I managed to get to three  of the biggest exhibitions in town this January – Canaletto, Gaugin, Cezanne – and took time off to read a great novel. It wasn’t easy. There’s always a reason for not doing the things you enjoy. And you know the strange thing: whenever I fight the urge to work and do instead the thing I enjoy, I get an insight that feeds straight back into my work.

This time it was the same insight four times.

The first time was Canaletto and his Rivals at the National Gallery. I always liked Canaletto but tended to think of him as rather picture postcard. Not a bit of it. When you see him close up, you realise how strong is his sense of structure, how daring his compositions.

But what I saw most of all was his use of gesture. How he could create the sense of a real human being simply through the way a tiny figure stood, threw out an arm, or hunched over a basket.

Gaugin and Cezanne had the same ability to create a character in a simple posture or frozen movement. Dickens, maybe the most cinematic of novelists, had a similar flair for finding just the right actions to immortalise a human being before your very eyes.

How could this apply to screenwriting? How could it not?

Look at the way a great writer can introduce a new character with a simple action. Bonnie Parker putting on make-up. Scarlett O’Hara refusing to talk about war.

Not for them, lengthy descriptions, details of age, and so on.

Back to the easel…

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