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The Unseen Speaks Volumes
Watch what you cut OUT of your work, because the absence of something tells a story, too
This is part of my “Art of Noticing” series, in which I learn, find, or discover the things around me that usually go unnoticed and turn them into an endless source of creative inspiration.
Today, I learned that due an editing quirk, a character on a TV show appeared to be creeping outside a window for hours instead of newly arrived. It made me realize that in visual media, what we DON’T see often says more than what we do.
During a chat with actors on a TV show adapted from my books, I learned something that became fodder for a several-minutes-long unintended joke.
In a particular scene, a character named Mike is shown outside a restaurant window, peering inside. It’s meant to indicate that he’s just shown up and is now observing troublesome things inside, but the editors neglected to show him actually arriving beforehand. No big deal, right? Everyone knows that in order to look through a window, you have to walk up to it first, so there’s no real need to show him arriving … right?
You’d think that, but you’d be wrong. Because it’s much more typical in a case like this to SHOW THE OBVIOUS TRANSITION (Mike showing up), the absence of the obvious shot really does make it look like he’s just been there forever on re-watching. It’s as if he lives outside that window, watching everyone inside like a weirdo.
This got me thinking about how when we don’t for-sure know what happens in a scene (in film, a book, whatever) because the creator doesn’t show it, the audience might draw all sorts of unintended conclusions. They won’t all be what you expect, and they might change the meaning for some people. In Mike’s case, he went from scheming vampire to creeper.
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Here's how this "noticing" can benefit my stories and art:
I Might Create Intentional Gaps Just to See What Happens
Okay, so the example of Mike doesn’t do anything productive for the story, but that doesn’t mean that in other cases, the omission of transitions and other elements might not create something really cool.
Whether you're drafting a screenplay, designing a video game, or directing a film, maybe consider trying some intentional omission. Leaving out a scene might invite viewers or readers to actively engage, forcing them to fill in the blanks with their imaginations. It might lead to heightened suspense, curiosity, or even comic relief.
Not every scene or scenario needs clear, defined transitions! Sometimes, a degree of ambiguity can make a narrative more interesting. Requiring readers or viewers to fill in gaps can engages them as active participants, drawing them deeper into the story.
But, Use Caution When Editing
Omission can be intriguing, but personally, I’m an articulator. Sometimes an over-articulator who’s always in danger of explaining too much and boring people, or being redundant.
Just keep in mind that omission is a double-edged sword. You might not need to say what was left out, but in other cases more specificity is required. It’s a good idea to consider the unintended interpretations and implications that might come from cutting something. It might make the difference between suspense and unintentional creeping-comedy.
Sometimes it's the unseen and unshown that drives a narrative. It can add layers … if you know what you’re doing.
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