you need to go back and sharpen your angle and focus. What you’ll end up with is a beautiful film (piece of writing) rather than random footage shot without a direction or purpose.