How writing in screen play helps a writer better visualize their novel.
I'm writing this note, not for instructive purposes...(I feel like a blind man grouping around in the dark) but rather to help pull together and encapuslate a broader picture of how one expands their thinking to better write a novel.
My search is based upon how writing a novel evolved into its current form and what are the building blocks upon which it is based.
In the beginning I suppose, stories were told by older men and women to younger tribal members sitting around a campfire. These stories were part of a verbal history that passed by this means from one generation to the next.
With the advent of writing these myths and legends were transcribed using various forms of alphabetic symbols the earliest of which we have deciphered was Sanskrit and hieroglyphics but earlier records are left on cave wall shows early man was trying to leave behind some symbolic references.
The Greeks took storytelling to a new level with the invention of Drama. Today one can see their theaters and read copies of their plays.
Shakespeare took Drama to a peak that has never been exceeded. The interesting thing about theater is that the set behind the stage takes on a secondary role to the speech of the actors. More than the words is the musicality of the iambic pentameter in which Shakespeare metered his word choice. It is said that poor patrons bought the"Cheap Seats" outside the Globe theater where all they could hear were the words and couldn't even see the stage. In their imaginations they could see it all unfold without any direct visual input. This shows the power of the imagination which would be more fully by readers with the advent of the novel. Keep in mind that with a Stage Play the words have dominion over the eye even if a stage and set are present.
The next major advance was radio. I still hang spellbound to the renditions of The Whistler, Gunsmoke, and Dragnet. Here all there was was sound but that didn't keep our imaginations for filling in the visual imagery.
Following on the heels of radio or almost concurrently was the movies. First the silent films and then the talkies. Facial expression, body gestures and various other nuances of human behavior helped imagination fill in the blanks where the visualization left off. Then came the sound tracks, and music that made going to the movies one of the largest entertainment industries in the world. With modern cinematic wonders the visual aspects came to overshadow the verbal. Just as with the stage play both are important but in today's cinema the visual aspects definitely overshadow the spoken word.
Somewhere early on or in between when all this is happening the Novel became a popular form of entertainment and remains so today. Note that there is no realtime sight or sound, only imaginative sight and sound. Using 26 symbols in the English alphabet these etching are arranged in words, sentences, paragraphs and chapters. These written symbols excite the imagination and it becomes a sense every bit as powerful as the five (or six) that are commonly attributed. It is a powerful capability of the human brain and appears to have evolved as a power that enabled humans to mentally visualize a course.
So what does this rehash of the obvious have to do...."with the price of eggs in China?" It is beginning to dawn on me that the answer is plenty!
In the first session of the EWW the object is to give birth to an idea, written in alpha characters, that can expand beyond the capability of our bio-processor to manage. As I've said before our brain has a finite capacity for procession information and for want of a better measure I'll swag that as about a chapters worth of Alfa characters.
This requires the average person with a reasonable amount of artistic talent to think outside the box, since a typical novel contains thirty or more chapters. Our fandango EWW workshop shows a writer how to write a story thread, beginning at the good part, with a story world, central
character, then an uptempo of events leading to a Life Changing Event. Beyond this lie three or more crisis the last of which is the climax. For those who have taken the EWW this is old hat. When the workshop is over the student has six vignettes and an outline. The material might not be great but it provides an integrated story that grows with increasing momentum until it reaches the END.
So what next. I mention that the material at this point might not be all that great and a lot of that has to do with content and presentation. To make the story more interesting it occurred to me that maybe we could run the vignettes through a Screen Play, and perhaps a Stage Play filter to brings out the hidden and often best aspects of the drama. What would this do to the vignettes written earlier in the EWW?
To try and answer this I took my first vignette and printed it in a bitem, along with the first chapter equivalent of the Screen Play Real Steel. I then decided to rewrite the vignette by going back and forth from my vignette to the example and writing it like it was the beginning of a movie and I was having to show the Director how I envisioned the scenes would look. Keep in mind that the six vignettes had by this time been percolating around in my mind for almost a year. As I began the translation and amazing thing happened. It began to transform before my eyes. It was nothing like what I started with but rather became much more dynamic and visual.
The technique itself, requires that you take the vignette and break it down into six to eight scenes. In each scene you are trying to communicate to the director in the simplest and most vivid prose and dialog, what is happening in the story world. The object is to communicate a vision of the story world, beginning at a very interesting place in its development. In vignette 2, the Central Character gets drawn into an uptempo series of events that leads in Vignette 3 to a Life Changing Event. As I mentioned above, the story began to move in unexpected ways and while the thread continued the parts that became stressed were new and totally unanticipated.
This was not only true in my experience but I also saw it happening in the story of a previous student who had returned to help me out. I could see dynamics in what she wrote that had not dawned on me when I read her vignettes for the first time.
Writing a novel is a process where the author enters the imagination of a reader and tells a story that evokes as much sensory imagery as possible. I know you have all heard this before, but the process of writing in Screen Play has a powerful effect of the visual aspects of the story and opens the door for inviting the other senses to more fully participate.