I like watching movies. And I tend to like adventure movies, you know the type. The big budget thrillers and sf/fantasy spectacles. I enjoy the “smaller” movies, the ones that study characters, that use the sense of place as a major part of the story, the ones that explore relationships. But on the big screen, and often on the little screen, the movies I’ll pay to watch and maybe even buy tend to be thrillers and sf/fantasy. LORD OF THE RINGS, ENDERS GAME, THE HUNGER GAMES and CATCHING FIRE, and the HARRY POTTER movies are just a few examples of movies I’ve seen and enjoyed in the last several years.
Over the weekend I was watching the first lecture of one of “The Great Courses”, this one on analysis and critique while reading and writing, and how it can make “me” a more effective reader AND writer. This first lecture sets the agenda for the 24 lecture series, and in it the professor talked a great deal about tone and about word choice. She gave some examples of “good” writing versus “bad” writing versus “okay” writing.
“Okay” writing seemed to be technically solid but artistically bland.
I thought about that as I read the passages she presented in the lecture, and I agreed with her fully that her examples of “good” writing were far more artistic. It was like looking at a photo of a weedy pond, then looking at Monet’s Water Lilies paintings. Both showed sort of the same thing, but there was a richness to Monet’s work that certainly isn’t found in a simple photograph by an “untalented” photographer.
Then I thought about watching movies, specifically, the movies I like to watch. To me, reading a lot of genre fiction, which is concerned primarily with telling a story, conveying the action that occurs to resolve the conflict, is a lot like watching some of these big budget movies. They aren’t out to explore the relationships between characters to any great depth, certainly no deeper than needed for the story. They aren’t concerned so much with exploring the issues that rise up in the story beyond what is needed to serve the story.
Or maybe they are. Maybe it is simply that they emphasize the story above these other things, while those smaller “films” and literary fiction emphasize the relationships, the characters, the issues, in the absence of compelling story. They find a way to make the “story’ about these items. The conflict comes out of them, not out of some larger plot construction.
Does that make any sense?
As I thought about my fiction, I thought that no one is ever going to file my stuff under “Literary Fiction”. Why is that? I pay attention to my word choices. I try to explore my characters’ motivations a little. But writing like the examples given by the professor does not come naturally to me. The metaphors and similes, the figurative language, the artistic flair that was evident in the writing in her examples, it just doesn’t flow off my pen (or my fingertips).
I write like I’m watching a movie. Character A goes here, does this, has this expression on his face (mirroring his mood), Character B and C do this and that, then this happens, and so on and so on. Like I’m watching and describing action on a screen. It strikes me that a lot of genre fiction works this way. I don’t know about romance, but SF/Fantasy, Horror, Mystery and Thrillers all seem to, at least to some degree.
I once wrote a piece about something Laura Lippman had written in one of her excellent mystery/thriller novels, something about how I could never have come up with the plot device that she did. I know she responded to the article, but I don’t recall exactly what she said. But I saw it as Ms. Lippman having a literary bent to her crime fiction. I know a lot of authors have that. Maybe it’s something that comes with time.
In the meantime, however, I think I’ll be content with “writing the movie”.