Sunday, 22 August 2010

Yes, no, maybe - could you repeat the question?

Forget gluttony or sloth; vacillation and procrastination are the two mortal sins in my possession that I abhor the most. Too often I find myself in a situation where either I bounce between two options like a rubber ball in an evacuated room in zero-gravity, or I am frozen in a tangle of indecision resulting in several hundred consecutive games of Mahjong on my laptop.

So, when I was asked to choose the specialism of my MA – fiction novel, screenwriting or non-fiction – I was torn. Quite quickly I decided I did not have a strong enough knowledge base in any single subject to sustain an entire non-fiction book, ergo strike that one. Now I just have to select one of the remaining pair.

At the start of my creative quest three years ago, it was simply to garner techniques and strategies to enable the writing of a novel – after all, everyone has a book in them, don’t they? However, my Open University coursework in 2009 explored screenwriting, and I found that my stories were already film-like in my head. I felt a natural affinity with part of the writing process for film and television.

There are strategies for people like me

I enjoy reading fiction and watching movies equally. I would be happy to be successful at either. I have more than a dozen ideas for both. Both sets of course notes were very attractive. Both UCF lecturers seemed equally enthusiastic about and able at their craft. How on Earth could I decide? In the meantime, my win-lose ratio at Mahjong was improving dramatically.

There are many commentators who will offer opinions about whether it’s easier to move from one field to the other later on in a career, or which profession is more worthy. Strangely, these opinions tend to fall in line with the profession in which the author of them inhabits. A co-founder of internet-based screenwriting magazine Twelvepoint, Julian Friedman, in an article, says that ‘writing prose is relatively straightforward and it does not require the same obsessional adherence to structural templates that scripts need’. On the other hand, the snobbery inherent within fiction literature, even against other novelists let alone other genres, is well documented.

Novelist/screenwriter Richard Price, whose screenplays are probably more well-known than his novels, when interviewed at the 2009 Istanbul Book Fair, pretty much mirrored the reasoning I used to make my decision. He says, ‘Writing novels is a very solitary occupation. When you’re done, it’s all yours. Screenwriting is anything but solitary, you’re working with directors, actors, studios, agents and you have no control over that.’

Richard Price almost won an Oscar: Touchstone Pictures

Of course, agents, publishers, and editors are still present to throw a spanner in the novelist’s fragile works, but because, like many others, I don’t (yet) work within the writing industry and I rely on a ‘real’ job to pay the bills, I have no choice but to work in solitary way. From what I can gather, much screenwriting relies on selling an outline to a producer long before there is a need for a script. Waiting for someone to give me a green light before I’m allowed to write is untenable at this stage in my embryonic career.

So, novel it is for the MA. But it doesn't stop me from wondering if I've done the right thing, so I plan to write a first draft screenplay at least for this idea for a movie that I just can’t get out of my head. Next up: which of my ideas shall I use for the novel? Oh well, I imagine I’ll be a Mahjong grandmaster by the time I nominate my project.

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