Last weekend we watched 6 Underground with my partner. It’s kind of a terrible movie. It’s Michael Bay at his most Michael Bayest – on steroids – directing a script by the Deadpool writers. Sometimes you can’t make out the action through all the lens flares and extreme close-ups circling the character’s face. Based on what’s there, I think the script was intended to be something very much along the lines of Deadpool 2. Action comedy of a group of slightly tarnished and a little terrible people coming together to accomplish a greater goal. And if you’re thinking “wow, that doesn’t sound at all like a Michael Bay movie” you’d be right!
But this is not a post to simply rag on Michael Bay, no matter how much fun that would be. Watching 6 Underground got me thinking about just how much visuals change what’s been written. Take another Michael Bay vehicle, the first Transformers movie. I’m not the first to say this, but if you just read the script, Mikaela is the only three-dimensional character in the entire film. Lindsay Ellis did a really good piece about this in her The Whole Plate series.
6 Underground has a similar problem. The camera and the narrative are often in disagreement about what’s going on. The camera is doing a Very Serious Action Movie, and the narrative is something else entirely different. Movies are a visual medium and as such the visual component is a lot stronger than in novels. But I think the bad sex in fiction awards prove that the novel is still a visual enough a medium that you can do some real damage to your narrative through unfortunate visuals.
It’s the other side of the coin that I, personally, struggle with. I have a tendency to make my visuals be too on the nose. The number of sad scenes that I’ve written where my first instinct is for it to be raining. It is ludicrous. Somehow, there needs to be a middle of the road option where the visuals are not in conflict with the narrative, but they’re not cliched, either. My best solution so far is to fix it in editing. I’m starting to be more aware of my own current bullshit which probably just means that I’m going to have new bullshit soon. But it also means that sometimes I catch the cliches before they go in.
It’s a lot of work, being intentional with your visuals. Do you have any foolproof tricks to get them good in your fiction?