Sunday, March 04, 2007

Film Rights


Self-Portrait,
c.1860, Eastman Johnson.


One does get the impression that reference in a query letter to how the hopeful's novel would "make a great movie," is one of those kiss-of-death marks of a clueless amateur - right behind "sure-fire best-seller."

The usual platitudes about carts, etc. apply.

Agent Kristin of Pub Rants (see sidebar), as well as others, has spent some time explaining how these things actually work.

I sometimes wonder if the pervasive influence of Holywood - quite beyond the parasitics of fanfic - is partly responsible for the minimalist dictum to avoid description In films, it's there as background, no words, no dialogue, required.

I've noticed too, that writers often make reference to some movie to illustrate a point, rather than a printed source.

Visuals, of course, dominate our profession, from "show, don't tell" forward to selection of POV and restriction thereon.

It's our job to create a mental movie in the reader's mind.

Yesterday(?) Sam put up an excellent post on description.

We paint with words, and I wonder if writing styles could be compared to, described in terms of, the various schools of art. Some belong to the realist school, others are symbolists or impressionists.

To update the metaphor, I suppose we actually try to film with words.

And I wonder if the movie industry, by expanding our reader's visual memory, has made our job as writers easier. If we can rely on their movie library to sketch our scenes, clothe our characters and construct our plots. On the other hand, I've seen complaints about plots that are "too episodic" or similar to a soap opera.

Odd thoughts from the cutting room floor.

13 comments:

Carla said...

From a historical point of view, film influence cuts both ways. On the one hand you can say "Roman army" with a reasonable expectation that those two words will conjure up the serried ranks of a Late Republican/Early Empire legion, complete with Eagles, javelins and short stabbing swords, which might save some description. On the other hand, if you're writing about the Late Roman army, which looked completely different, the Hollywood image is in conflict with the one you're trying to create.

Bernita said...

And certainly one has to be careful about throwing around the word "castle" without explanation, Carla, else it conjours great stone piles, which may be quite contrary.

spyscribbler said...

Then I'd guess we're in the age of realism. I miss Fiction fiction. Not fantasy, not paranormal, not speculative. I miss straight fiction that's Fiction. (Or maybe I'm just not finding it.)

It's a wonder that John Irving survived this period!

Bernita said...

Has fiction truly become hard-edged, Natasha? No mystery left?

ORION said...

I am a visual writer. My novels play out in my head as movies but yanno there are few films I can sit through patiently - I feel limited and they move too slowly. Give me a good book anyday... or even a bad one!

Bernita said...

Probably we all do a little movie making when we write, Pat.
I usually find they move too fast!

Gabriele C. said...

Tell me, Carla. That infamous Arthur movie has a muscle cuirass and segmentata shoulder pieces over chain mail. *shudder*

Though Clive is still hot.

I paint expressionist pictures - atmosphere more than details.

Bernita said...

"I paint expressionist pictures - atmosphere more than details"
But so vividly, Gabriele, that one sees the picture as if it has been painted in traditional realism.

Daisy Dexter Dobbs said...

"To update the metaphor, I suppose we actually try to film with words."

I like that, Bernita.

As for Sam's blog, it's one of my favorites. Her stories of life in France and her beautiful painting-like photos are most enjoyable.

Kathy said...

The descriptions in my books come from many different places... I am very visual, but I enjoy finding my charcters and places through smell as well. I have a certificate of aromatherapy and when I am stuck for a unique description sometimes I hunt through the oils for the right smell. Also I have a huge box of paper and fabric that I have to sit with from time to time in order to place a texture or feeling. Movies, in general, don't help me, but I do play out a scene in my head as if it were a movie (just like Orion).

Scott from Oregon said...

I am reminded of the Altman film "The Player" in all of this.

The scene where movie's are being pitched...

It seems like pitching a book to a potential would have that same time worn dance going on.

Do it traditionally, but don't be a cliche...

Stay within the accepted lines of discourse but wow me with originality...

I still think traditional roles in publishing and film are about to be dismantled.

But what the heck do I know?

Sam said...

Thanks for the link - I wish I'd had time to clean up the place a bit, lol.
I wondered about that - do most authors 'see' their books like a movie as they write them? I know I tend to do that - I visualize almost everything I write because it does makes writing scenes easier.
And wouldn't I love having a book made into a movie? (Trying to imagine which one.) A romantic comedy maybe. Then I could pick the actor who plays the hero. And I'd have to, you know, make sure he's all right for the part, lol. Interview him and all.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Daisy. Yes, Sam pulls back the curtains from an interesting window.

Gestures and expressions - or dialogue - have to provide those sensual clues in movies, Kathy.

You could hardly know less than I, Scott.

I suppose we all try to translate images to the page, Sam. My imagination does not stretch as far as thinking anything I write would make a movie.