Good day all!
Like most Americans, my children went back to school this week. I'm especially envious of my son, who is a senior in high school. He is taking a class called "Music in Film." Where were those classes when I was a senior? (Oh yeah, we were taking "Intro to word processing" on these things called computers that were one day going to replace the typewriter.)
I'm envious because I love all things movie. There aren't many movies I hate enough to never watch again. (Although "Lost in Translation" would be at the top of the list.) I am especially fond, as you readers know, of movies based on books. It's a long debate, the book to movie adaptation quality, and not the point of my blog today.
Today, as I was thinking about movies and books and books and movies, I realized that with both Dream in Color and with Lies in Chance, I wrote with the thought of how the story would look on screen. In fact, with Lies in Chance, I really wrote it more like a made for TV movie (Hello? Lifetime Movie Network?) than anything else.
It's certainly not a new concept, this writing with a thought for movie rights. I know many of my writer friends joke about retaining movie rights and not letting Hollywood WRECK their work. (John Grisham's "The Firm" stands as one of the all time worst movie adaptations. People actually booed the film in theaters...and no, I wasn't the only one booing!) Authors, I think, especially authors of this generation, look at people like Stephanie Meyer and JK Rowlings and think, "That's where I want to be. Book signings AND movie premiers."
But the question is...should we? Should we as writers actually plan out plot lines and scenes with the idea that this book may one day be a movie? Has writing changed so much that instead of winning the National Book Award, we dream of winning the Oscar for best screenplay based on previously published works? Does writing with this thought in the back of our mind help or hurt the stories we tell?
I recently watched the most recent incarnation of "Jane Eyre." I'm not saying the movie was bad because NOTHING with Dame Judi Dench is going to be bad. But it was slow moving, tedious,and not at all the "INTENSE UPDATED VERSION" I was promised in the trailer. Since "Jane Eyre" is one of my favorite books, I'm well versed in many of the multitude of movie versions out there. Some are good. Some are terrible. Clearly, Charlotte Bronte was not writing for movies or plays or tv. Yet her book of an orphaned governess and the handsome landowner with a dark past continues to inspire readers and movie watchers alike.
I maintain that some books, albeit a very few, are made better by their movie versions. Ah, yes a mention of Moby Dick, the worst book ever published in the English language! Yet, there are many movie versions of this dull, unwieldy book, and why? Because at the core of the 700 pages of drech is an epic story about chasing the impossible dream and then having that dream turn into a nightmare. So the movie, which cuts out about 650 pages of the book, brings out the heart and soul of the story and makes Moby Dick an American classic.
Some books translate to film well, regardless of whether or not the author planned it. "Gone With the Wind" is a very visual book as well as a beautifully filmed movie. (And, while the two have almost nothing in common other than character names, they are both near the top of my reading and movie lists.) "Rebecca" is a great novel, and, at the hand of the master, Alfred Hitchcock, the movie is sneaky in its creepy vibe, not to mention a very striking visual, especially given that it's in black and white.
So, do you write with dreams of your story on the big screen? (Again...Lifetime Movie Network...I'm waiting for your call!) Writing is not, by definition, a visual art. We are weavers of words, painters of word pictures. We may have a good story, but if our word pictures aren't clear enough, any attempt at a movie is going to fall flat.
The business of writing is far different than those of years gone by. Authors are encouraged to bring out big actions on page one. Long passages of description are discouraged. Everything is compressed. We do not have Melville's luxury of writing every thought we might have on the subject of whaling, whaling in art, whaling in sermons. We live and write in a "get to the point" world. I think by simply working under the rules of publication, anything we write now feels more and more like a movie or tv show than a book from a century ago. Maybe it's part of the natural evolution of things as we progress through a new millennium.
As for me, I'll just keep dreaming of accepting my Oscar, thanks! That, or an Emmy for my Lifetime Movie!