Thursday, October 15, 2009

Mixed Mediums

Given the current FTC debacle, and I do consider it a debacle, I thought it prudent to give a bit of background about myself. I was an English major at the University of Maryland where I participated in several internships that allowed me to assist in editing an encyclopedia and aid the acquisitions manager at a small independent publisher. Now I am lucky enough to be one of the interns that read the submitted materials here at Elaine English Literary Agency. It is as such that I offer my opinions on how to get your manuscripts past us and accepted by an agent, namely Elaine.

Now onto the good stuff. With all of the movies being made from books and the video game spin-offs, it can sometimes be hard for a writer to settle on one medium. Dreaming of your work becoming a huge success these days usually means dreaming of Hollywood wanting to option your book. There’s nothing wrong with dreaming big, of course, but it can become an issue for first time authors when they sit down to write a novel as opposed to a movie. It becomes a question of what determines personal success then. If your goal is to write the best book you can, then this is the place for you. On the other hand if you one day dream of seeing your work on the silver screen, you might want to change your approach and contemplate writing screenplays instead.

I’ve come across several partials and thought, “Wow, this would make an interesting idea for a movie or a T.V. show,” but they fall just short of being successful as novels. And at the agency, novels are the only medium over which we have any influence or interest. So when I read these partials, I can appreciate their potential but I can’t act on that appreciation. The manuscripts that make me think “movie” instead of “novel” often involve some of the following elements.

The more action oriented plot lines naturally lead to thoughts of summer blockbusters, but action can be done very skillfully on paper as well. I’ve found that authors run into problems most often in the “gearing up phase” of action sequences. What only takes a few seconds and a mouthful of intelligible acronyms on screen becomes as many as ten pages of alpha numeric codes on paper. The reader quickly loses interest while the viewer may be fascinated by all the shiny deadly bits shown on screen; it’s a basic rule of human nature. I’m not denying the importance of the information being given, quite the contrary. I’m simply saying that the execution of such scenes has to be nearly flawless in order to maintain a reader’s attention. Since I’m not a writer, I’m not the one to dispense advice. I can suggest you refer to your own favorite action writers and see how they deal with such scenes and take your lead from them.

The movie format offers more leeway with outrageous plot devices, even holes, and character foibles. A movie requires audience tends to be more forgiving towards directors and actors than a novel audience is with authors. The same is true for the setting. A script allows a screenwriter to minimize descriptive language of setting because it relies on the collaborative nature of the film. If you find yourself overflowing with plot lines that you can’t write down fast enough, but you struggle with your settings take another look at those stories. Do you see a book or a movie? Reworking such stories as screenplays might allow a previously unpublished author to find his or her potential, just in a slightly altered format.

If, as an author, you’ve considered how your manuscript would look on screen I would suggest selecting several significant scenes from your manuscript and formatting them like a screenplay. This link might help start you off. This change from novel to screenplay doesn’t apply to dialogue alone. Screenplays require detailed descriptions of scene and setting as well as costume in order to be well written and give the set designer, the costume designer, and the actors a starting point to create the visual reality. Film can even incorporate narration in the form of voice over and flash back sequences.

I see a level of creativity submitted to this office that could be used in Hollywood, at least in my opinion. I can only offer my opinion as someone who enjoys both literature and film and as an admirer of the creative process. If you have an idea that you are simply in love with but can’t seem to get sold as a novel, try a different plan of attack and get your story out there.

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