Visual Storytelling

In case you’re not up on your entertainment news, Nicollette Sheridan, of Desperate Housewives fame, is suing her former boss for wrongful termination and battery.

Lots of off-stage drama has ensued during the court proceedings, and lots of industry insider information has been revealed as well.

This LA Times piece does a great job of summarizing the action to date, but one quote from that article struck me as particularly important for copywriters:

“A mid-level writer testified that she earned $648,000 for one season’s work, eliciting groans from a spectator’s gallery packed with reporters earning substantially less for putting verbs after nouns.”

That quote thwacked me upside the head because of it’s mistaken assumption.  Truly, the reason that TV writer earns several times more than most journalists* is because her job DOESN’T involve “putting verbs after nouns.”

Creating drama means creating and sequencing scenes. It doesn’t necessarily involve putting words together. You can storyboard a story just as easily as you can script one.

And the better the dramatist, the more she will think in terms of scenes — scenes that will hook the audience, making them care about the characters and what they’re going to do and what’s going to happen to them next, and compelled to stay until the ultimate meaning of the narrative storyline is revealed.

The dramatist may well create scenes using words, but she doesn’t (or shouldn’t) THINK in terms of words, she thinks in terms of portraying interesting and compelling scenes!

I mean, this year’s winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture was a silent film! The drama hardly depends on words.

This same “storytelling through images” principle is why Stephen Spielburg can give an entire interview on the storytelling genius of Norman Rockwell.

And what about writers who write for the printed page (or screen) or for the radio?

They too should think in terms of images and scenes because they too write for the theater, only now it’s “theater of the mind,” as Stan Freberg called it.

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And this principle of getting past the notion of wordsmithing and into the aim of creating “movies in the mind” will, once grasped by a copywriter, boost the selling power of her ads by multiples.

Bottom Line:

Storytelling through the sequencing of mental images is how you stop getting paid like a reporter and start getting paid like that mid-level writer on Desperate Housewives.

* For the sake of accuracy, it should be noted that the very best columnists are also consumate storytellers and that the average working writer in hollywood makes substantially less than six figures.



  1. 10 Advertising Tips from Joss Whedon | Jeff Sexton Writes on 03.25.2014

    […] equally well to radio. It always amazes me the amount of peo­ple in radio who talk about “The­atre of the mind” but don’t really under­stand what the phrase means or never write ads that cre­ate that kind […]