"If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water."
Many works of fiction try to be as epic as possible. A new work will try to top the ones that came before it, and the sequels try to top their predecessors.
Minimalism goes for the exact opposite.
Minimalism is when a piece of fiction lowers the scale of the events depicted within it, not simply due to time and budget restraints, but rather for creative reasons.
The reasons for a minimalistic approach to a work can vary greatly. For example, the author of the work may be trying to do a "back to basics" approach to a sequel, as the previous entry in the franchise had gotten too "over the top". Perhaps if the movie spends less time on grand action scenes involving hundreds of extras, the film can spend more time with dialogue, improving character development. Perhaps if the TV show only has one villain instead of many, more time can be spent developing that character in order to make him seem more intimidating. Maybe if the book only uses short, non-descriptive sentences instead of paragraphs of exposition, the book will read at a more dramatic pace. It's possible that if the film has one Special Effects scene instead of a hundred, more time and money will go into that one scene, improving the quality of the effect. Perhaps a horror movie believes that if they hide the monster off screen instead of showing it in its full glory, it will leave the details of the creature to audiences imagination, making it scarier. There is no real singular reason as to why, it's just a creative choice.
Minimalism is essentially the exact opposite of the Bigger Is Better trope. Here bigger isn't better, smaller is better.
The Other Wiki has an article about this.
Compare Beige Prose, Minimalist Cast, Bottle Episode, Stick Figure Comic, Nothing Is Scarier, Minimalistic Cover Art, Flash Fiction, Simple Yet Opulent. See also Minimalist Run (video-games).
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Anime and Manga
The anime adaptation of Shigurui is done this way. The color palette is almost black and white, except for the bright-red blood and gore. It has little in the way of music or background noises, and also sparse dialogue, with each line carrying tremendous weight.
Texhnolyze. Again, very little dialogue, none for the first 11 minutes of the series and Ichise, the main character, rarely speaks unless spoken to by someone he respects.
Kino's Journey. The art designs are very simplistic and the music is subtle and low key. The show has no overarching story other than Kino travels from place to place and learns about the strange cultures of the lands. Most episodes concern themselves solely with the philosophical ramifications of the culture and pay very little attention to any kind of plot progression or character development.
Angel's Egg has only two characters, neither of which have names, and less than a page of dialogue, most of which is contained in a single scene. The anime focuses more on the girl's devotion to her egg than anything else.
Bleach: Infamous enough to have reached meme proportions, Tite Kubo tends to dispense with background scenery in his panels. He's stated in interviews that his emphasis lies with the characters themselves and, by discarding background scenery, all the attention is focused on the characters and all the action, emotion and detail comes directly from, and are focused on, the characters. It works: he's considered one of the best weekly shounen artists in the game despite the jokes about his lack of backgrounds.
Mangaka Tanaka Yutaka flips between use of minimalistic dialogue and narration combined with gorgeous Scenery Porn to great emotional effect.
The mature paintings of Mark Rothko are comprised of a couple of big fields of color with very subtle gradations.
Dogme 95 films are based around minimalism, which the inventors, Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg call "purity." Films following the dogma avoid artificial settings, sound, visual effects, and camera tricks as well non-diegetic sound. The film is supposed to be as accessible and realistic as possible. Notable Dogme 95 films include The Celebration, The Idiots, and Julien Donkey-Boy.
Alien³: How do you try to top Aliens, a film which featured hundreds of Aliens, Space Marines, huge gun battles and a Space Operatic setting? The answer is you don't. Instead you deliberately scale it back so there is only one Alien, no guns, and the whole film is just confined to a dank prison with a few lowly inmates running around armed with only a few knives and fire axes between them, in order to spend more time focusing on the human drama and the terror caused by the Alien.
Die Hard: Unlike the sequels which feature scenes of John McClane mowing down dozens of mooks at a time with his battles being waged across entire cities, the original Die Hard only had a total of 12 bad guys, and all the action was just confined to one building. As a result though, the first Die Hard easily has the most gripping action scenes of the series, with the fight scenes needing to be drawn out longer and more action packed due to the shortage of disposable mooks.
Open Water: When you think shark attack movies, what springs to mind? The huge blockbusters like Jaws and Deep Blue Sea? How about a movie where the entirety of the feature is just two people floating around in a vast empty ocean? Now that's minimalism.
The Blair Witch Project: No music, no lighting, filmed on camcorders and starring only three people (not counting interviewees). Despite being such a bare bones film, it's scary, and was a huge success financially.
Dogville, in order to focus more on the characters and their actions and avoid immersion in the story (related to Bertolt Brecht ideas about epic theater) the entire village of Dogville drawn with chalk in the floor in a soundstage. The sequel Manderlay was filmed in a similar style, though with slightly more scenery.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is an interesting example of this. It competed with fellow pop culture icon and sci-fi movie Star Wars. Star Wars consists of massive warships, epic battles, and huge starbases, whereas Star Trek II has really short, subtle battles between only two ships, and focuses more on the drama between the protagonist and antagonist.
Unbreakable is an unusually minimalistic superhero film in that it features no CGI, no action scenes, no costume, a limited color palette, long periods of silence, and only 5 real characters—one of whom only appears in 2 scenes near the end of the film.
The 2010 Spanish film Buried, which has Ryan Reynolds as a U.S. truck driver working in Iraq, who gets buried alive. The whole movie takes place inside the coffin, with Reynolds' character being the only person we actually see in the flesh (all other performances are either voiceovers or on his cell phone.) Still, the film never repeats a shot.
Signs: Your typical Alien Invasion movie will focus on world-wide destruction and chaos, the military's futile attempt to defeat the Alien war machines, a rag-tag group of scientists trying to find the Aliens weakness, and our unbreakable hero who will end up saving the world. Signs on the other hand tries to get as far away from that as possible. Yes there is a world-wide chaotic invasion, but we don't see it. What we see is just a lowly farmer attempt to secure his property and protect his family during this time of crisis, while he leaves it to the rest of the world to do the actual fighting. No war scenes, no city destroying scenes, no heroism; just a guy on his farm with his family, scared shitless of the Aliens. (Too bad the aliens' Special Effects Failure and Weaksauce Weakness diminished the scare.)
Gus van Sant's Elephant is a no-nonsense Columbine tale about 2 students going on a killing rampage in their school. The film features a lot of pristine stillness, extremely long static shots (which continue rolling even after everyone has left sight), and no score.
Gerry has only two actors, with the entire plot being "two guys get lost in the desert."
Hitchcock's Rope is an 81 minute film that takes place entirely in real time and was filmed in only 8 shots edited to appear as one continuous shot; mind you, most films consist of several hundred shots. Eight shots is virtually unheard of.
Rashomon has the big huge gate set, but aside from that, it's pretty minimalistic. Eight actors, one horse, one baby, a set that consists of a wall with gravel in front of it, and a bunch of location shooting in a forest that really could be anywhere. A big production compared to some, but put it up against Ran or Seven Samurai, and it's amazing how little there is to the production.
Reservoir Dogs is a gangster jewelry heist film with one strange twist: it doesn't actually show the heist! In fact, the movie doesn't show much of anything. With the vast majority of the film set in an empty warehouse that is serving as the gangsters hideout, we don't get to see the elaborate planing of the job or the shootouts that ensued, instead we get to see is the crooks sitting around discussing the aftermath.
Jim Jarmusch's deadpan comedy Stranger Than Paradise is a study in minimalism. It focuses almost exclusively on three characters who do and say very little. The film has only a few mundane locations, uses black and white film, and features long periods without any dialogue. The film also has a very slow pace, with a total of 67 shots. In between each shot, Jarmusch inserted black space to further slow down the pace. The film is general thought to be a reaction to the growing trend toward fast, flashy media.
My Dinner With Andre became notorious for being almost entirely two men having a conversation in a restaurant.
Andy Kaufman's parody, My Breakfast With Blassie, featuring an hour-long breakfast conversation between Kaufman and professional wrestler "Classy" Freddy Blassie, mirrored the minimalist style of Andre.
In The Disappearance Of Alice Creed, you meet the entire cast - a grand total of three people - in the first ten minutes or so, and the movie has maybe three or four different sets.
The Film Noir genre as a whole, focusing on the social commentary of urban stagnation and how the characters react to it.
The Found Footage genre relies heavily on low effects and amateur filming in order to give viewers immersion through its realism.
Shane Carruth's microbudget film Upstream Color leaves a lot of the plot implied or mysterious, and there are long periods without dialogue.
Alfonso Cuaron'sGravity, despite its massive budget, counts as this. The story is quite stripped down, as opposed to other movies of similar funding. As stated elsewhere here there's No Antagonist. There's a Minimalist Cast. Cuarón didn't have to fight with Executive Meddling (he has the cred to be trusted), but he did listen to people pitching ideas like the rescue mission being covered and Stone being in love with one of the mission controllers. This film is really simple - Stone is trying to get back to Earth somehow.
Ulysses is a minimalistic work, not so much in volume as in the events being portrayed. The entire book is a series of analogies with Homer's Oddyssey. However, Ulysses has a timespan of a single day, not the 10+ years of the Oddyssey, and all events are scaled down a couple of orders of magnitude. An encounter with a cyclops (who is blinded by Odysseus, and therefore misses the Greek boat when he hurls a rock at it) is reduced to a conflict with a man in a bar, who is eventually blinded by the sun when chasing Leopold Bloom outside to throw a can at him.
To summarise Ernest Hemingway's quote at the top of the page: seeing a mere hint of emotion is often much more effective than being exposed to the full brunt of it. We only need to see the tip of the iceberg to know the rest of it is there.
Haiku is often said to be minimalistic in nature.
Imagist poetry by writers such as Ezra Pound and H. D., which used clear imagery and was inspired by forms such as haiku, as well as more Modernist sensibilities.
Chuck Palahniuk specifically identified this as his style in an essay about another American minimalist writer, Amy Hempel.
And by extension a lot of Cyber Punk works that incorporate a lot of the Noir stylings. William Gibson was one of the most obvious users of minimalistic writing in the genre. The idea is that most dystopic cyberpunk worlds are mass-produced and samey and so very little needs to be said about the background, because everywhere is neon-lit and filthy.
shifticida is an attempt to make a game by using only 32 bytes of disk space.
The Minimalist genre represents one way to achieve this in music: employing a lot of repetition or drones, and with the melody (if present at all) slow to develop. While the melodies are quite minimal, the arrangements can be exactly the opposite—minimalism was originally a form of orchestral music. The composers associated with this style include Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and La Monte Young. Trope Namer is the (post-)minimalist composer Michael Nyman, who used the innovations of minimalism to create new styles and techniques.
In turn, a number of Krautrock, post-rock, and electronic musicians incorporate minimalist songwriting.
Most readers here would probably be exposed to composer John Adams through playing Civilization IV, where the unsettling, often amelodic tones make a great match with the uncertainties of the modern era. Adams is arguably the least minimalist minimalist (he owes a good bit to Stravinsky), but he does broadly fit the pattern.
Lowercase subgenre takes it to the extreme. Bernhard Günter, for an example, has some works where the "music" may be barely heard and sounds are similar of your average background sounds coming out of sensitive headphones.
Entertainment for the Braindead's album Roadkill used a banjo as the sole instrument (well, she also used a tambourine on exactly one song). This doesn't qualify as Three Chords and the Truth, however, because, through a variety of playing styles (she picked it as normal, she played it with a violin bow, and she even played percussion on it) and plenty of tracking, she got an entire band's worth of sound out of that single instrument.
Tina Weymouth, the bassist of Talking Heads, plays the same exact chord loops per song on their Remain In Light album. Listen to the bass's line on Crosseyed and Painless, it's simplistically intense.
Japanese singer-songwriter Utada Hikaru has a music video for the song Hikari (simply 光 in Kanji) that features her doing lip-sync to the song while washing dishes. Note that this is the entirety of the video.
For Kerli's "Love is Dead", the music video's Director Cut is The Oner with just one shot with Kerli behind a brown-skied background. The only two special effects involve Kerli aging backwards from an old woman to her normal self, and the video cassette-like effects.
Many acoustic and singer-songwriter acts are just one person with one instrument. These days, usually a guitar or piano.
In the more distant past, this was the style of music preferred by bards and troubadours.
Hip-hop in general, with several songs consisting of little more than drums and rap.note There's even instrumental hip-hop and songs without drums Compare these two tracks from 1984 and 2012.
Of course, there are plenty of hip-hop artists that prove to be wild exceptions to this rule, like dälek, Kanye West (apart from maybe 808s and Heartbreak), Death Grips (on some of their releases, anyway), DJ Shadow, Paul's Boutique-era Beastie Boys, and Fear of a Black Planet-era Public Enemy.
Ambient music tends to be rather minimalist in nature, being designed both to reward close attention and to blend nicely into the background.
Brainfuck programming language which uses only 8 commands with no operands to create a program.
Also available are OISC (1 command, 3 operands) and Thue (1 command, 2 operands).
At the beginning of Our Town, the narrator points to a few irrelevant bits of scenery on the otherwise bare stage, saying, "There's some scenery for those who think they have to have scenery."
The Fantasticks has a two-piece band, a cast of eight, and very simple costumes and scenery. This helps save on production costs.
Japanese Kabuki and Noh theatre are examples. The dancing appears tranquil and simple, but in truth, they are complex and call for precision. The most famous Japanese minimalist is Bando Tamasaburo, a female-impersonator.
Samuel Beckett, anyone? See for instance Not I, in which the only thing on stage is a mouth, speaking for about 15 minutes.
And then there's Breath. Throw some trash on stage, turn the lights up, wait twenty seconds, turn the lights down. (To his credit, he wrote this one at least partially as a joke. He withdrew it when the producer who originally commissioned it decided to throw some naked people on stage along with the trash to give it the illusion of meaning something.)
Beckett pretty much described this as the entire point of his work — reducing language to its absolute bare necessities. (He lived most of his life in France, and wrote much of his work in French first because it forced him to be careful with his words.)
The same is true for many absurdist playwrights. Eugene Ionesco comes to mind in particular.
Scenery in A Chorus Line is reduced to a cameo role. Except for one brief shining moment in the finale, it takes place on a bare stage, or a bare stage reflected by mirrors.
This seems to be the guiding philosophy of Team Ico: Gameplay is mostly limited to one or two elements, implemented extremely well. (In Ico it's platforming puzzles and an Escort Mission; in Shadow of the Colossus it's Puzzle Bosses and horseback riding.) Cutscenes are few and brief, resulting in a high level of immersion for the player, and seemingly-simple plots that support a lot of analysis and reinterpretation.
The Myst games exemplify minimalism in the adventure game genre. The protagonist is never defined, there's no inventory collection (aside from occasional journals or pages), there are no enemies or bosses to encounter, and the game expects you to learn everything. Andwemeaneverything.
Ikaruga does it for the Bullet Hell genre. You have no powerups, all enemies, bullets, and the player are either black or white, and in contrast to intricate scoring systems found in many bullet hell games, scoring in Ikaruga boils down to just shooting three enemies of the same color for chains.
Now that it has come out, it's shown to be as minimalist as you can get when it comes to Puzzle Platformers.
Narcissu is a Visual Novel example. It's comparatively short, features only two main characters (who are seldom seen), and the graphics almost entirely consist of background art, with no sprites or fancy effects. Oh, and all the graphics are letterboxed to the middle third of the screen.
Limbo is incredibly minimalistic, and all the more haunting because of it. No dialogue, no chapter names, no character names, no color, yet it's emotionally compelling and enthralling while it lasts.
Most Nifflas games are this; sound effects are mostly very subdued, the graphics show only essential things, dialogue/narration (if there is any) is mostly only at the beginning and end of the game, and enemies are often few and far between.
Indie game Thomas Was Alone is built around this. The characters are sentient AI programs represented by coloured rectangles, and their personalities are shown solely through the gameplay and the game's beautiful narration.
A scenario for Blades of Exile called Kill Ogre, win prize. It's exactly what it sounds like. You appear in a tiny corridor right next to an ogre. You can kill the ogre to win a prize. Or just run away. The End.
Antichamber has no narrative, complex textures, or a large number of game mechanics. Just a few simple tools and many puzzles involving Alien Geometries. There is only ambient sound and no soundtrack, and it uses primary colors in simple fashion.
Frictional Games are fond of this, especially since their ideas hinge on being totally isolated and hunted. Depending on whether it's Penumbra, Amnesia, or A Machine For Pigs, the formula is "(Protagonist) has to enter (Labs/Castle Center/Slaughterhouse Machine) to deal with (2 or 3 people) whilst constantly hiding from some pursuing (Monsters/Abominations/Pig Monsters)."
Divekick is a parody of Fighting Games and the Diving Kick tactic. The only controls? A button for diving and a button for kicking. It also originally had two characters, but the roster has since expanded.
Used to enhance the Escapism in Proteus. There's no interactivity beyond basic movement, and the graphics are rendered in an archaic 8-bit style that conserves only the most important details.
In rymdkapsel, all graphics are abstract polygons, and you build the space station out of Tetris blocks.
Fleep takes the Ontological Mystery genre and boils it down to its bare essentials: One man, trapped in a room (in this case, a phone booth), trying to figure out how he got there and how to escape.
The design of The Best Page In The Universe is minimalistic in that its pages consist of minimal colour (large grey text on a black background), and is mostly text oriented, for the most part lacking images, advertisements, animations, and other fancy design gimmicks. The site author, Maddox, claims the purpose of this is in part to minimise bandwidth consumption, but is mostly as protest against "all the slick-looking, contentless web sites out there" and to make the website easier on the eyes as "Staring at a white background while you read is like staring at a light bulb".
Wormtooth Nation was filmed on a shoestring college student budget, and all the sets are warehouses located in the city the writer lives in. The actors are all local drama students. Despite the flaws, it's extremely good for a web series.
Marble Hornets is much like The Blair Witch Project - there's no music, it's all shot on cheap camcorders, and has few special effects. There's often little to no dialogue (some entries don't even have sound), with nearly all of the exposition done in white text on black at the start and end of the videos.
Everyman HYBRID is what the cast of Marble Hornets pointed to when asked if they were fans of any of their imitators, describing it as doing everything, even the minimalism, exactly right. They arguably have more content, but it's often much less dense; sometimes fans find in-game clues; one was a piece of paper with a single line of typed text.
Google search. A logo, a search box, a couple of buttons and a few links.
Of the UPA films, the one that probably best exempifies this approach is The Tell Tale Heart. Animation is kept to a bare minimum (a flitting moth, some creeping shadows), letting the moody backgrounds, camera effects and narration do most of the heavy lifting.