Reading vs. Watching Pages

Prose writing and screenwriting has a bit in common. Obviously they both involve writing. More importantly they both involve telling a story. But they tell their stories very differently. There are some things prose can do that screenplays cannot, and vice versa. 

I will use the memoir I wrote as an example to illustrate what I wrote. 

In many ways, my memoir wouldn’t work as a film. The story takes place over two days, and not much happens. It’s a lot of observations from former and current me, and a lot of introspection. This doesn’t really work on the screen. Voice over narrations are used sometimes to give inner thoughts in movies, but it’s not a popular filmic convention. Cinema is a more dynamic medium than the written word, due to its audio and visual aspects. While a longwinded inner monologue might work on the page (not saying mine do), they would not work on film. On film, it’d be extremely dull. And if the whole film featured constant inner observations, it’d be kind of repetitive and overbearing. And it’d get in the way of what’s happening.

And that’s where there’s another difference. In a film you can just show what’s happening. But in a written work, you have to tell. The goal is still to show with writing, but at the end of the day, you’re still just telling while a film is literally showing. So while a film version of my story would lose my keen observations, they wouldn’t all be needed. 

Ultimately, a film of my memoir would lose much of the connection to my character, as I’m in simple experiences, with the deeper meanings being divulged through my thoughts. So a successful adaptation would need additional scenes to show the necessary development of my character. Which would be fabricated. So the movie would lose some authenticity. But the movie could add things to existing scenes. There isn’t much tension in my story. Just a small tale with a small change in my character. And I had a hard time writing that. What am I supposed to say?: “I hated my job before and I didn’t like having to lifeguard when kids were in the pool, but now I think talking to kids and other people at work is rather enjoyable.” No subtlety in that. I have to contort to make it feel natural and not be overbearing or heavy-handed with the lesson. So I had to say that I talked with a kid and that I enjoyed it or whatever (I wrote it better then than now). But in a movie, you’d be able to see me change while talking to this kid. You’d be able to see from my face and my body reactions how I felt about the conversation. And a musical score would add some emotion that I don’t think I could ever convey in my writing.

Anyway, both prose writing and screenwriting have their strengths and weaknesses. Objectively, neither is inherently better (subjectively screenwriting is at least 100% better), but one might be better to tell a specific story than the other. But I think both could successfully tell any story. Because they’re both great. The end.

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Rolling Stone Sucks

Yes. I said Rolling Stone Magazine sucks. Was this a fair thing to say? Probably not, I’ve never read it before. Was it a mature thing to say? Probably not, I’m sure I could have found a more articulate way to convey my distaste for them, but hey, I was supposed to write an attention grabbing title. Is this a statement I, nevertheless, stand by? Yes, and I will go on to support it in this blog post, which I will try to keep brief so as to avoid a rant.

Back in July, Rolling Stone did a piece on the Boston Marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Rolling Stone, a magazine famous for their rock star oriented stories and cover photos, was audacious enough to not only put Tsarnaev on its cover, but to use an innocent picture of him, along with the title “The Bomber” (presumably their recommendation for the name of the film adaptation). And as if the Tsarnaev photo and cover were just another rock star news story, and not a serious look into a very serious topic, the magazine had text on the side letting the reader know that this issue would have stories about musicians such as Willie Nelson, Jay-Z, and Robin Thicke, in addition to their piece about a murderer.

It’s not just the disrespect that bothers me, though that’s a big part of it. Terrorist attacks are a grave business. When these attacks hurt or kill people, such as in the case of the marathon bombings, it’s important for everyone (especially big media outlets with national recognition) to show respect to those affected. This incident, in particular, hits close to home for me, quite literally. As a resident of Massachusetts, I have no problem calling Boston the best (and most certainly my favorite) city. It’s a place I’ve visited regularly since my childhood. I love it so much I’ve decided to attend school in Boston. At the time of the bombings I hadn’t picked my college yet, but I had been accepted to a few in the city, and my top two choices were there so I was fairly certain I’d be living there at the same time the next year. So obviously it’s unsettling to hear that your future home came under attack. But it was more than my future home. It was my present home, too. My state’s capital, my favorite city. Learning about the bombings gave me a pain the likes of which I don’t know if I’ve felt before. It didn’t help that I was out of the country at the time, on a community service trip in Trinidad with my dad and others from my town. But everyone else I knew was still there. The town my aunt lives in, Newton, was under lockdown. My mother and my siblings went to New York a few days after the bombing. It was later that we heard of the Tsarnaev’s brother’s plans to bomb Time Square. They would have reached the city the same day my family was there.

And about the Tsarnaev brothers, about Dzhokhar. The college they went to, UMASS Dartmouth, was a familiar name when I heard it on the news. I have many friends that go there. My parents earned their undergraduate degrees there. To hear that these men had been residing there was, frankly, scary.

I would blame Rolling Stone for ignorance, but sadly I think they knew exactly what they were doing. They wanted controversy, they wanted attention. Their magazine was all over the news after their story. And that’s what they wanted. It was a marketing ploy. But it was a distasteful one. Did it hurt me personally? No. But I’m sure it hurt the families and friends of those affected by the bombing. So, while I believe in freedom of the press and I believe Rolling Stone had every right to do this, I don’t think they should have.

Sorry, I thought I was going to be brief.

Selfsploitation: A-Okay

Memoirs are fairly popular.

Yet, some say that memoirs are too exploitative, too narcissistic. But that is precisely why they are popular. Memoirs that don’t share enough aren’t interesting. Who would want to read a memoir that leaves out all the personal details? It’s those personal details that give the reader a new insight into someone else’s life. It’s what makes memoirs worthwhile, and so popular. If Cormac McCarthy wrote a memoir about going a to convenience  store, but told what happened, it’d be a boring story that would tell the reader nothing new. But if he explained how that experience changed him personally, or that it inspired a part of No Country For Old Men (or something), then that story would suddenly have some resonance.

In this way, selfsploitation, as I will call it, is completely necessary in writing a successful    memoir. Famsploitation, on the other hand, is a trickier matter.

Sometimes the author’s family is crucial to the story they’re telling. But sometimes a memoir can be to revealing, in a way that the author might be okay with but the author’s family might not. But sometimes these revealing details are necessary for the author’s story. Clearly this is not a simple matter. Probably the easiest solution would be for the author to ask his family if they’re okay with what he/she’s writing. But what if the family says no? Or what if a family member being written about is deceased? Should the author still write the story anyway?

It’s not an easy question to answer. But, if I had to, I’d say yes, but try to make as much about yourself (and as little about that family member) as possible. They have a right to not have personal details about them revealed, but the author, too, has a right to reveal personal details about themselves. The best compromise would be to reveal only as much about that family member as necessary to tell the story.

It is a tough question, so my personal solution for it (for my memoir), is to side step the issue completely, and write only about myself (and some interactions with strangers that facilitate my arc and who are given fake names for the sake of their privacy and because I have forgotten their actual names).

But it’s really best to be as accurate as possible. If you can’t write abut your family, write about yourself. And why not? Everything is copy, of course. Everything people write usually comes from some sort of real life experience. So why not make it as real as possible? Use yourself instead of a John Doe character. I think there’s is always truth in writing, and, as well, writing is always trying to impart some truths on the reader that they might not know. Something about the world, about people, about life. Why not impart that truth in the most truthful way possible? Without any sort of artificial elements? That’s what a memoir does. That’s why they’re so popular.