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How Do You Do That Thing You Do?

I’m off to Los Angeles tomorrow, and will be gone two to three weeks.  I’m looking forward to seeing (in no particular order) my horse, my friends, my manager.  After the cold of a New Mexico January it will be pleasant to be warm, and I think I’m going to spend some time sitting on a beach watching the waves and thinking about my life,

But before I go all philosophical and navel gazing I wanted to make a post about writing, and trying to analyze how I bring my screenwriting skills to my prose work, and how and why the screenwriting experience made me a better prose writer.

I was talking with Sage about how I approach every scene as if it’s going to be shot.  I figure out the fastest way into it, the quickest way out, and how to give the last line the maximum punch.  I avoid dialogue that is too long, and doesn’t do at least two things — move the story forward and explicate character.  I think about big visuals, and try to suggest them in the writing without going purple.

Sage was listening and said, “But your books never read like you’re trying to target them directly to Hollywood, unlike other disastrous attempts.”  
I knew the two books in question, and they were truly awful.  Which set me to thinking — how do I do that?  Some of it might be because I have actually written screenplays so I know what will play on screen.  Also, the dialogue in these books that scream See, I Could Be A Big Movie, Option Me! — tended to be incredibly on the nose and obvious.  Maybe that’s how these novelists viewed movie dialogue, but obviously they’ve been watching the wrong movies. 

But there’s another explanation — I’ve met a lot of prose writers who are very quick to tell me that they “never watch television” or see very few movies.  What I want to say is “Wow, aren’t you pretentious”, but I usually settle for a mild, “Well, you’re missing a lot of terrific experiences.”  There is some great writing, especially for television.

I’ve tried every hard to embrace the best aspects of both types of writing.  If you don’t have an actor to “play the moment” for you then you need good internal dialogue, but it needs to be used sparingly.  I tend to lose the sense of immediacy when I’m writing in third person and running the internal monologue.  I find I can manage this better when I’m writing in first person.  Maybe someday I’ll hone the skill in third.

I do tend to use dialogue more than description because I don’t like reading description, and writing it bores the crap out of me.  Thanks to Critical Mass I no longer have characters talking in a white room, but I let the dialogue carry the story.

I try to design my action sequences as if I were watching a Jackie Chan movie, and that has helped me with description because I need to provide my characters with interesting objects to turn into convenient weapons during the fight.

I’d like to get other people’s insights into blending the two styles.  Especially anyone who has read my work, and can help me analyze what I do and how I do it.

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