Friday, December 10, 2010

"What Would You Rather Write?"

or, Answering the Impossible Question

Earlier this week, literary agent & author @WeronikaJanczuk asked writers on Twitter about the diversity of their craft.

For those of you novelists, is the novel your primary writing medium or do you pen short stories, poetry, etc., in addition to books?

Most of the respondents said they stayed mostly in the realm of the novelist, though some dabbled in short stories. I read their comments, sighed, and felt alone.

The same day, Lonny Dunn (@ProNetworkBuild) asked me the same question.
@MuseInks do you like novel writing more than screenwriting?

To which I replied, “Depends on what I'm working on at the time.”

He said he thought my answer vague and gave me an easy out: “mustabeenbusy.”

Which got me thinking.

Yes, I am busy. (Praises be!) But I wasn’t trying to be vague or elusive.

To me, asking whether I’d rather write a screenplay or a novel is like asking whether I’d prefer to watch a movie or read a book. Or whether I prefer sunsets or conversation. My answer would be the same:

It depends.

My main source of income is writing non-fiction. I also write novels, screenplays & songs. I can't imagine choosing only 1 medium (novels, scripts, poetry) & eschewing the others. Each has its own magic.

Screenplays are the creative equivalent of sunsets. They follow a pre-ordained, immutable structure. They hold little interest to those with limited vision. They color the world for a finite period of time. They can be experienced either alone or with a group. And they all end with “fade out.”

Screenwriting requires me to indulge the visual.

Since film is the medium of sight, the stories that work best on film are those that must be seen to be experienced.

Battles take place in all their blood, grit, and gory glory.

Lovers demonstrate their passion.

Heroes save the day in irrefutable Technicolor.

Everyone who sees a film enjoys the same shared vision. Actors, actions, sounds, and sequences; all exist as a visual constant to every person who watches the movie.

Where screenplays are concerned, the story lives because we see it happen.

If screenplays are sunsets, then novels are conversations.

A conversation requires commitment and involvement from more than one person. Conversations are not passive experiences. They must be entered into in order to be enjoyed. A conversation may happen between two people who afterward remember it differently or reach different conclusions.

The experience of reading means that I must engage the brain, willingly put another’s ideas into my mind, and use my imagination to breathe life into the words on the page.

When I write a book, only words will connect me to my readers. Five people could read the same book and each have a different idea of what the characters look like, act like, and sound like.

As a novelist, I can enter a character’s head and expose that character’s thoughts, but it’s up to the reader to sift through, analyze, and evaluate them.

In novel writing, the only color I have at my disposal is black ink on white paper. With this monochromatic palette, I must paint scenes of vivid word pictures that color my readers’ fantasies and spark memories they never knew they had.

I know that hearing a novel writer say he or she also writes screenplays is anathema to many agents. (Don’t believe me? See what the Estimable Query Shark has to say on writers who also want to work in film.) But I don’t understand this. To me, it’s like saying a dressage horse should never learn to jump. Or that you can learn downhill skiing OR Thai cooking, but not both.

I’ve spoken to screenwriters who shy away from writing a novel. I know novelists who are cowed by the rules of screenwriting. Members of both camps bemoan the fact that screenwriting and book writing each exercise different writing muscles and require different skills.

Well, duh.

Writers write. Why wouldn’t a writer want to develop new skills?

One can learn to play the piano AND the guitar. They’re not mutually exclusive. Each discipline simply has its own fundamentals that must be mastered before the experience is as enjoyable to the audience as to the artist.

In life, as in art, I have many interests. I adore sunsets and conversation, movies and books, screenwriting and novel writing.

So you see, it’s impossible for me to answer whether I’d rather write novels or scripts. It’s equally impossible to say whether I like writing non-fiction books more or less than writing songs. That’s akin to asking whether I prefer sunsets to conversation, or riding over eating. Each fills a different niche in my life better than anything else could.

I write many different things in many different genres, mediums, and styles. Some things I write for money – to feed my family. Some I write for myself – to feed my soul.

And I cling stubbornly to the belief that I am not alone.

What’s your preference? Sunsets or conversation? Or both? Or neither? Comment below and let me know.


ProNetworkBuild said...

Very clear explanation, and I feel the same way whether I am writing business articles or fiction. I get the same energy from them, I can get the same high. Well put, Ami.

I have that strong acerbic sense of humor and I don't realize sometimes how it comes across. Guess it got you thinking, and gave you a break from your novel? Hope it didn't cost you money to post this.

LoL I tweet at Pronetworkbuild

Ami Hendrickson said...

Thanks for your comments, Lonny. And thanks for the question that sparked this post. Got me thinking! (Not *entirely* a bad thing.)