Derry, Northern Ireland

Derry, Northern Ireland
A book I'm working on is set in this town.

Friday, September 30, 2011

You never know where support will come from

This comment was made by the man who hosts "This American Life" on NPR. I've listened to a few shows and they're usually economically well-told tales of ordinary people in all sorts of circumstances. He's not a great novelist or filmmaker or artist or anything more than the perfect producer, really...but what he says makes me feel slightly vindicated in how I work...and pissed off at myself.

I've written 30 screenplays, rewritten 10 scripts (2 of which were produced), crafted 2 plays, done 5 novels (1 in 2 volumes, 1 in 3 volumes), published a well-received novella and finished countless shorts and one-acts and fictional tales...and I'm just now beginning to think I honestly know how to tell a story.

Until reading this, I knew I could write and I knew my writing was better than most, but I still felt a bit too uncertain about it, overall. People didn't want my scripts? Well, that had to mean my work was too complex for them...which is a bit true for today's cinema, but is also something of a cop-out and rather condescending. I even used my growing ego to justify saying that I don't write one-note characters and won't force my stories into someone else's mold so small wonder I'd get rotten coverage from producers' readers. And while that's true to an extent, it's also too much on the arrogant side.

But reworking "The Lyons' Den" from play and script to novel suggested to me that these attitudes were also being used to hide some laziness on my part. That story became a hundred times more entertaining once I dropped the limitations (real or perceived) of screenplays and dug deep into the characters...and now I know I could do that with my scripts as well, if I wanted to.

I'm reminded of a scene in "To Have and Have Not", when Lauren Bacall's character is slapped by the vicious head of police. She jolts and stiffens, but says nothing. Just glares at the snake. Later, Humphrey Bogart comments, "You've been slapped around before, and not just once," or something to that effect. And that subtle moment indicates their relationship has changed from older man not wanting to deal with a larcenous kid to a guy who's got some respect for this slip of a girl.

It's a different language, and I never bothered learning it fluently. Maybe if I'd written 60 scripts (instead of rewriting half of those 30 a dozen times each) and 10 novels in the same space of time, I could have figured that out and gotten farther in my writing career. What a time to catch on to that limitation of mine. But then, I always was a slow learner.

However...once I learn it, I've got it for life.

PS -- I should give a hat-tip to a friend of mine who's been telling me that for years, albeit in a more roundabout way. I listened but shrugged him off with the usual, "He just doesn't get it." He did, better than me. 

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