How have novelists been influenced by screenwriters? originally appeared on Quora: the place to acquire and share knowledge, allowing people to learn from others and better understand the world.
Many novelists have turned to screenwriting, lured by the hope of getting rich or gaining Hollywood fame, including such immortals as F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, and more recently Cormac McCarthy. I haven’t read much about novelists-turned-screenwriters about how film careers helped them hone their literary craft. I would say, at least in part, that’s because most serious novelists consider screenwriting to be a lesser art and some feel uncomfortable trying to write for movies. But let me describe my own experience of moving between the two forms.
My latest novel , had been in my head for more than ten years. In short, the novel describes a small, once pristine and physically beautiful island civilization, a Valhalla for celebrities and wealthy sportfishermen, which over time becomes war-torn, maimed to the core by corruption, greed and violence. The island of Rum Cay, a real place, by the way, is an island that I have visited several times over a period of more than twenty years. I was deeply drawn to the beauty of the place, I had friends who thrived there, so the tragedy arc had a personal stake for me. And yet, each time I started writing the book, I ran into a mountain of literary obstacles. This story was so vivid and compelling and yet I couldn’t bring it to life on the page. So for years I put the novel aside.
Three years ago, I had the idea for a script based on rave culture. I approached a film producer I knew who liked my idea, and I started my career as a screenwriter. I threw myself into my first screenplay with great energy. After several months, I thought I had succeeded. But when I showed my draft to my producer friend, Alex Twersky, he said you wrote a compelling story, sure, but it’s not a script. Rather a story or a short novel.
And so the pain began. I spent the next few months trying out a second draft, this time with accomplished coaching from a terrific screenwriter and coach, Laura Cahill, best known for writing Hysterical blindness. Laura taught the basics. No flashbacks. “But why? I like flashbacks? All serious novelists use flashbacks. I have to move the story forward, explained Laura. don’t like them. Very short sentences. Again and again she crossed out my beautiful descriptions. You have to move the story forward or you’ll lose your audience. And so”Rave” went through a second, third and fourth draft… Until Alex finally accepted that we had a script and it was time to start selling it to the studios.
When the script came out into the world, I decided to resume my novel.
I saw my problem from day one. In his heart, Deep Sea Blues was an adventure story in the heart of darkness. I had ruined everything with long, carefully crafted paragraphs and too many flashbacks. I needed to tell the story of the island quickly and violently. I heard Laura coaching from the sideline. Short sentences. Keep it taut and move forward like an engrossing movie. Don’t drown a great story in descriptive writing. It took me ten months to write it, from start to finish…. Writing it was exciting. I rode the passion of history as if I had composed a film.
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