William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White wrote in their book ‘The Elements of Style’ the following paragraph.
“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outlinE, but that every word tell.”
The lines were written by Strunk in the original book, and while writing the introduction for a later edition, White had the sense to mention them in the introduction. The ‘Elements of Style’ of course is about writing in English. But the idea expressed here is very important for filmmaking. I’d like to say it like this.
“Vigorous filmmaking is concise. A scene should contain no unnecessary shots, a sequence no unnecessary scenes, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the filmmaker make all his scenes short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every shot tell.”
Of the hundreds of theories on filmmaking I find this the most fundamental and its application the hardest. It is hard mainly because it is quite difficult to determine which shot is unnecessary and which is not. In Strunk’s mind things were black or white. Either a word was important, or it wasn’t. I don’t know whether he ever considered that one word could be less important than another, and therefore its contribution though small, still be helpful. For those who live by grays and fractions, the decision-making could indeed be tough. But it is an approach I’d consider worthwhile.
Later on in the introduction, White quotes Strunk again. This time as Strunk makes his axiom a little softer, and for me, clearer.
“It is an old observation, that the best writers sometimes disregard the rules of rhetoric. When they do so, however, the reader will usually find in the sentence some compensating merit, attained at the cost of the violation. Unless he is certain of doing as well, he will probably do best to follow the rules.”
Strunk wasn’t that inflexible after all. But what he does with this last paragraph is take the argument into the realm of individual preferences. And from that realm, unfortunately, the argument can never come out.
I have a feeling the book is full of such lessons, or as I like to consider them, approaches.
By Satyaki Roy in Facebook