10 Steps to Perfecting Your Writing Style

10 Steps to Perfecting Your Writing Style“I always have a point of view. It may not be right, but it’s my own.”—Baz Luhrmann

Four years ago, I watched Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby on the big cinema screen. As the film ended after 143 minutes, a long silence settled over the auditorium. It was a silence I had never experienced before, almost a reverence, a moment that was needed to process the story that had been flowing with a relentless pace.

Luhrmann picks up classics from Fitzgerald and Shakespeare, considering their work as relevant as ever, and adapts them for large audiences, incorporating his very unique style and viewpoint.

His films organically flow from scene to scene in an outstanding way, incorporating bizarre and emotional elements into an almost orchestral piece, leaving the spectator breathless.

How does he do this?

10 Laws of Flow From Visionary Director Baz Luhrmann

Let me introduce you to ten laws of flow that might change the way you see your story style.

10 Laws of Flow From Baz Luhrmann

1. The Narrative Circle

The camera slowly flies over the water towards a coast by night, and then the green light emerges.

This is the beginning of Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby.

Two hours and nine minutes later, there is the green light again. We fly back over the water until the light fades.

The music feels like the beginning and later like the ending of a beautiful symphony.

In Romeo + Juliet, there is a 90s TV screen with a news speaker announcing the violent family feud in fair Verona. This is how the movie begins and ends.

Luhrmann always brings the story to a full circle, the beginning and end mirroring each other’s visuals, music, and narrative. He uses important symbols and objects to emphasize this narrative circle, stunning imagery that gains meaning throughout the story, compounding their effectiveness by the end.

Whatever your novel starts with, make sure it has meaning and pays off in the end, bringing your story full circle. If you can mirror beginning and ending in more ways than one—an image, a symbol, narration, tone—your story will feel like a satisfying masterpiece.

2. One Main Symbol

Symbolism is a great way to make a story special. But there is a technique Luhrmann uses in The Great Gatsby that gives symbolism a stunning effect. He introduces one main symbol, which he explores throughout the story, giving it more and more meaning, far beyond simple functionality: the green light.

It is the light at the end of Daisy’s bridge.

Luhrmann and Fitzgerald transform it into so much more.

Just read those final words:

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us.

The green light symbolized the entire theme. It is built throughout the story, up until the very end, where it has the most powerful impact.

3. Consistency of Writing Style and Tone

Luhrmann is a master of tone and style. His movies are a big symphony of colors and art, the costumes and set design perfectly synchronized. The music follows the tempo of the editing.

Luhrmann makes stylistic choices that consider every detail, and he is never afraid to bring in his point of view and incorporate the extraordinary. You can see how much thought he has put into everything “outside” the story; every choice seems conscious and choreographed.

He really creates a world, one that plays by its own rules. But because everything fits so perfectly, the audience gladly accepts those rules and plays along.

World building is an essential part of writing, and cannot be neglected if you want to carry your reader into an adventure.

Daisy and Gatsby Dancing Leonardo DiCaprio Carey Mulligan Baz Luhrmann

To create a world that is convincing, exciting, and fitting to your characters, set an overall tone and stick to it in everything you do.

4. Seamless Scene Transitions

Especially in Gatsby, the story flows seamlessly from one place to another, thanks to transitions achieved through camera movement and music. CGI allows the camera to shift from one place to another in one single movement, no cuts needed.

In terms of narrative, the scenes also flow. They are interlocked, leading toward one another in a logical sequence.

Often, writers work on scenes but neglect the transitions.

How do the last sentence and the first sentence of the new scene fit together? Have you created a skillful yet seamless transition that flows organically?

5. The Story Within the Story

In Gatsby, there is the “framing” story of Nick trying to overcome a trauma. The main story though is the story of Jay Gatsby.

In Romeo + Juliet, Luhrmann frames the story with the news speaker explaining the long feud between the two families. Then, we dive into the love story of Romeo and Juliet.

This technique allows great setup.

With Nick, we wonder what happened to cause his trauma. In Romeo + Juliet, the news hints something terrible is about to happen.

Additionally, a contextual frame is created. It allows the author to tell the story in a slightly different light, creating that closed circle that makes the story flow.

6. Contrasts

Gatsby is a contrast to the whole society around him. He is comparatively selfless, driven by his desire to live the life he dreamed up for Daisy and himself.

Likewise, Romeo is a contrast to his family: the only romantic, the one who is thoughtful and sensitive. Juliet, too, is a tender soul, but also someone who seems more mature than her family members.

Luhrmann contrasts his main characters to the group and the society around them. He makes them special, extraordinary, rebels trying to change what is wrong with their worlds.

This technique does so many things: makes the character change believable, evokes sympathy, creates unforgettable characters.

7. Excessive Tempo

Luhrmann’s films move to an excessive tempo: car chases, parties, music, fireworks, crowds. His movies always move, something necessary to hold the attention of modern audiences. The spectators need speed to intrigue them and carry them away.

In the other hand, the moment the crazy tempo suddenly stops in certain scenes (such as when Romeo meets Juliet for the first time, or Gatsby sees Daisy after all those years), the emphasis on those moments seems even more significant. It feels like an insane car ride suddenly brought to a halt.

8. Magical Introduction of Characters

Luhrmann introduces characters in a rich way, telling us everything we need to know and more. He gives characters “a grand entrance.”

In just a few minutes, we are shown Tom Buchanan’s trophies, his big mansion, the way he manipulates and pressures Nick, and a call from a mistress.

When we are introduced to Daisy, white curtains are flying across the room, and laughter resounds. She wears a cozy but elegant white dress that emphasizes Nick’s thought in the voice over: the golden girl, radiating a special warmth. We fall in love with her instantly.

Gatsby remains a mystery in the beginning of the story. We see only shapes of him, and when we do, there is a change of music and tone, indicating something terrible will happen.

When we finally see Gatsby’s face for the first time, fireworks sparkle in the background, and triumphant music resounds as Gatsby’s look captivates us. Luhrmann creates pure magic here.

The takeaway is  important: When introducing your main characters, make sure you do it well. Bring in foreshadowing, think about how your characters are dressed, and present them in a way that reveals as many of their character traits as possible.

9. Relevance

In both films, Luhrmann incorporates real-life footage: Verona for Romeo + Juliet and footage from New York in the twenties in The Great Gatsby. This way, he makes both stories realistic, accessible, and relevant. With Romeo + Juliet, he even goes one step further, bringing the whole story into a modern-day setting.

10. The Beauty and Tragic Irony of the Last Moment

Luhrmann carefully orchestrates the last moment of the story’s catastrophe to maximize impact.

Gatsby dies thinking that Daisy called him, that she loved him. Even the audience is misled at first. But then, Luhrmann reveals Daisy never called, but rather that Nick was the only one who cared about him.

Gatsby crashes dead into the pool, and while he falls, he moves away from the green light forever. The moment is so powerful because many elements come together: symbolism, stunning visual imagery, the music, and of course, the irony and tragedy that Daisy never really loved him.

We find the same irony and tragedy in the well-known ending of Romeo and Juliet. Romeo thinks Juliet dead and kills himself just as she awakens. Juliet, seeing her beloved Romeo dead, takes her own life. In the end, they lie on a beautiful altar full of flowers and candles, sacrificial lambs to a cause far beyond their own.

Romeo and Juliet Bier

This is the moment where the story within the story comes into play. Even if  both endings are outright tragic, there is a small victory for the second story, giving the audience at least some satisfaction:

Nick can overcome the trauma by writing his book.

The violent feud between Montague and Capulet ends.

***

Find your own point of view and make it shine in your story. Luhrmann’s highly-stylized films may not suit everybody’s taste, but he is a master of his craft. In the same way, strive to master your own craft. Never be afraid to express your unique viewpoint.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! How would you describe your own own unique writing style? Tell me in the comments!

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About Diana Wink | @storyartist_me

Diana Wink is an author and film director, gym freak and creative entrepreneur, who loves stories with all her heart. There is so much to the craft of storytelling and the way of living creatively, which she tries to bring all to one place in helping others kickstart a life full of adventure, joy, and fulfillment. This is possible--by becoming a creative storyteller!

Comments

  1. Thanks so much for sharing with us today, Diana!

  2. I have read the Great Gatsby many times; I loved it and I consider it to be the “Great American Novel” despite it’s novella length. I found the Luhrmann film literally unwatchable. It felt so wrong in so many ways in terms of conveying Fitzgerald’s fascination with self-invention, wealth, and longing for the beloved who is perfect so long as you don’t get too close. The problem with filming Gatsby is that once you’ve seen the actor’s face, some of the mystery dissipates. I’ve always felt that, as in the old pictures where you never see the face of Jesus or of a President of the United States, Gatsby should be filmed without the audience ever seeing his face.

    • Well, as for me, I first saw the movie and then read the book. Maybe this made all the difference. I really loved Di Caprio’s performance and the depth he brought in. But I also understand what you mean by “not getting too close”.

      “Luhrmann’s highly-stylized films may not suit everybody’s taste” 😉 But I still think his original is viewpoint worth going along with because in several aspects we can learn something from him.

      I hope you still could get some value from this article.

  3. I wasn’t a fan of the film (although I do like some of Luhrmann’s other works), but I love your analysis. You clearly and concisely break down the narrative techniques employed in the film and leave us with a helpful takeaway.

    • Thank you, Kate! I’m really glad that that I could provide value and inspiration, especially despite you not liking the movie 😉 I think it’s great that some things are left to taste and individuality while other storytelling principles always work 🙂

  4. Great article! Introducing the tips and then using the movie to show their impact inspires me. This is what I hope to do in my writings. Thanks.

  5. Love this diagram you created and the tips you shared! As a writer, sometimes it can be hard to put ideas together into a cohesive text–this post did a great job of articulating purpose to create real results

  6. amandachen says:

    Never be unafraid to express your unique viewpoint…

    Huh?

  7. A fantastic break down of how the films were set and what made them work. I can relate many points to my work but also see new ways to add depth and meaning. Thank you.

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  1. […] 10 steps to perfecting your writing style on Helping Writers Become Authors – my very first guestpost on a blog I have been following for years, from an author who inspired me to write in so many ways! […]

  2. […] “Often, writers work on scenes but neglect transitions.” (10 Steps to Perfecting Your Writing Style) […]

  3. […] This post about the laws of flow might help you improve your writing style. […]

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