Archive | February, 2018

Revision as Adaptation: One Approach

9 Feb

My principle problem with the pantsing (or quilting) approach to writing is essentially while it lets me play a lot, I find that I start with an idea, it’s moulded into something perhaps not completely different, but different enough from when I started the first pages of the first draft. Entire scenes get scrapped, or revised from a different POV, and often the beginning needs to be rewritten to match the dominant narrative voice. Honestly, quite often I go back and write a beginning because I like to start with plot and conflict.

My biggest problem with revision tends to be competing ideas. I found with my earliest works, that I’d throw tons of ideas into the story – with complaints like “Too many characters” and reminders to describe the scene, those still tend to be comments I get to this day.

I argue about what’s realistic – that there would be many unnamed people in the tavern, and it’s weird that you keep running into the same few people. But, I remind myself, that I’m not dictating history, I’m writing fiction. The audience doesn’t want to be bored, so focus on the important bits. But how do I determine what’s important, who’s important, and if the hero from this tale is suspiciously similar to the last guy I wrote about?

The easiest way for me to think about what is essential, is pretending that the book is going to be adapted. Specifically, a discount musical with no budget, and they have to reuse the same few actors. (Don’t worry, you don’t have to write songs unless you really feel like it).

Why a musical? Besides that I enjoy theatre, the stage lends itself certain aspects that don’t give me as much control as if I were to adapt it to a movie or tv series. We can’t close up on the actor’s face. We can’t wallow in their thoughts unless it’s blatantly implied. There’s a certain amount of time – so if I have a sprawling epic and my old high school needs to cut it into two hours with a fifteen minute intermission, what is so essential that, when someone adapts it for the stage, the themes and ideas of my story are evident for the person changing it?

I’m not taking it all the way – I care about how the story reads in a novel, and recognize that there would be adaptation even if the director or an artist wanted to be extremely faithful to the source material.  I’m imagining, as I’m doing revising, “Is this scene essential? What does it convey? Does it run counter to my theme? Is there a more entertaining way of doing this?” And obviously, this doesn’t always work. I can’t keep everything bare-bones. The appeal of some books is the heavy stylized narration, and novels re pretty much limited to the skill of the artist. When I’m talking revision, I’m not talking about “Dumb it down for the masses” I ask myself, “If I were to cut this, what would change”? This is doubly important if I have a sprawling epic and my publisher only wants to publish a certain length. Assuming I need to drop 10 000 words, my precious prose needs to still convey all the necessary information to the audience.

An example of what I’m talking about was in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.

I had some very opinionated friends who regularly argued (not really) while both LotR and The Hobbit came out. Amongst the many changes that took place in both sets of films, I had zero problem with Glorfindel being replaced with Arwen in the Peter Jackson adaptation (I believe it was Legolas in the Bakshi adaptation, it’s been a while and I can’t seem to find the scene on Youtube). More strict fans I’ve talked to despise the change for a variety of reasons – the best argument I heard against was that it made Arwen too powerful. As a casual fan, my main argument for replacing Glorfindel with Arwen or another character was that Glorfindel essentially just shows up for the act of ferrying injured Frodo to Rivendell and Elrdond. Was it realistic that Aragorn happened to be found by Arwen? Not really, unless Arwen has some unexplained magical way of finding her beau. Utilizing Arwen allowed for the reveal in the third film that her life is now tied to the quest. I look forward to the upcoming tv series, to see if Glorfindel will finally rescue Frodo as Tolkien intended or he gets replaced yet again.

Finally, I’d like to say this is a revision tactic. Written stories are different from stage plays, and ultimately when I’m writing, I want what’s best for the story. Movies have the advantage of showing training montages and showing swooping landscapes that would take pages to describe. Theatre has its own magic, and can interact with the audience and the audience often utilizes a suspension of belief that won’t hold up in other mediums.

Anyone else have a tactic in revision? Lots of times when I talk to writers, they talk about their perfect actors who would play their leads. I usually assume by the time my novel sees the light of day, the “perfect” choice would no longer look the part.