By John Gilstrap
NOTE: I’ll not be much of an active participant in my own blog day today because I won’t have access to a computer or even my iPhone. Why, you ask? Because I will be getting a VIP tour of the Navy SEALs compound in Virginia Beach, and they don’t let you take cell phones with you. For the record, that’s not a moast. That’s a pure neener-neener outright brag.
Now, on to today’s post:
Reading Joe Moore’s excellent post on Wednesday about the importance of setting, it was interesting to see how many examples of setting were in fact taken from movies. In the context of Kathryn Lilley’s great post about Finding Your Voice, I got to thinking about how much movies have influenced books over the years.
As a writer of commercial novels (not to be confused with lit’rateur (read that word with a New England elite accent)), I am obsessive about pacing, imagery and snappy dialogue–the holy trinity of screenwriting. I think in scenes, making every effort to begin and end on action. I believe in jump cuts, taking the reader from one scene to another quickly. Even my contribution to the voice discussion focused on “camera placement” as a means of keeping POV consistent.
So, how does a writer fulfill the goals of pacing, imagery and snappy dialogue? It’s all about voice, baby. And voice is inexorably linked to point of view. Consider these two descriptions of the same scene:
1. Finally, he arrived at the desert. He stepped out of the car, stretched his back and closed his eyes, letting the heat and the dry air soak into his skin. If he used his imagination, he could smell the aroma of purple coneflower and Easter lilly cactus carried on the constant breeze.
2. He’d arrived. There was no putting it off anymore. He climbed out of his car into the blistering moonscape, somehow sensing that he’d stepped two rungs lower on the food chain. Between rattlesnakes, scorpions and a climate that sucks the moisture from your bones, this was a place for the dead, not the living. It’s no wonder that we tested nukes here.
To my eye and ear, those examples illustrate how an author’s voice simultaneously drives action, imagery and characterization–in this case in the form of inner monologue. At least, I think that’s what it’s called. Through description alone, filtered through the voice of the POV character, we get a glimpse at two entirely different personality types. In both examples we learn that we’re in the desert, and that it’s hot. The rest is all characterization.
And for me, all else being equal, I have all I need to know about the setting for this moment in whatever story this would turn out to be. I’ve given the reader enough to take it from here and develop it further in his or her imagination. This is a stylistic thing for me, but once that scene is set, it’s time for the character to do something, lest the pacing slow.
People are used to experiencing thrillers–my genre–on the screen. In order to compete, I need to provide that same kinetic experience on the page, but with the addition of deeper character development.
What do you think? Do movies affect the way books are written? Is our addiction to entertainment from the screen the reason why thrillers from the past feel sorta slow when we read them today?