Having viewed four movies in four days, I am reminded of the learning (for novelists) that is avaiable there. In particular, the art and craft of defining and shaping scenes, which are the building blocks of dramatic narrative.
Novelists too easily, and too often, don’t regard scenes for what they are: the delivery of story. Novelists get to fill pages with expository backfull and transition, forgetting that these are placeholders for scenes and, therefore, just as critical to pace and exposition. And that the scenes we do write are defined not by our words as much as they are by what happens in them.
Consider how scenes in movies are created, — they aren’t written and then shot — and how this differs from the process novelists use.
Just this morning Jeffrey Deaver spoke to this in a feature in our local daily (he’s coming here for a signing at The Poisoned Pen, the top gig in the book signing world) — movies are written by committee. Of course, novels aren’t… but perhaps, if we’re seeking ways to be better, we should look at how the film process in this regard might add value to what we do, especially when it comes to scene writing.
Maybe we should write our scenes by committee… a committee of one, with multiple perspectives and focuses on how the scene is set, staged, written, acted and edited. Instead of just splashing it onto the page within the flow of our creative momentum and then moving on.
Each scene should be viewed as an opportunity to tell a story within a story. Something driven by an expository mission, and interpreted by readers as the sum of many interactive forces comingling toward an outcome.
Long before cameras roll, each and every scene in a film has been vetted and molded by several specialists.
The screenwriter, of course, who creates the bones of the scene and determines the expository goal. Then the director, to make sure it works within the big picture, that it’s shootable and won’t bust the budget (and — this one being very important to novelists — to make sure the writer hasn’t created a sidetrip, an agenda or has lost track of the spine of the story). Then the set designer, to make it beautiful or scary of whatever is required, in collaboration with the cinematographer. Then the actors, to make sure the lines ring true to the character and the unspoken context speaks volumes.
Then, during shooting, everyone is on their toes to adjust things. Because what’s on paper, even after all this input, may yield to a better idea. Something to speed things up, deepen tension and texture, add to characterization, tweak the lighting, adjust the wardrobe, assure continuity.
And then, it all comes together in the editing bay (theirs are catered, ours aren’t. Here’, everything is subjected to another round of analysis… trimming here, adding music and sound effects there, maybe cutting the dang thing out of the story altogether.
That’s often a good option for us, too.
Imagine what we could do, as a committe of one, if we viewed our scenes with this level of detail and creative standards?
Our scenes are the intersection of our intentions and our effectivness. And you know what they say about best intentions — if the moment falls short, none of the planning means a thing.
Take another look, ask yourself if the scene you’ve planned — or even better, the scene you’ve written — is the best scene it could be… or if you should listen to another voice.
In our case, it’ll come from within, and it might just be right.