Why Subtitles Improve Your Writing

“Marriage?” He scoffed. “We can barely afford this house.”

“But we’ve been together for 10 years,” she whimpered.

He sighed and leaned back with his chair creaking beneath him. “You’re right, but–“

Have you ever come across these kinds of expressions while reading a book and wondered what they meant? Or maybe your mind filled in the gaps based on the context of the scene? Whichever was the case for you, I highly suggest that whenever you watch a TV show or a movie, that you put on the subtitles, even if the characters speak your native language.

Here’s why:

lily 0lily 1lily table clatterlily 3lily 4

Watching TV shows and movies with subtitles on allow you to learn three fundamental things:

  1. How dialogue is written
  2. What sound effects and expressions sound like
  3. Rhythm and beats of a scene

1. Dialogue

The most obvious reason why you should try watching TV shows and movies with subtitles on is to see how punctuation works, and maybe even expanding your vocabulary with new sophisticated words characters may speak.

If the characters are also incredibly nuanced in the way they all speak, seeing the phonetically written versions of their speech along with listening to how they deliver their lines, will also help you get a sense of certain word patterns different characters use. Do they speak in long bursts with little to no breaks in between words? Do they seldomly speak? What kinds of words do they often use?

For extra measure, having a notepad ready to jot down your observerations can help inform the kind of unique dialogue your story may benefit from.

2. Sound Effects and Expressions

With that opening sample scene I came up with, despite the lack of detail, I’m sure you can get a sense of how the situation might feel like for both the man and woman. Even if you don’t know what a scoff is, you can sense that it is something he is passive aggressively dismissing based on his following dialogue.

While you can get away with knowing what special words like scoff and whimper mean, you might run the risk of misusing them in either having them used in the wrong context, or simply breaking a certain character’s personality.

The man in this sample scene is anxious about marriage due to finances, and it doesn’t sound he really loves his girlfriend. If he did, maybe his sigh would come earlier because marraige is something he does want, but his financial woes get in the way.

Furthermore, the creaking of his chair can add to that scene to convey that he and his girlfriend are indeed in financial trouble, so much so that they are sitting at a table with low quality wooden chairs that creak.

Watching something with subtitles on can often help you hear what all these non-verbal expressions and environmental sound effects may sound like. It wasn’t until watching some TV shows and movies with subtitles on did I truly understand the difference between laughing, cackling, and chuckling.

3. Rhythm and Reason

Referring back to those screenshots of the scene from How I Met Your Mother, I originally wanted to only post pictures two, three, and four, but then realized I would be depriving you guys of this fundamental lesson. Watching with subtitles on can also help you understand the rhythm of a scene.

The first shot is silent, with Lily and Marshall sitting next to each other minding their own business. Marshall calls Lily’s name and she nearly jumps out of her skin because by screenshot number three, she is startled and hits her legs against the table causing it to clatter. She asks Marshall how long he’s been sitting there and in the final screenshot, she curses having the eye patch for obstructing her vision.

Had I not put the first and last screenshots, this scene would have no set up and no pay off. It would be devoid of context and the impact of Lily’s fright wouldn’t feel as full without that silent moment between herself and fiancee. Furthermore, without the final screenshot, the scene wouldn’t be as funny without her cursing the eye patch.

Learning how subtitles are spaced out between a scene, as well as how sound effects and expressions interject between what the characters are saying, can help you establish in your own work the rhythm and pace to which your characters interact.

I will definitely write more later on this concept of rhythm and beats in a scene, but for now, what I would like to emphasize is how helpful it is to get a sense of how that all feels on your own terms.

So give it a try; watch your favourite TV show and movies with subtitles on, specifically your favourite scenes in each story to see why they move you the way you do. You will be surprised by how the spacing between lines drastically affect the feel of the scene, as well as the new vocabulary you might come across in terms of non-verbal expressions and environmental sound effects.

Did you find this unorthadox writing tip helpful?

What has been your experience with subtitles?

Do you have your own piece of unorthadox writing tips? Feel to share all this and more in the comments below!

 

 

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Our Write to Live

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Before I begin, I want to extend my massive thanks to everyone who has read my first two posts in this series; My Write to Live and Your Write to Live, which detail the importance of writing in my life, as well as the importance of storytelling in the world at large.

That first one was incredibly difficult for me to write because of how vulnerable I had to be about some painful parts of my life, all the while summing up decades worth of stories as to not get derailed from the main point I wanted to make, which was how important writing has been in my life.

Wrapping up this series, I want to take the time to write and send this love letter to past and future coaching clients alike. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for sharing your stories with me. Whether it was your autobiography or the workings of your imagination, thank you for opening up and revealing to me who you are and what you value solely through the ideas we explored/will explore together.

Being a writing coach has been a dream of mine the past couple of years ever since I became aware of how naturally curious I am about the story ideas invented by my friends and family. And if my Askaholic Mode moments weren’t about stories they were creating, they were about the stories they’ve enjoyed in books, shows, or movies, endlessly wanting to know why certain stories resonated with them, and why the ones they create are the ones they create.

I think a quick glance at anybody’s book or DVD shelf can reveal what kinds of things they value, whether it’s romance, sci-fi, or spirituality, our personal preferences say a lot about who we are. Love, truth, justice, and other human concepts that we make real through our belief and experience–all of these concepts and ideas are repeatedly validated through the various mediums of storytelling.

From the word of mouth to the major motion picture, once again stories connect us. And for those who want to hone in on a specific concept and craft an elaborate story that explores these ideas,  let me just say congratulations first of all, for having a mission and a message to share with the world.

Second of all, I want to be your ally in the fight for truth and justice. Whether you’re self-disciplined and can pump out 2000 words a day, or you struggle to write because you don’t know where to start or struggle with motivation, I am your ally. Whether we agree on the same values or not, I am your ally. Because as a fellow writer, even if we don’t agree on the same things, the number one thing stories have taught me is to consider alternate points of view.

Where there is disagreement, there is the opportunity for the deeper understanding of another. Stories have shown us time and time again what the consequences are to holding contrary opinions and refusing to understand the other.

All I’m saying here is that as a writing coach, I am in love with understanding others through their stories.

Now I may not be published and haven’t done any speaking events yet (they’re in the works), I will openly admit that those two facts make me feel like I may not have sufficient credibility to help anybody with their work. After escaping the conventional workforce and deciding to become a writing coach full time, I’ve become full of equal parts fear and excitement for the future.

But then I reflect on the past year I’ve spent finishing the 3rd draft of It Starts at Home. I may not have a fancy degree in teaching or writing, but what I do have is determination and openness to take in life and all it’s curve balls.

For months, I’ve struggled with my own sense of motivation and purpose, even doubted that I could ever finish this draft. Constantly thinking that maybe it’s too risky to take this whole writing business full time, I’ve come close to deciding to just go back to my day job where I’m safe and secure.

In the end, though, I was able to finish my 3rd draft and am now on the process of editing it as much as I can before sending it to a professional editor for an outsider’s opinion.  This whole time I’ve been fearing if I could ever be good a writing coach to anyone, and somehow I managed to coach the most stubborn and resistant person I know; myself.

What would make me a good coach to anyone is the fact that I’m just your everday average joe who has rose in the ranks of his own personal development. Where I once resisted the difficulty of writing, I’ve embraced the challenge whole heartedly and came out on top. Where I once saw it as a chore to finish what I started, I reminded myself of the higher purpose and reasoning as to why I write in the first place.

Fuck all that self doubt and self denial. This book is bigger than me and my petty feelings of inadequacy. If you’ve ever felt the same way I have, then I want to extend my hand and say you’re not alone.

As your writing coach, we can overcome writer’s block together and smash with the bulldozer of our convictions.

With no published book, no track record of speaking events, and especially no pieces of paper to certify me as some literary genius, all I have is my conviction. My conviction to understand my clients and inspire them to reach their full potential, to convince them how equally important their stories are to the ones that already exist in the world and the ones that are simultaneously being crafted on paper while theirs remind locked in their psyches.

It is, and would be, my honour and pleasure to join you on your journey to wholeness and self expression.

It’s Our Write to Live.

My Write to Live

blood on paperWhen I was a teenager I had suicidal thoughts, and on some unfortunate occasions, suicdal tendencies. I was bullied by the other kids and wanted to turn to the school staff for help, but most of the teachers I had were authoritatian tyrants or simply uncaring of my well-being. A vice principal I once had talked at me with throwaway advice without taking any time to understand how I truly felt. That same vice principal would later in the year fail to prevent a fist fight I got into, even though I had provided him a ton of evidence it was going to happen. Needless to say, I didn’t have the school staff’s trust because whenever I would defend myself from bullies, I would be the one who would get in trouble and shamed for my behaviour, for my emotions. With nowhere to go and no one to turn to, not even my own family, I felt completely and utterly alone.

Or so I thought.

One of the few things I would find solace in was the music of Korn,along with other angsty nu-metal bands, but Korn was my all time favourite since I was a kid. I related to the raw frustration Jonathan Davis’ lyrics were written with and they inspired me to write some of my own in the same vain. Whether the lyrics were about the bullies I wanted to take down, the girls who rejected me, or the general feeling of emptiness by the end of the school day, I wrote lyrics to release these feelings somewhere safe where I wouldn’t get in trouble or be shamed for my behaviour, or my emotions.

Fast forward to my adult years, there was a time where my life was falling apart far worse than I had experienced in my teen years. To name very few issues I had out of a myriad of others, I was getting into intense fights with my family, had to leave a writing critique group due to fundamental philosophical differences, and worst of all found out that an ex-girlfriend of mine had committed suicide.

It was August 2014, I was unemployed and directionless. I had very little money left from a caregiving job I was severely underpaid for and felt empty. Now having grown up and survived my adolesence, I no longer contemplated suicide, especially considering the tragedy of my ex-girlfriend. I no longer cut myself and no longer imagined myself beating my chest until my heart gave out, but I still felt like my life was meaningless and that I didn’t have much reason to live.

Not until I journaled about everything that has been going on for me at the time. Not until I remembered that I had a half finished 2nd draft of a novel just sitting on my computer left untouched for many months. That novel of course was It Starts at Home, the very same anti-child-abuse themed novel that I had fundamental philosophical differences about with my writing group, likewise with my family, both of which, of course, are stories for another time.

For many months after leaving my writing group, I felt discouraged from ever writing again. But when I got back into it and got on my way to completing the second half of the 2nd draft, those feelings of inadequacy and meaninglessness disappeared. Those feelings of regret over my existence were all gone as well, for I rediscovered the joy and meaning I found in writing this story. Sure I picked myself up, applied for work, and got two jobs I put a ton of passion into, but they could never compare to my true calling. My true calling that I drowned out with the noisy distraction called “work.”

Of course! The answer to the question “what am I gonna do with my life?” has been right in front of me all this time, right under my nose, hiding in plain sight: I need to write.

And I stress the word need because writing is a necessity to my life just as much as blood is. To me there is no difference between the blood that drips through my veins, and the ink I bleed on to the page.

I was born a writer. Even when I was as little as seven years old I would skip school to write stories and draw comic books. I’m in love with stories. Whether they’re acted out in a TV show or film, printed in a book or set of lyrics, stories are what makes my life worth living. Not to mention the stories of our lives as I also find a great interest in the real life stories of those around me. All of our lives on this planet are a bunch of stories complete with their own twists and turns, character development arcs, and crossover narratives.

Stories, in any form, help me feel like I’m not alone. To know that others feel the same way I do about life and the human condition, that makes my habitual confusion and anxiety managable. From the lyrics and books I’ve read, movies and TV shows I’ve watched, all my favourite stories have resonated with me on an emotional level. They put the storm in my head into words and action, sequenced in honely crafted narrative that express the growth of character and the universal human desire to overcome life’s many obstacles.

As a writer, this is what I want to achieve. I want to strike a chord in those who read my lyrics, comfort those who will read my books, and let them know that all these confusing and conflicting emotions are all part of simply being human, and although there is no cure to them, they can be managed and understood.

As a writing coach, this is what I want to inspire in other writers. I want to help other writers, as I’ve painstakingly helped myself, to realize the power they have in putting their innermost vulnerable thoughts into the written word. The power to make readers, like myself, feel a lot less alone when life gets them down and when meaning seems all but lost.

The written word is My Write to Live.

It’s Your Write to Live.