It’s Friday Fiction time again! This week’s photo comes from Dawn Q Landau, via Rochelle’s HQ for this unruly group of mariners. My response follows below the picture and I welcome your feedback.
Just a week in, and 2014 is already testing our strength and resolve. Still, D:ream would tell us Things Can Only Get Better, and Rudyard Kipling would declare it a test of our manhood (I mean that in a strictly gender-irrelevant sense). In light of that, this is a story about filling the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds worth of distance run. Enjoy…
“Look!” Susie pointed at the screen. “You know I’ve always wanted a place to write, away from distraction.”
“A ruin?” Len asked.
“OK, the picture in my head was prettier, but lighthouses are expensive. I can’t earn without writing, and I can’t write without somewhere to do it.”
“That isn’t somewhere to write! That’s a renovations black hole!”
Susie nodded. “It needs some work first. But then I’ll be free to write!”
Len sighed and tapped the screen. It flicked back to the flash game Susie had been playing when he walked in. “There are cheaper ways to procrastinate, honey.”
Actions speak louder than words and a picture saves a thousand of them. These two phrases capture exactly the efficiency of the movie over the book. When we read (or write), we use many minutes and many words describing the scene: the appearance of the characters, the places they find themselves in and their reactions to those places. On film, those things appear instantaneously – in a single second, the Director (or more accurately, the Director of Photography) can transport us to a dank prison, an open plain or a distant galaxy.
All of which is a blessing for a reader like me, who gets easily bored by long passages of description and has great difficulty visualising things anyway.
Most movies rely heavily on dialogue. Next time you watch a film, or even a TV show, time the longest gap between speech and it’s likely to be less than a minute. Even in something like an epic car chase, where music and action take over, there are probably moments of dialogue to ensure that we stay connected to the characters. By contrast, flick through most books and you’ll find double- page spreads where not a single word is spoken.
All this came to me in sharp relief when I recently watched The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. The opening scenes introduce the three characters described by the title. The Director of Photography does a great job of placing us in the American West (not bad for a spaghetti western) and the combination of music and action leave us in no doubt as to what’s going on. But it’s a full 10 minutes before anyone speaks. Ten minutes! That’s a lifetime in movies. The only thing I can think of that comes close is two and a half minutes before Maria starts to sing in The Sound of Music (indeed, almost a minute before you can be certain you’ve not accidentally muted the TV), and nine minutes before the first words of dialogue.
As novel writers, we can learn from the movies, but we also need to be aware of the differences between the genres, and to accept that even if our masterwork might one day become a screen-play, it will be a different beast.
How long is too long? Well, both these films have done pretty well for themselves, so perhaps a long opening is fine, but if there’s a lesson here, it’s a reminder to the writer not to hang about too long before getting stuck into the action. Even if Julie Andrews is prancing about the mountains or Clint Eastwood is looking rugged and grizzled, there’s only so much world-building we can take.
Happy New Year!
Rochelle was kind enough to mention me in her home post this week and I can’t wait to read her story. Mine is a bit of a break from the norm, for which I’ve got 100 bad excuses which I won’t burden you with. I hope it pleases or amuses, and is received in the manner intended. If you want to see some proper FF entries, click on the link back on the homepage.
“Clearly the work of photoshop,” smiled Elmo.
“Rochelle says not,” Doug reminded her. “She says her daughter-in-law will swear to it. That’s her granddaughter right there.”
“Well, that’s proof then,” Elmo nodded, more to herself than the others.
“What do you mean?” asked Janet.
“Well, Rochelle is no way old enough to have any grandchildren. Her attitude, spirit, the photograph on her blog…”
“She and her husband just celebrated their anniversary. Forty-two years,” Janet reminded them.
“Then I rest my case. For the person who made Rochelle’s beautiful youthful blog photo, a dog up a tree would be a doddle!”