Thursday, April 17, 2008

Tricks from the Trade

What trade am I talking about? Screenwriting.

I discovered the applicability of screenwriters’ techniques to novels early in my career. I would never, ever want to be a screenwriter (which is a good thing, since Hollywood isn’t interested in screenwriters over 30, and—Juno notwithstanding—it’s still a very misogynistic industry). But novelists can learn much from the master screenwriting instructors. Yes, there are other, valid ways to tell a story. But decades of watching movies and TV have conditioned most people to react best to stories written to the Hollywood formula. Ergo, the closer a novelist cleaves to that formula, the more successful he or she is likely to be (and the more likely they are to see their books optioned for film, because a book that is written cinematically obviously adapts easier).

For years I structured my books into the Three Hollywood Acts, crafting character arcs, carefully timing plot points and pinch points before I ever sat down to write Chapter One. But for some reason, I didn’t do that with THE DEADLIGHT PROJECT. Maybe because I was so pressed for time. Or maybe it was just arrogance—I mean, I’ve been doing this for so long, surely by now it’s instinctive, right? Wrong.

Which is why my conversations with Alex Sokoloff at the Jubilee Jumbalaya sparked off such a string of epiphanies. I sat there thinking, I used to DO this. I should have KNOWN this. How could I be so DUMB?

So I thought I’d embark on an exploration of those techniques, here, starting next week with Premise...

On a side note, I’ll be on a panel this Saturday at the April meeting of SOLA, the local chapter of RWA, at 10:00 am at the Jefferson Parish main library on Clearview, in Metairie. We’ll be talking about Working with Editors, an interesting topic that’s prompted me to ponder my experiences with my three different editors, and to realize how lucky I am to have worked with such wonderful women who’ve done much to hone my ability to tell a story. If you’re in the area, do come. Visitors are welcome.

7 comments:

Sphinx Ink said...

C.S., I think you misspoke (or miswrote)--don't you mean Hollywood isn't interested in screenwriters OVER 30? As for the topic, you make some interesting points. I look forward to your upcoming posts exploring screenwriting techniques as applied to novel-writing.

cs harris said...

Oops! Thanks, Sphinx Ink; I've corrected it.

Lana Gramlich said...

I'm sure the talk this Sat. will be brilliant. I don't know that I could force myself up by 8am to check it out, but best wishes, at any rate! :)

Steve Malley said...

All Riiighhhttt! Looking forward to these posts!!

Charles Gramlich said...

I could never be a screenwriter myself, either. The screenplays that I've seen take out all the interesting stuff. I'm sure I could learn by studying some, but my GOD they are mostly so boring to me. Of course, most TV shows and movies are boring to me as well. I'm doomed.

Sustenance Scout said...

Can't wait to read more, Candy! Karen the chronic plotter :)

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Candy, it was great talking to you, too. I have to remind myself to take my own advice all the time, too.

;)

Alex