they don’t think at all

vargtimmen[1]I write fiction, but decided instead of doing what I’ve been doing for the past few decades and sort of know how to do, I’d write a screenplay for my MFA thesis. I wanted to do something new, I said, pretending I don’t realize that every piece of writing requires something new. I wanted to watch more movies. Something school has put a damper on. I wanted to study with Jon Lewis. Also, screenwriting directly addresses my weaknesses as a writer. I am an interior writer. I write thoughts, feelings, obsessions. I write interior space. You can’t do this in a movie. You have to create setting and move characters around in it.  Appallingly, characters in movies don’t think at all. They do stuff. And the pacing is completely different. I learned writing by writing. I learned by reading. It’s much harder to get at a screenplay through watching a movie. Plus, I always forget I’m watching. I tell myself to notice, but I get caught in the dream and forget.

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3 thoughts on “they don’t think at all

  1. Alison, that’s why you’ll often see so many movies about writers. It’s so that they can talk a lot and “explain” stuff. You’re right, it is very hard to get all that interior to be exterior, but I’m sure you are up to the challenge. Watch lots of David Lynch movies. He’s very good at being interior/exterior.

    • I’m adapting Twenty Questions, which is not as interior as my first novel, but still….. Right now I’m watching Altmans’ Shortcuts and reading some of the Carver stories they’re taken from– not in response to the question of interior/exterior, but rather as a way to compare a story told as movie or as text. The story that’s most relevant is So Much Water So Close to Home, about the men whose fishing trip is interrupted by the discovery of the body of a dead woman. Interrupted is the wrong word. The men complete their vacation before reporting the body. The obsession of one of the wives with this fact about her husband sort of mirrors one of my character’s obsessions.
      Movies do show the inner lives of the characters, don’t they. Probably when my instructor said characters don’t think at all, he was being hyperbolic. He’s trying to make me look at story in a different way. I like that, but it makes me anxious. If I were a character in a movie, there would be many ways to show– if not the thoughts– at least the anxiety.

  2. This is so interesting. I feel like I have the opposite problem sometimes – I watch movies and TV and think, “Hmm. That’s how you tell a story,” and when I try to apply those methods of storytelling to writing, it doesn’t work at all. It’s taken me some time to realize what extremely different storytelling mediums fiction and movies are, and that what works well in one may not work at all in the other.

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