I got lucky yesterday. I follow Anne Rice on Facebook not just because she’s one of my favorite authors, but also because she engages her fans and speaks directly to them. I think that’s really admirable and I enjoy getting insight into her personality and process.
So, yesterday Anne posted a link to an obituary for Syd Field. Field wrote what became known as the Screen Writers Bible back in early ‘70’s. I’ve heard of it but never read it. Anyway, here is what Anne posted on Facebook:
“In this obituary for Syd Field, there is much talk of his bible for screenwriters. Sounds like a book that might be an aid to novelists as well as those writing scripts. Comments welcome. I didn’t know Syd Field or know of him, but it sounds as if he made a very valuable contribution with his books; and surely many people will be ordering them today for the first time.”
I replied something to the effect that I couldn’t see how this book could aid me as it would probably change the tonality of my stories were I to follow it, but that I always try and make screen plays out of my short stories in case Hollywood ever calls. Lo and behold, she answered me! I was shocked and engaged her for another couple of posts. Here is how she replied:
“I don’t know about that. Sometimes these books can inspire. Years ago I read Aristotle’s formula for great drama — written for tragedy in Ancient Greece — and it inspired me mightily with my novel writing…something on the order of plot, character, spectacle — creating pity and catharsis. And voila. Interview with the Vampire.
I do think screen writing techniques can help a novel. One of the most popular novels I ever wrote — The Mummy or Ramses the Damned — started life as a long screenplay. I converted it into the novel in the space of a few weeks. The structure of my screen play — which was quite sloppy with notes and such — helped the novel to become a lightning read.”
First of all, I was in awe and amazement that I was actually conversing albeit electronically with the great author. If I were ballsier I would have tried to pitch 5 Tales, but I’m not like that anyway. I was just happy to glean any wisdom she was willing to impart.
I spent a lot of time yesterday thinking about what Anne said. My problem is I tend to be too technical when thinking about screenwriting as opposed to novel writing. The reason being as I’m writing, the scene is in my head but I’m less worried about characters’ stage direction, speech intonation, the scenery in general and am more involved in the meat of the story. Therefore, panic ensues when I think about writing backwards from a screenwriting standpoint. I would look at the physical format of the writing and be too worried about forming the character to the motion and flow in terms of the stage or set.
However, if you look at what Anne said, it makes total sense. It’s like looking at the story from the top down. Taking the drama and emotion of the stage/screen and injecting it into your writing makes perfect sense to me now that I think about it. Those screenwriting techniques Anne talks about and surely Syd Field teaches in his books could be just the salve needed to repair an injured piece of work. I have to give it a try. Lord knows I have plenty of unfinished novels to try it out on!
I tend to think of my stories as movies in my head before I write them down. Often, I will spend months just thinking over an idea and fleshing it out before I write a single word on it.
It’s funny people ask me all the time how I see the stories. I do the same thing you do, I let it roll in my head sometimes for years before it goes from my head to fingers on the keyboard.