The Screenplay-novel Manifestos

Less is more vivid

Friday, March 03, 2006

The Screen-Novel Manifesto 4 (Part A)

And then, what's so special about it? What makes the concept of a screenplay-novel unique? And why have a site about it? After all, the idea isn't original -- the idea of a screenplay, that is. And the idea of the novel -- well, I was only late by several centuries. And even the idea of publishing screenplays isn't original. So what's the point of a screenplay-novel? And even if it has a point, why bother doing it when screenplays by definition are stripped down narratives focussing mainly on dialogue that possess very little in the way of description, and, it would seem, nothing of a character's interior thoughts?


I don't know whether the concept of a screenplay novel is any good. I don't know whether it's publishable, either. (One comment that a few people have made to me is that it's a kind of pandering to mass tastes; but precisely because writing a novel in the form of a screenplay is not something writers regularly do, I have my doubts that when I finish the script I'm working on that many publishers would pay attention to it. These days, they don't seem to being paying attention to very much ... except last year's sure thing.)

But then, I didn't start working on a script like this because I thought it was more marketable than a regular novel. I started because it solved several artistic problems for me at once.

The first is quite simple: novel-writing is an enormously complicated task. The demands that it places on a writer in terms of sheer time and psychological energy are immense. It is vastly more consuming than a poem or a drawing. (Poetry and drawing are draining as well; but to finish one is not the same as finishing one where novel-writing is concerned.)

A play on the other hand -- any play: screen-play, theatrical play; radio play -- can be written relatively quickly. No, let me rephrase that. It can be written somewhat more quickly than a novel. Maybe not that much. But enough to constitute a different process.

So it is that simple, in terms of the commitment involved: a screenplay is a little quicker, a little easier, to complete. Because completion is one of the main challenges the novelist faces; not when the novelist is young ... and doesn't have much to write about. Rather, when the novelist has aged and experience presses down upon him like a weight, the raw material for the novel exists but suddenly the self-discipline necessary to bring the project to completion starts weakening. Call it the erectile dysfunction of narrative. Call it the menopause of story....

Call it the climax that cannot be medicated into existence.


But at its essence this sounds terribly sad, doesn't it? The novelist as flaccid male or menopausal female. And in any case, time isn't the main issue. For the novelist there's another, more vital reason for considering writing in the form of a screenplay.

We've entered a new age. A post-literate age. And we can all see the evidence of this: it's unavoidable. On the subway, people watch the TVs that are installed on the ceiling (of the newer lines), or built into their phones. Those phones! They play games on them, too, or simply text message: the haiku of our time.

In bars and restaurants, the TVs seem almost inescapable. They beam from corners like demonic, animated wallpaper. They glare at us, stimulate us ... tempt us.

And at home -- well, at home the TV just comes on naturally. That is, if we're not in front of computer screens (really, another TV).

And if we're not watching TV, we're going to the movies.

It's the image that all these mediums have in common. It's not really accurate to say we live in a post-literate age; people still do read. But it is accurate that we live in an image saturated age. These images surround us, rain down upon us, surprise us. We bathe in them, like fish in an electronic sea.

It's the image that's the great god of our time. The image surrounds us, enters us, changes us.


In essence, we are all movie makers now.

I remember the first time I read a screenplay "cold". There is an entire jargon that is specific to the film industry, and you see it in screenplays. It's not that hard to figure out, but it requires a certain mental adjustment. And yet, once this adjustment is made, it's extremely easy to not only read the screenplay but "scenario" it; when we read a screenplay, we are not merely readers -- we are directors. That is what the age has done to us: it has changed the way we approach a script that is the form of text.

[to be continued]


Post a Comment

<< Home