The Screenplay-novel Manifestos

Less is more vivid

Saturday, March 11, 2006


Laura Carroll in a recent post at The Valve:

Do you read novelisations? If not why not, if you read other kinds of novel and other kinds of film paratext, e.g. screenplays? If you do read them, why? What does a novelisation supply that a movie lacks?

In case you're not entirely sure what a novelisation is, it's one of those books written after a movie has entered production, and usually sold around the time of its release as a kind of marketing tie-in. Think Star Wars.

As a form of writing, they seem so universally disliked I'm not sure why anyone bothers. But then, of course, novelisations are generally not about art, they're about money. Most of the time, the result is hack writing.


What I actually discovered was that most novelisations really, really suck. ... The novelisers had two aggravating habits: they filled in narrative blanks that worked better left blank, and the filler they used was inconsistent with the tone and texture of surrounding material. At least one contained interpolations that were obviously logically incompatible with plot material inherited from the movie.

As readers of this site will know, I think literary people need to take the idea of a film paratext to the next level, and allow the possibility of the screenplay-as-novel. One criticism that I've received more than once about this idea is that it is a diminishment of the traditional novel. This is a debate that can get complicated fast, because in truth there are so many forms of "traditional" novel out there. But in any case, at the risk of repeating myself, the screenplay novel is not meant to be the opposite of the traditional novel but a parallel form of it. For readers who might enjoy reading narrative this way, I think it's a very workable form. It also helps solve several creative problems that tend to confront writers during the novel-writing process. But more about all that later.

Also at the Valve is an associated post by Larry LaRiviere White about "Withnail and I". Both the post and the comments are well worth reading.

Do you read screenplays? If not why not, if you read plays? Or perhaps you do: then which? Are screenplays even readable? & come to think of it, do you really read plays? It’s been ages since I have.

But I’ve read a screenplay recently, a well-suited one: Withnail and I. I just saw the film last year, so I’m a decade plus late to the party. More British comedy, chock-a-block with catchphrases. A very readable script, because the movie was all dialogue. On the page I’m not embarassed by the excerable cinematography. & the staging directions are quite narratorly, novelistic:

The park is as bleak and deserted as its ever been. The afternoon is dissolving into threadbare rain. They walk the paths like they’ve done a dozen times before. But they were together then. And now they’re already alone. Strangers already. And the sweet and sour music is but an addition to the wider sentiment.


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