Crafting Life Stories

Pictures ARE Worth a Thousand Words



April 3, 2017Apr 3, 2017

In the Golden Age of Hollywood, screenwriters were fond of saying, “It all begins with the word.”

Sounds good, especially to writers, but today in the world of social media, most stories begin with a picture. When you come right down to it, Facebook, Instagram and Flickr are really 21st century high-tech versions of that elementary school favorite, Show and Tell.

And why not? It’s only natural.

Let’s say you’re going to tell a story online celebrating someone you love: your best friend, your parents, or your soulmate.

What’s the first thing about them that comes to mind?

It’s not words, is it?

It’s them, right?

How they look and talk, their smile, their laugh. Maybe you’re thinking of the last time you saw them or a favorite memory you shared together.

Whatever it was, you probably saw or heard them in your mind.

Chances are you’ve captured the images and sounds of the people you love. If you’ve got a smartphone, you’re carrying a video recorder, a digital camera, and a microphone with you at all times, ready to use at a moment’s notice. Even if you’re still resisting the lure of the latest technology, you probably have a photo album or two, or at the very least, a shoebox filled with pictures you’ve been meaning to put in a scrapbook.

Let Sights and Sounds Come First

All those sights and sounds are gold in telling the story of someone you love, especially today when there are websites like LifePosts that give you the opportunity to post pictures, video and audio to enhance your story. When I was producing A&E Biographies, the most crucial element of the program was getting as many visuals as we could about our subject to tell their story.

It’s a good way for anyone to start. Go through your pictures, videos or home movies, as well as memorabilia you have. Just looking at them will trigger memories that lead to favorite stories.

You don’t have to tell every story about the person you’re celebrating. My A&E Biography executive producer, Tom Seligson had a great rule of thumb.

“Pretend you’re making a feature movie about your subject,” Tom said. “What are the most dramatic, emotional and entertaining incidents in their life that would make for a good movie?” (Trust me, it works).

Think Outside the Shoe Box

Regardless of how much or how little you have in the way of family memorabilia, the internet is a great place to find material that can help tell your stories well. Don’t forget YouTube or Wikimedia Commons as sources for images and audio. Maybe your grandparents loved to listen to Jack Benny on the radio. Thanks to YouTube, you could post an actual episode in your story about them. Wikimedia Commons is a treasure trove of public domain visuals that could supplement what you already have. Like this apropos one, for instance:

Photo from National Archives
Photo from National Archives

How to “Show” and “Tell”

You’ve got the pictures and the stories. Now’s the time to marry them together.

As in any marriage, you want it to be a good match. Don’t make the cardinal sin of settling for “wallpaper.” That’s the term used in non-fiction television for any image that just seems to be thrown up onscreen without being specifically connected to the narration. You always want the right image at the right time in the right place.

For instance, while I was researching for the LifePost celebrating Jerry Lewis’ 90th Birthday, I discovered an extraordinary photo of the great English playwright, composer and actor Noel Coward with Jerry and Dean Martin. Talk about the sublime meeting the ridiculous. But where could I use it? Where would it be the most effective in telling Jerry’s story?

Right at the very beginning of Jerry’s LifeStory, I wanted to shatter a myth about him.

I realized the picture of Sir Noel with Dean and Jerry would be the perfect evidence to support my lead paragraph:

“Okay, let’s get the myth out of the way first. The cliché that only the French love Jerry Lewis. Charlie Chaplin wasn’t French.

Neither was Stan Laurel, Whoopi Goldberg, Richard Pryor, or Noel Coward…”

I could have just name-dropped, but using the picture of Coward and Martin with Jerry added more substance to the point being made.

A Final – excuse the expression – Word

Try telling your story with sights and sounds. It’s fun. You get to be not only a writer, but also your own art director or production designer.

Besides, if one picture is worth a thousand words, you’ll be speaking volumes about the person you’re celebrating.

Robert Waldman is an award-winning producer of documentaries and non-fiction television for A&E, CNBC, Discovery, History Channel, Travel Channel, and TV Land, among others. Check out his fascinating LifePosts for Jerry Lewis, Jackie Gleason, and his own father, cartoonist Myron Waldman.

Categories: Crafting Life Stories