Sunday, February 3, 2008

Films and Books...Same Rules Apply

I had the opportunity to attend a few events and films at the recent Santa Barbara Film Festival. My friend Rachael, founder/President/superwoman of was a sponsor, so as a friend in good standing, I lucked out. We went to the Virtuoso Award night and sat in the audience listening to Casey Affleck, Amy Ryan, Ellen Page, Marion Cotillard and James McAvoy talk about their roles in this year's hot movies.
Neil and I had planned on attending the screenwriters presentation but unfortunately, the panel (including Juno's Diablo Cody) fell sick and thus had to cancel. Instead of heading home, we ran down State Street just in time to catch the opening of one of The Counterfeiters. The film transported the viewers to Nazi-era Germany. I had planned on analyzing the film for character development, plot lines, etc. but soon forgot my mission. I was completely immersed into the story (almost reluctantly, due to the mere setting). Neil and I walked out of the theater a bit traumatized. Exactly what the director wanted, I'm sure.

A bit later in the week, I hauled my 14 year old son out of school (a first) to see three short films about teenagers. One was a documentary but the other two were shorts. The differences in the two were striking. One told a story simply, without fuss. It was powerful. The other used gimics, had strained dialog and strayed from the story. Although it had a compelling story, the delivery was distracting. Watching these two different styles of film making got me thinking about my own manuscript and novels I love to read.

The ones I love stick to the story. I don't remember where I heard this recently, but someone said it's only about the story. Period. Even Stephen King spoke about dressing dialogs up too much in his book On Writing. Sometimes I struggle with word choices, dialog and sentence structure. I worry too much whether someone will think the writing good enough. Do I have any cool metaphors? What about interested, non-cliche similes? My book should be packed with these, right? I'm not sure. When I start to worry, my writing becomes worse. Although at the time I think it's wonderful. Usually it all gets deleted in the end.

So from now on, keeping the less than stellar short film in mind, I will now carry forth by using plain, simple, real language. I say it like it's easy. But I'll try.


  1. You've hit the nail on the head. It is all about the story.

    The language part I'm still deciding on. The books I love the most are lyrical, not the type that simple language works best in.

    If the book is written in plain language, I've got to be captivated by the imageries I see from the words.

    I say write what you love and your audience will find you.

  2. I love lyrical books, too...just can't write them. I should have said that it was my goal to keep the dialog real. I just read a book that had forced dialog. Just didn't sound authentic. That's my goal: to make my characters sound as real to the reader as they do in my head.
    Thanks for weighing in!

  3. I love going to the festival every year and usually come away with inspirations for my own storytelling from the films I see there. Missed it this year. Great point about getting to the "heart" of a story and staying there. Sounds like you and Neil had a great time too! BTW...I would have been SO jazzed to see Ellen Page. She's fantastic.


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