Where my novels and shorts inhabit thought and memory, it becomes a different thing when you change the way the story is told to film.
I have always been a visual writer. When I mastered show don’t tell then that came more into its own. I see my characters, I look out through their eyes and I feel their emotions. I become them and so, therefore, does the reader. It’s a very intimate experience and so it should be. The characters take our hands and lead us through the story. We need a good plot to keep us there, to satisfy us when we see how it’s resolved. We need to come out feeling changed in some way and on some level. That is the power of good storytelling.
I have seen my stories and therefore imagined who will play the characters in the movie version. Sometimes when I am about to fall asleep I start the camera and roll away. Sadly sleep never lets me see much of the story. But it’s there, fully formed in some way.
Books I recommend, in fact, the best books on storytelling for me, come from the screenwriters and so I recommend a few of those on my website. Why? Because I feel they have a solid grasp of what hooks and keeps an audience. Storytelling has to be fully immersive to work. When teaching story arc and plotting I often tell my writers to look at people like John Yorke Into The Woods. He says it in a slightly different way to the novelists and one I find more relatable. So, for some time, I have wanted to look more at screenplays with a view ultimately to adapting While No One Was Watching. I often looked at courses and promised myself I would do it… one day. So at the end of last year, I finally enrolled on City University’s 10-week short course on Screenwriting by the super talented award-winning Irish writer and director, Maeve Murphy. It was more for beginners and while I understand story, it’s a whole new medium for me.
What I learned quite quickly was that indeed my knowledge and understanding of how a story works is solid and a strong foundation for building, but to change format meant un-learning and re-learning some key skill sets. Prose writing is very different to the succinctness, the brevity, the reporting of events you see in a film treatment. The finished script, on the other hand, uses just dialogue (which I like doing and very much find is part of voice) but in this case, the actor’s interpret and follow direction. So where my novels and shorts inhabit thought and memory, it becomes a different thing when you change the way the story is told to film. Yikes. And that took some getting to grips with and I have a long way to go to get that. I started with one of my published stories and when I wasn’t feeling it I switched to writing ultimately a film treatment for Chutney for Irina. That worked better. But it taught me something valuable. What works in a more literary novel and Chutney is because it’s very much driven by the characters than plot, it needed more plot to work as a film.
When something is adapted you have to allow it to change because what works in one format might not work in another and in fact, the more literary novels often do not make the best movie.
Adaptation and change is what will bring them to life in film.
As such I have always wanted someone else to adapt my novel who gets that; to see what the screenwriters would do to improve it for film. Stephen King understands this and says something along the lines of pay in the cheque and say goodbye to your story. Perhaps not as flippantly as that as he has enjoyed immense success, but he appreciates the way the two medium work.
I am a long way from being able to adapt anything properly. Interestingly something my tutor taught me about my story is that it needs something else to focus the plot and while I am sure it works as a novel as it stands (although it needs to find a literary home!) I think what she said will improve it as a novel too and when I have finished the next short story (the one that will win a BIG prize! Well, look a girl has to DREAM BIG, right?) then I intend to look at that in the novel before it goes out there to find me a new agent! Summer 2019 is the plan.
I learned a lot and hope to keep and nurture new lessons and the fab people I met on that course, especially Maeve: strong women who make it happen: that is my mission!
More on this at a later date… but for now: happy Tuesday! Since I turn 50 tomorrow (oh no!) I will share an extract from my novel as it’s based 50 years after Kennedy was assassinated!
Have lots of fun 🙂
Check out my tutor!!! Maeve’s website! LINK