Reading for understanding: fiction; The War of the Worlds
Different mediums and the tone of the text
- [David] Hello readers. I would like to show you one of my favorite things I ever wrote. It's this splash page from this comic I wrote some years ago, illustrated by my friend Cour Billadeau. You'll notice it has almost no words in it, at least in this form. Now, let me show you the script. Pages three and four, panel one. A double-page spread, the whole greenhouse revealed, in widescreen. It's glorious. Wisps of steam curl up from bubbling patches of pool, green kelpy tendrils twine up the sides of the building. Everything is suffused with a delicate, green glow. Absent the gro-lights, some of the algae fluoresce in a range of cool-spectrum colors. But primarily greens. Eugene is dwarfed by its almost cosmic magnificence. Caption, I can't describe it. None of that language, except for the caption, shows up in the final layout. All of that was me, the writer, giving art direction to Cour, the illustrator. Then they translated that language into their own version. I think it's a pretty faithful translation. My words are translated through Cour's design sensibilities and turned into artwork. When you translate a written work into a different medium, whether it's illustrated, animated, recorded, or performed live it changes. It becomes a fundamentally different object. As readers, it's a valuable skill to explore how a text changes as it shifts from one medium to another. And when I say, medium, I mean a style of work, like a stage play, a film, a graphic novel, and audio drama, any of that. Good readers analyze those changes and use them to understand decisions that creators make. If you're watching Romeo and Juliet and the director has made the decision to dress everyone in towering robot suits, a detail that is definitely not in the play as written, what does that decision tell you? What does it mean to you? Maybe you have had the experience of reading a book series that was important to you and then they made it into a movie and you were so excited to see the movie, and you sat down to see it and it was awful. Like, they cast the wrong actors and they simplified the plot until it made no sense, and it just didn't feel right. That feeling is an example of this tension, this change, between a written material and its visual adaptation. Sometimes it can be bad, sometimes it can be good. Some readers can imagine what characters in books look or sound like, hearing them in their mind's ear, seeing them in their mind's eye. The way your imagination renders a character is going to be different from how someone else's imagination does it. So let's compare the script for this audio drama we've got on Khan Academy, Hands Off My Phone, and let's compare that against the recorded version. So first, I'm going to put up the script and I'd like you to pause the video and just read it to yourself very quickly. And now let's take a listen to the recorded version. (upbeat music) (bell ringing) - [Sebastian] Oh no he didn't. That is so harsh. - [Valentina] Right? - [Sebastian] Your dad took your phone away, just for getting a D on the history test? - [Valentina] Yep. - [Sebastian] My mind is blown. - [Valentina] Mine too. - [Sebastian] I mean, that was an easy test. - [Valentina] What? - [Sebastian] I can't believe you got a D. - [Valentina] Hey! That's not really-- - [Sebastian] And your dad is the school principal, and he took your phone away. Whoa. (chuckling) - [Valentina] You know, this isn't really helping. - [Sebastian] Your life is so bleak right now. - [David] So you can read that script and think, oh hey, Sebastian is being earnestly sympathetic. Like, he really recognizes that his friend is hurting, but when you hear that performance the way I interpreted this line is that Sebastian is low-key roasting Valentina. He's not saying your life is so bleak in a kind way. He's rubbing salt into the wounds and being a dingus about it. There's also other stuff that's not explicitly in the script like, that opening musical sting. (upbeat music) And the ringing of the bell. (bell ringing) Or those background school noises. All of that is meant to represent the fact that you're listening to a fictional show that takes place in a school setting. Does it work? That's for you to decide. When you watch or listen to a performance or a recording, or when you look at illustrations, ask yourself some questions. For an audio piece, how do the sound effects, the acting decisions, and the music impact the story or affect the meaning of the words the characters say? How does the way an actor delivers a line change its emphasis? Was someone being sarcastic or sincere in a way you didn't expect, for example? For an illustrated story, how do those illustrations help you understand the author's tone and do you agree with those choices? Is the author's interpretation of the story the same as yours? For a TV show, or a movie, or a play, in addition to all the decisions made by actors about how to use their voices, shape their faces, or hold their bodies, how does the set tell the story? How do costumes tell the story? How does lighting or special effects impact the tone? For TV and film, how does the camera impact the way the story is told? The way a piece of film text is edited, its cuts, its angles, its rhythms, can help shape the way you, as a viewer, as a reader of visual text, understand it. And if you can learn that, then you can learn anything. David out.