What to Put on Which Screen

[This is another memo extracted from the archives of The Wizard of Ads. It was originally sent to subscribers in November, 1999.]

A Monday Morning Memo from the Wizard – in a Reflective Mood
by Roy H. Williams

You’ve seen the screen of a television and doubtless will again. But you’ve also seen the screen of the imagination. Deciding what to put on which screen is a writer’s greatest challenge.

And it’s also why the movie is never exactly like the book.

The eyes are objective organs, taking in only what’s really there, even when what’s “really” there is a Hollywood special effect. But words are not objective. Like the keys of a mental piano, words trigger mental images. And each mental image comes with associated images that are unique to the individual.

Because my love of language has long been widely known, visitors to our facilities are often surprised to see the many hundreds of artistic photographs that line our hallway walls, as well as the extensive space, equipment and manpower that my firm has devoted to video production. Yes, I believe there are times when it is better to show the picture than to attempt to describe it. But there has never been a picture that is worth a thousand words.

CONSIDER: Put an image on the TV screen when you don’t want it to be subject to personal interpretation. But put it on the screen of the imagination when you do.

Throughout this essay, I’ve used the word “screen.” And although there is little doubt that you understood my intended meaning, there is also little doubt that you attached certain subconscious associations to the word, depending upon your personal background and experience.

screen n.

1. Furnishings – A movable device such as a decorative panel, designed to divide or conceal
2. Security – One that serves to protect. Guards formed a screen around the President.
3. Mining – A coarse sieve used for sifting out fine particles, as of sand, gravel, or coal.
4. Employment – A system for preliminary appraisal of personnel.
5. Construction – A window or door insertion of wire or plastic mesh used to keep out insects.
6. Entertainment – The white or silver surface on which a picture is projected for viewing.
7. Television – The phosphorescent surface on which an image is displayed.
8. Computer Science – The information displayed at a given time on a computer monitor:
9. Electronics – The electrode between the anode and the control grid in a tetrode valve.
10. Printing. A glass plate marked off with crossing lines, used in halftone reproduction.
11. Military – A body sent in advance of a larger body to protect or warn of attack.
12. Basketball – A block, set with the body, that impedes the vision or movement of an opponent.
13. Football – A type of short pass.

To select words according to their associations is one of the loftiest skills a writer can acquire. But when you have learned to do it, you will play symphonies on the keys of the mental piano.

Roy H. Williams

1 thought on “What to Put on Which Screen

  1. Yvonne DiVita

    This is the stuff of which my dreams are made. Words are the real people-connections. We can all look at pretty pictures, watch a new movie, or flip through the pages of a coffee table book, but, each set of eyeballs has a different impression of what they are seeing. Each person validates that image with preconceived notions of what the individual parts of the images represent. While this is, in most cases, also true of words — different cultures assign different meanings to the same words — words allow writer and reader to come to some common ground. I am drawn to my Monday Morning Wizard of Ads memo because Roy’s words create images in my consciousness. However, I do not assume that the virtual world I create when reading his words is exactly like the virtual world others create when reading his words. Because we all exist on the global edge now, communication requires some “deconstruction” to be useful. Oh if only I’d paid closer attention in class when studying the deconstruction of literature. Would I be more careful with my word-usage today? Would I be more effective using words? Would I — could I — be more connected to the global community? One can only hope. And, continue to follow in the footsteps of masters such as Roy Williams.


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