Writing the Non-Obvious

Movie ReelThe screenplay adaptation of my detective novel came in at 93 minutes. I learned a ton. One lesson was that I am capable of taking an objective view of my own work. I slashed mercilessly. Several beloved secondary characters were truncated or eliminated. Whole subplots were abandoned. Locations were minimized. Action was simplified.

After it was done, I went back to the novel, because I realized I had started it in the wrong place. The relentless cutting to make the screenplay had made the MC’s character arc stand out like a throbbing vein and the novel had to start with that pulse, not with a secondary character. Obvious in retrospect, but when you’re writing, you don’t know where you’re going.

So I rewrote the first two chapters of the novel, and gained a new appreciation for the novel form, where characters have extensive backstory and interior doubts and complex motivation. In the screenplay all emotions and movements of the soul are gestures to easily-recognized tropes. It has to be that way to get it done in under 100 minutes.

So I began to look critically at my characters’ novelistic interiors. Were they predictable and formulaic? If so, why bother? A screenplay can telegraph that. If I’m going to write psychological interiors, they darn well better be unique and non-obvious.

I haven’t really decided what to work on next. I have a list of ten new ideas bubbling, and I have one first-draft novel I haven’t looked at in a year calling to me in muffled tones from within a drawer. Whatever it’s going to be, I will keep my hard-earned lesson from screen writing in mind.


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