Advanced fiction techniques: camera shots FULL

Camera shots in fiction technique can help authors to write viewpoint far more effectively. When you imagine scenes through a camera lens, they help you to keep the POV consistent, and lead the reader more smoothly into your story. Here are some ways to handle point-of-view using full-body shots.

This is an excerpt from Dramatic Techniques for Creative Writers.

Examples of full shots in fiction

First, here are some examples of full shots (FS). Try reading them aloud. Imagine the scene and character in your mind’s eye.

Full shot:
Jem trudged along the drove road, a hunched figure in a black coat and heavy boots

Wide shot:
The city slept as a distant car rattled through the streets.

Can you feel the difference? The sense of space? What’s close by, and what’s far off?

When you’ve tried that, let’s look at full-shot viewpoint in movies.  

POV – what’s a full body shot (FS)?

A full body short or full shot is, as the name suggests, a whole-body shot. It lets us see the character’s entire body, from head to toe.

A full shot is between a distant wide shot (WS) and a mid-shot (MS), which is closer in and shows people from the waist up.

Full shot is a natural kind of shot that echoes the way we often see other people.

We’re seeing the whole character at a glance.

So it’s a useful point of view for general first impressions.

POV – full shots in cinema

In cinema, the full body shot was particularly popular in the early days, before directors started using the power of close-ups.

Full shots are also a reminder of cinema’s early origins in theatre.

The scale is similar to what you see in stage productions, where audiences typically take in the whole person, in real-life proportions.

A full shot lets you see a character’s body movements – their stride or shuffle, the swing of their arms, the hunch of their shoulders.

It gives a sense of their silhouette, and the clothes they’re wearing, but not enough detail to show texture or facial expression.

What can full shots do in fiction?

When it comes to camera shots in fiction, what’s the equivalent of FS viewpoint?

It’s a general impression of a character.

They’re not far off in the distance, as in a wide shot. Nor are they near enough to see detailed features.

But a FS is still extremely expressive. Think of someone stumbling towards you waving their arms; a child throwing a ball off a wall, a herdsman leading cattle.

And think of stage and early cinema actors, and how they can convey story and emotion through movement alone.

Below, you’ll find some examples of full shots in fiction.

But first, it’s best to get a clear visual sense of what a full shot is, and how it’s framed.

Character full shots and social space

A full shot lets you see how a character covers the ground and takes up space in a room.

Although it doesn’t allow detail, it can say a great deal through a character’s stride, shuffle, sashay.

Or their speed, height, degree of intention. Whether they’re still or antsy, proud or cowed.

These broadbrush movements give a strong sense of the character’s personality.

The full shot is also a sociable viewpoint. It can give a sense of the character’s social, public or work surroundings.

The framing allows space for some context. Are they in a park? A shop? A busy road?

Are they alone, or with other people?

If they’re with other people, what can you tell about status, allegiances, resemblances?

Are they leaning away from or towards each other?

Who’s in charge? And who’s the underdog?

Who stands out flamboyantly? Who recedes into the background?

How do colours or silhouettes affect the character’s impression?  

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Full shot POV and emotional detachment

The full shot POV is typically  more emotionally detached than a mid-shot (MS) or close-up (CU).

At this distance, other characters are at an untouchable distance.

If we’re close enough to touch or greet them, they’re in mid-shot.

In FS, we can only hear others when they shout, or talk loudly.

We can’t hear the detail of ordinary conversation, unless the surroundings are quiet.

To get within natural earshot of the character, you’d probably close in further, to a mid shot (MS). 

So in fiction, full shots are great for introducing a third-person character, whether at the start of a story or new chapter.

How to use full shots in fiction

Like the WS, the FS can be used as an establishing shot. Or, they can be used as a mid-way point after a WS, to bring us closer to the character.

Try this:

First, try writing your character in full shot, giving a general impression of their body, eg:

Jem trudged along the drove road, a hunched figure in a black coat and heavy boots.

At this scale, think about gait, shape, how the character takes up space. What’s the first impression?

Write that first.

Then, close in and give a bit more detail – arms, sense of purpose, what they’re carrying, eg: 

His hands were stuffed deep into his pockets against the cold, and his scarf wrapped so thick that his face couldn’t be seen.

Where does your mind’s eye want to go next?

Try this:

Clothes are important in full shots. They give a crucial first impression.

So, what clothes stand out with your character? What colours or items of clothing are iconic of their appearance or personality?

Fashion designers and fashion eras often have signature silhouettes. Think of the A line, the New Look, the Vivienne Westwood bustle.

Then think about your character’s silhouette. Are their clothes tight or loose? Short or long and sweeping? Heavy and sculptural, or light and fluid?

Try observing people in the street with your eyes half-closed (while being careful not to get arrested).

If they were characters, what would be the dominant impression?

Use your observations to write some FS sentences.

Try this:

Develop your FS sense more, by focusing on the element of action.

Think about where your character is heading? What’s the direction of travel, or dramatic intention, of their movement? What verbs could you use to express that energy and intention?

Now, write some new FS material to develop your paragraph.

Then, try intentionally inserting a WS element into the FS section.

What’s the effect? Can you feel the difference in mental “travel”?

When might you use a FS in your writing?

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