Writing in the Film Generation

If I’m to be brutally honest, I don’t really read that much – particularly not as much as I think I should, as a writer. This isn’t a new problem for me, but I haven’t always been this way – in my youth and young adulthood, I used to read voraciously, devouring book after book with gusto. In fact, I would argue that I stopped reading so much around when I started writing (an odd coincidence, to be sure), but it also occurs to me that I stopped reading quite so much when I started watching.

I’ve always loved movies, film and TV, and there was a time when I would be excited about all the newest movies in theaters, or the latest TV show to grace cable networks (I’ve also come to realize that, as I get older, I kind of just want to watch the same stuff over and over again, a kind of comfort in familiarity). And if I’ve never said as much outright, I find that film and literature are really two sides of the same coin – namely, storytelling.

I think that’s what I really enjoy more than anything – a good story. Something that triggers the imagination, that gets the creative juices flowing, or simply makes you feel. And I don’t particularly think that any given story ‘needs’ to be told through any particular medium; the core essence of the story can be just as valid as a book, a poem, a photograph or a full-length movie. However, the way in which the story is told is more important to the medium, and this is where I think that, as I write more and more, I’m slowly realizing the influences that are guiding my storytelling.

You see, reading in the past – wonderful books like To Kill a Mockingbird, or Great Expectations, or even Salem’s Lot – got me feeling in a way that, in my experience, only a book could. When Scout and her brother are being stalked through the dark, or when Magwitch is waiting in the staircase for Pip, I remember feeling a deep unease, a fright and terror that no movie could ever instill in me – something that came from a deep caring of lovingly crafted characters, and the words on the page painted emotion as much as they did images.

Film, on the other hand, is (obviously) a heavily visual medium. And whilst some films don’t necessarily explore this in depth, others manage to convey the story in a way only visual imagery could. The Lord of the Rings, Lawrence of Arabia, or even the manufactured but highly enjoyable Marvel movies … these are all prime examples of stories that, I feel, are absolutely best told through film. The grandeur, spectacle, and beautiful blending of sound and light simply wouldn’t work as words on paper (ironic, that all of these would have started life as scripts – or in some cases, actual books).

But as I delve deeper into writing my own novels, I’ve come to realize that I’ve become more influenced by these visual stories even as I put digital ink onto screen. When I write The Redemption of Erâth, I see the story in my head, almost as a film playing before my eyes; I write it as if I were describing a movie. And the more I think about it, the more I realize that I’m really writing movies – 400-page movies, to be sure, but movies nonetheless. My inspirations aren’t the books of my past, but the films I’ve watched and adored.

It’s interesting, because in some of the reviews I’ve read, people have actually said that they would make great movies – perhaps because of the visual element I’m trying to instill into black and white text (not always successfully, of course). And it makes me wonder – is there room for a different kind of story in me? Can I even write a book that toys with emotions and thoughts in a way that film can’t do justice to?

In any case, I enjoy writing these stories – whether they’re primarily visual in my head or not – and I suppose I’ll carry on for now in the way I always have; after all, I don’t particularly want to see a great change of style halfway through the Redemption of Erâth series. But as I continue through my literary journey, perhaps I can try to include a little more of the written story in my books, as well.

What do you think? What books have made you feel things that you couldn’t imagine from a film? Or vice versa?

Pouring Trauma Into Art

My wife watches a lot of TV. Not bad TV – proper shows like The Sinner, and Prodigal Son (a lot of crime dramas, actually). I don’t; and not because I don’t like TV. I watch a lot of bad TV – mostly reruns of Family Guy and South Park. But it’s just a huge commitment for me to start watching a show that asks me to get invested in the characters. I was also burned badly by Lost and Heroes, so I tend to just avoid TV altogether unless it’s something I can mindlessly zone out to.

But my wife loves getting invested in shows and characters, and particularly loves British TV dramas; I think they tend to be more realistic and showcase the human nature side of things more than most US television. One show she’s been particularly into recently is No Offence, a somewhat tongue-in-cheek police procedural set in Manchester. At one point whilst Googling the show during its playback (I was in the room and partially paying attention), I mentioned that the show’s creator and screenwriter had also worked on another renowned British show, Cracker, known for its realistic and often dark portrayal of police work and criminal psychology, and for its deeply flawed and broken characters.

What struck me, though, was that in researching this writer, Paul Abbott, I discovered that he himself suffered from an abusive and broken past. Amongst other things his mother and father both left them, leaving his pregnant seventeen-year-old sister to raise the family; he was raped when he was thirteen, ended up trying to kill himself, and was ultimately admitted to a mental hospital.

They say write what you know, and in Abbott’s case this certainly seems to hold true. Not necessarily the police part, although I’m sure he had plenty of exposure to the legal system growing up, but the repeated traumas of his youth.

I think many authors look for ways to express their pain through their work, and the same holds true of artists, and generally creators of all kinds. It can be a kind of catharsis, a way of exorcising demons that would otherwise take hold and control our lives. When I listen to Korn’s Jonathan Davis’ solo album Black Labyrinth, I’m struck by how personal the album is; whether he’s hinting at things or outright stating “I deal with things inside that would make anyone else go insane”, it’s an album full of pain.

All of us are molded and defined by the events of our lives, but often there are one or two key aspects that carry forward throughout our days. For me, it’s depression; even though I don’t always feel depressed these days, and my bipolar is largely kept at bay with medication, depression will always be a defining characteristic for me – something deeply integrated into my psyche and personality, and something that defines who I am.

When it comes to my creativity, this naturally comes out. In The Redemption of Erâth, the entire story is largely an analogy for depression, from the darkness of the world to the inescapability of fate that brings people together only to tear them apart again. It remains to be seen if depression can be conquered, or if it will win over the world of Erâth.

There are so many different traumas that we suffer through, and of course different people will react to the same type of trauma differently; what inconveniences some can destroy others, and where some will blank it from their minds to cope and survive, others can never escape the pain. Creativity – art – can be for those people a powerful way of dealing with that pain, a way of externalizing it so that it hurts – hopefully – just a little bit less.

Movie Night: Doctor Who – The Aztecs (1964)

Year: 1964

Director: John Crockett

Production Company: BBC

Leads: William Hartnell, Carole Ann Ford

Screen Shot 2013-03-29 at 7.33.14 PMI’m a firm believer in entireties. I need to watch movies from the very beginning. I listen to entire albums. I have to read book series from the very beginning, and authors’ books in general in chronological order.

And of course, I absolutely must watch TV series from episode #1. I don’t have OCD, promise.

And so, naturally, when it came time to introduce Little Satis to Doctor Who, there really was nowhere else to start. We might end up getting on to the rather good “New” Doctor Who, but for now, it’s time to revisit the past.

Sadly, Netflix has a Doctor Who deficiency, and The Aztecs is the only episode(s) from the very first season. It meant that we really missed any introduction to the Doctor, his purpose and his shenanigans, and were expected to know quite a bit of background. As you can imagine, this bugged me, but alas, there is nothing to be done.

In brief, the Doctor and his companions – Susan, Barbara and Ian – arrive among the Aztecs prior to their invasion by the Spanish, and their eventual extinction. Emerging from a sacred tomb, the Aztecs take Barbara to be the reincarnation of a god. Sadly, Tlotoxil, the High Priest of Sacrifice, takes exception to Barbara’s insistence that human sacrifices are not necessary to bring on the rains. He denounces her as a false god, and goes to extremes to expose her for what she really is. Meanwhile, the High Priest of Knowledge, Autloc, begins to believe Barbara’s predictions of doom, and defends her against his own kind.

Ultimately the Doctor persuades Barbara to admit she’s not a real god; in shame, Autloc leaves the Aztec villages, and Tlotoxil gains control over all. Despite all that Barbara tried to do, he completes the sacrifice of the “Perfect Victim”, ending the eclipse that of course showed up at just the right time. The Doctor and his companions escape, sending the Tardis off into who knows where.

The Aztecs 7

Jacqueline Hill as the reincarnated Yetaxa.

It was difficult to come at this from the point of view of a child in the 1960s. By comparison to today’s media, or even to later episodes, the production quality, editing and acting was generally pretty poor, with wooden swords and shields and costume jewelry very obvious. However – there was nonetheless a sense of excitement, of something new and different about the show, and as the episodes progressed (it’s split into four parts) Little Satis and I were drawn in, and found ourselves very much immersed in the fabricated world of the Aztecs, cheesy though it might be.

Knowing what was to come, and the glory of the future doctors, it felt like a very suitable beginning. I wish we had been able to watch the very first episode, but until Netflix increases its canon of Doctor Who, that will have to wait.

Have any of you ever seen classic Doctor Who, and if so, what was it like that first time?

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆