Saturday, July 21, 2012

Page Writing vs Stage Writing

Two recent experiences have me thinking about the quality of writing and different types of writing. My thoughts have focused on both the experience of the writer and the experience of the audience member when engaging with the work. The first experience was working on a short-story-for-hire. In the end, I don't own the rights to the work so at best I can only provide a rough sketch. But it was in part a romance, so there were some G or PG rated love scenes.

The second experience was watching the film version of my favorite book, Jude the Obscure.I've put off watching Jude because I have this rule against watching movies based on books, particularly movies based on books I like (Michael Chabon's Wonder Boys being the sole exception).

I usually gloss over any bit of love scene when writing stories. I've always found it awkward, and judging by the awkward stuff I've read in even the best of novels, most other writers do too, to some extent. One of the big challenges of writing prose is conveying that romantic feeling without making the reader want to vomit. I'm referring to graphic sex scenes as well as far less graphic kissy scenes. In the case of my project, it was the non-explicit kissy scenes that tripped me up since graphic stuff was verboten (and as a writer, I wouldn't go near there anyway).

But the experience is very different when I'm writing for performance. I don't have to really imbue the characters with as great an amount of feeling when describing a kiss or sex. There's a bit of laziness on my part as a writer, or more gently, I get a bit of a break. As in, I'm giving a director and actors a sketch of what I want, and they add the flesh and bones and feeling. It's a much less awkward experience for me, since in part I realize I'm not the only creator involved in the process.

There's the difference between writing a story and writing a script and there's also the difference between reading a novel and watching a film of it. When I watched Jude, I felt as if I was going on a mad dash of a marathon. By the time Jude stood in the graveyard, yelling as Sue left him, I felt as if I was beaten to a pulp. The book is bleak and disturbing, but after reading it multiple times, I didn't feel exhausted.

A book invites you into to its world and lets you travel on a long, slow moving journey with it. When that same book gets turned into film, everything has to speed up. The bloody gut wrenching pig scene in Jude the Obscure gets turned into a not very noticeable 3 minute scene in Jude. Suddenly, Jude's married. Suddenly, Arabella is gone. It all happens so quickly, it's hard to digest.

All of this is not to diminish the quality of the film. Though it's a mad dash through a 400 page novel that spans years, it's still a nice enough film. The experience is just so different as to be jarring.

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