Monday, February 1, 2010

Artistic Cross Training

If you bother to check out the followers of this blog - a whopping total of 6 as I write this, but no matter - you'll find as many if not more novelists as you do filmmakers. This is because I've been slaving away for the past couple of years on adapting and selling my screenplay as a novel, and have picked up a few friends along the way.

I've also discovered that knowledge does transfer from one form to the other, just as my degree in acting/theatre helped me write and direct film.

The big things that apply to all storytelling are OBJECTIVES, OBSTACLES, and when I was an actor I added TACTICS.

For those of you who recognize these words, you can skip to the next paragraph. Whether you're playing a role, writing a screenplay, or a novel, you'll find that every character has something they want (Objective); something that's keeping them from getting it (Obstacle); and a plan for achieving their objective (Tactics). The bigger, harder, more terrifying each of these are, the better your story.

As a freshman actor, we had an exercise for scene work. We had to finish the following sentence for each line of dialogue and/or stage direction: "I want to [OBJECTIVE / ACTION VERB], by [TACTIC], but I can't because [OBSTACLE]."

You'll notice the verb is an "action verb." The more active, the better. "I want to talk to Sally..." Yeah? So? Who cares? "I want to rip Sally's guts out..." much more interesting.

One of my better teachers made a list of visceral, active verbs that I wish I'd kept, especially when my father - a life-long, unpublished novelist - helped me with the first draft of my manuscript. It was full of passive verbs, not only in conjugation, but in meaning. "You have to have more action verbs," he told me.

That's when it all came together. In film, cut on motion. In writing, cut adverbs. In acting, do less. It's all the same thing done in different ways.

Novel: "Suddenly, the cat jumped from behind the bookcase," is less scary than "The cat jumped from behind the bookcase."

In film: The shot of the hero walking down the hall, then cutting to the cat with a loud meow - is less scary than staying in the shot of the hero for a split second more, seeing him begin to look in fear as we hear the meow, then cutting to the cat in mid-jump.

Little stuff, yes - but that's where the craft is.

A word of caution to those filmmakers who think they can get their script sold by turning into a play or novel. I ran into a million of these people when I was doing theatre in Los Angeles. I wanted to kill them. They didn't respect theatre at all - to them it was just a stepping stone to film. To me, it was my art. My job. And I was no one's stepping stone. If you have a story to tell that might work in a different medium, then you'd better respect it.

Writing a novel is just as hard as finishing a movie. By that, I mean writing a good, well-crafted, novel. Sure, you can slap some words on the page that get the idea across - that's the way we all write screenplays (concentrate on the dialogue, make sure the action lines are clear, and that the locations work for the production). In a novel, you are the art department, you are the editor, you are the director, you play all the roles. You don't have anyone on your team to pick up the slack. If your characters play football, you have to. If they wear a ball gown, you have to design it.

And novels are just as hard to sell as films. So, do it for love.

More on screening on Friday.

Thanks for reading.


Jemi Fraser said...

"I want to [OBJECTIVE / ACTION VERB], by [TACTIC], but I can't because [OBSTACLE]."

Hmmm - sounds like a hook for a query letter :)

Lisa_Gibson said...

Very interesting. Great advice! I'm considering doing Script Frenzy, if I can educate myself, in how to do so, before April arrives.

RSMellette said...

Script Frezy looks like fun. I love what they promise (nothing). Can't accuse them of false advertising.

I'd do it if I wasn't up to my eyeballs with the festival, a novel, and another novel in progress.

Terry said...

Great post! I like this advice and the way you write it. And it's so true in a novel, you have to do it all.