The Monday Morning Memo: Verbal Frameline Magnetism

Monday-Morning-Memo-Logo1By Roy H. Williams

The edge of a picture is called the frameline, and what is outside it is often as important as what is inside.

When part of an image falls “outside the frame,” the viewer’s imagination* is magnetically drawn to the part that was left out. This phenomenon is called Frameline Magnetism, and it’s a powerful tool long used by great photographers, videographers, cinematographers, illustrators** and writers.

Yes, I said writers.

Mrs. Shelton’s second grade class, Hilldale Elementary School, Muskogee, Oklahoma, 1965: One by one, we’re marching to the front of the room to recite poems that we have written. It’s Reggie Gibson’s turn. “Spider, Spider on the wall. Ain’t you got no smarts at all? Don’t you know that wall is fresh plastered? Get off that wall you dirty... spider.” The class explodes. Mrs. Shelton is not amused. Reggie has discovered Verbal Frameline Magnetism.

I used Reggie’s technique for the first time ten years ago in an ad for Woody Justice. The ad was a true pouring-out of Woody’s heart to the public. I had written, almost verbatim, exactly what Woody had said to me in a moment of frustration over the phone. Looking at the radio script I had written, I just couldn’t make myself shatter the intimate moment by awkwardly jamming the store’s address and phone number into it, so I just left them out. Their absence was a stroke of magic. Listeners were mortally stunned by what wasn’t there:

“This is Woody Justice and I want to be your jeweler. Sure, everybody wants to be your jeweler when you’re ready to buy a big diamond, but I want to be your jeweler when you just need a new battery put in your watch. I want to be your jeweler when you break the clasp on your necklace and need it repaired. I want to be your jeweler when you inherit a box of jewelry from Great Aunt Gertrude and you just wanna know if any of it’s worth anything. I want to be your jeweler. Back in the old days, every family had a family jeweler, but it seems like most of these fine old family jewelers have since been replaced by jewelry salesmen. (Ugh.) That’s kind of like replacing your family doctor with a medicine salesman. Now maybe I take this whole jewelry thing a little too seriously, but isn’t that okay? Don’t you think that a guy who takes jewelry a little too seriously may well be the best one to fix the clasp on your necklace, put a battery in your watch, and help you to determine how generous Great Aunt Gertrude really was? (pause, pause, pause) Okay... I’m done.”

Although it’s been ten years, people in Missouri still talk about that ad. You see, it is that which isn’t spoken that often speaks the loudest.

* This instinctive “filling in of what was left out” takes place on the visuospatial sketchpad of the dorsolateral prefrontal association area of the brain between Broca’s area and the prefrontal cortex. Interestingly, this part of the brain is connected to the ear, not to the eye. Hmm...

** If you want to see an awesome example of visual Frameline Magnetism, click to Norman Rockwell’s “No Swimming” at www.rockwellandme.com/prints/noswimming.htm, a neat website hosted by Scotty Ingram. (Scotty was the child model that we see in so many Norman Rockwell illustrations.) 

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