Friday, November 21, 2008

Stitches in the Bone Garden

Here we are. Cool fog raising goose flesh on your arms. The full moon shining up above. Gnarled branches scratching the night sky. A forest of marble monuments and tombstones looming before you. You recognize the scene, don't you? Sure you do. Any horror writer worth his salt recognizes Dr. Frankenstein's favourite bone garden. Just as you remember why the good doctor invariably makes the cemetery his first stop, it's the mad scientist's first rule - if you're gonna make a monster, your gonna need parts.

Creating a script isn't much different. Just as Frankenstein's Monster is a crazy quilt of dear-departed humanity, your script will be an amalgam of influences. Which is why you must...get read widely. Mad scientists open graves. Writers open books. Books? 'Why I have all the screenwriting books in the world!" you say.

Recently I have been catching up on my reading. I've learned a great deal from novelists in all kinds of genres. For me, crime writers are a big influence in developing elements of my work. I learn a great deal about pace and plot and have found my best teachers in writers such as Elmore Leonard, Jim Thompson, John D. Macdonald and lately Duane Swierczynski. Now please, don't get the impression that I'm telling you to imitate other writers, especially when it comes to style, but you could learn a thing or two from these folks. For instance, take Elmore Leonard's ten rules for writing:

1. Never open a book with weather.
2. Avoid prologues.
3. Never use a verb other than ''said'' to carry dialogue.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb ''said'' . . .
5. Keep your exclamation points under control.
6. Never use the words ''suddenly'' or ''all hell broke loose.''
7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
Not all of that can be applied to screenplays, but it is inspiring. Leonard says his most important rule is one that sums up the ten: "If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it."

Now, back to the monster you want to create, and you're still determined to make a go of this mad scientist business. You're stitching it together, working everyday. You're reading. You're writing. You're putting in the time. But you don't want to overdo it. What do I mean? Too much 'mood' and an extra dollop of flowery description and your story will read like a parody. It's the 'hey Ma, look at me write' syndrome and it's usually from over-thinking and creating prose. Too much of a good thing is indeed too much of a good thing.

But also remember that even Dr. Frankenstein had his failures. That nasty bit of business with Igor and the abnormal brain, for example. But the good doc wasn't a quitter. When things didn't work out the way he'd planned, Victor Frankenstein always got out his shovel and headed back to the cemetery. So don't give up. Put in the time. Write and READ something other than this blog and get the fuck off facebook for a while and stitch that monster together. Would it kill you to read a book?

No comments:

Post a Comment