Friday, July 15, 2022

John Truby and the British Baking Show: Why Images Are More Powerful Than Words

Cleaning out my writing bookshelves this week, I found an ancient set of cassette tapes recorded by Hollywood script doctor John Truby. Cassette players are a thing of my past as well, so the set will probably go into recycling. But the book insert is still valuable, as are Truby's take-away from these lectures.

Bottom line: successful movies are written with images first, words second. I remember contemplating that idea for months after I heard him say it.

My chiropractor's office has a TV broadcasting the British baking show. I go there twice a week. So far I've learned about sticky toffee cakes, tuiles (wafer-thin cookies), and many more drool-worthy treats. The characters, with their Brit accents on low volume in a noisy waiting room area are nearly impossible to understand. But the images are easy. They speak of no-holds-barred extravagance of taste and texture and aroma. I used to be a professional cook; those images carry me right back.

Images are universal, no matter where you come from, your age or experience, says Scientific American writer Daniel Barron in a 2016 article on how the brain processes images. They are received differently than words. No wonder advertisers rely on them to communicate volumes without language, just as my British bakers did.

We are such a visually oriented culture. But we are trained in school to communicate with words first. Images are considered by some as random, illogical, even somewhat dangerous. They are definitely powerful.

Here's an idea to ponder this week: writer’s block occurs when we become too word-based. Freeing ourselves requires tuning into our natural, childlike ability to perceive images.

I like to use this test on my own writing when I feel stuck. I print out a sample, maybe 10 pages, and a colored highlighter. Then I highlight any images I find on those pages. Images would include not just visual but texture, taste, sound, temperature, etc. Think a sticky toffee cake--lots more there than just how it looks, right?

Some writers have too many images. Refer back to the post on pacing from last week's blog for a way to correct this--it's usually a pacing issue. But if your test comes up with a deficit of images in the sample pages, give yourself a field trip this week.

For ten minutes each day, pay attention to images around you. What can you perceive when you remind yourself of details perceived via the five senses?

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