Now don’t argue, if you’re looking at this on a phone, tablet, or computer; the point about teeny-tiny images is made. Here we have a GIF from Sunset Blvd., and another excuse to jump from a film image to a discourse on—me!
Let’s start with a little background on how I came to write my first novel, I used to write screenplays. Horrid, arty, little things, that were praised for their characterization and literary tone, and were optioned again and again, but never made into movies. Perhaps, because they were neither commercial or cinematic? That’s a pretty good guess, if I don’t say so myself.
Deeper background, there are a lot of things people say about the movie industry (some of which I can neither confirm or deny…) but the truth is, it’s a huge team effort, from the producers to craft service (those are the peeps who provide snacks on set). The director usually sets the course: for James Cameron it’s a military campaign, for Rob Marshall it’s about his relationship with the actors, for the Coen Brothers it’s about the story, for John Wells it’s about the process and the people he works with, for David Fincher it’s about presenting a visceral image, I could go on and on—but I won’t, because I’m getting to the writing bit.
The experience of writing a screenplay is a mixed bag. The writing leapfrogs into the pitching (or vice versa), which then turns into development. Most screenwriters refer to it as development hell. Briefly, you write a screenplay, a producer tells you “it’s Wonderful! It’s Mah-vellous”, they hand you a check, you hand them the script—and then it’s rewritten (not by you) to a point that you no longer recognize it. It’s both heart-wrenching, and completely understandable. A screenplay (words on a page) is not a finished product. A movie is.
If you want your words to be the finished product, write a novel. The irony is, of course, that writing a novel also is a team effort, but this time the team is working with you, in service of your words and story. It’s all about those lovely black symbols on a white ground, translations of the imagination, that hopefully come together to transport readers on voyages to unexpected and exciting destinations.
Briefly, you write a novel, and before it’s published it goes through various stages of editing, including an edit that deals with structure and narrative and voice. A later part of the process, called the line edit, gets rid of all the writerly tics you never knew you had, the repeated phrases, and the odd punctuation. The big bonus of the line edit comes with flow and polish, and an editor who can get into your head. A gifted editor draws on your voice and brings the text to a glossy, highly readable sheen.
Is there such a thing as a pleasant boot camp? A relaxing medical residency? No? What am I trying to say? The editing process is demanding, mind expanding, and rigorous. Sometimes it’s exhausting—it also at times is joyful and brings feelings of accomplishment that can’t be equaled. An editor is above all an astute reader who insists on clarity, concrete imagery, clear character motivations, and narrative logic. When I get stubborn my editor jokes me out of recalcitrance, and when I get frustrated over a passage or words I can no longer see for having read them over and over, he points me in the right direction. It doesn’t hurt that he’s British, has a wicked sense of humor, and even when I’m at my worst and complaining like hell he emails something like, “Okay, Toots, name the movie:”
Susan Vance: You’ve just had a bad day, that’s all.
David Huxley: That’s a masterpiece of understatement.
Right now I’m deep into writing the next novel, with the editing process soon to follow. You know me, I can’t quite wean myself away from social media, but my appearances in the digital realm are about to become brief (?) bedazzling (?) bedecked with a turban (?) — uh — unpredictable! That’s the word I was looking for.