More than words

I’ve been doing the fun kind of research: watching movies. There’s a story I’m revising about two little girls and their film-buff dad, who bond over black-and-white classics. To do that, of course I need to watch the classics. Lately it’s been a lot of Charlie Chaplin. “The Kid”? Hilarious and heartbreaking. “Modern Times”? Strangely contemporary, sadly. Also some brilliant choreography.

The fascinating thing about silent films is — aside from how quickly you get used to reading dialogue rather than hearing it — that you never actually get to read all the dialogue. Chunks of what characters are saying to each other is just not explained and not conveyed, unless you happen to be an excellent lip-reader. The acting is in the body movements and the facial expressions, not the delivery of dialogue. You don’t get all the words because the words aren’t relevant.

I think that’s a worthy thing to remember for writers — a perfect live-action illustration that images convey just as much as words do (if not more). That’s especially good to remember if, like me, you write picture books. Don’t love your words too much. Sometimes you need to let the image tell the story.

Also? If you haven’t watched any Chaplin yet, go do so. It’ll be fun.