Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Like reading a movie!

There a great number of writers that write pulse-pounding, relentless fiction, which quick chapter changes. Most notable among them is the gold-spinning Dan Brown. It's not uncommon that they are praised for their "technique", their ability to "grab the reader by the throat", or write their novel as if it were a movie.

At what point exactly did we decide this was a good thing? Dan Brown, if you can believe it, gets positive write ups in the New York Times and various other places for the derivative drivel he produces. Earlier today I stumbled upon a book included in Time's Best Books of the Year entitled Beat The Reaper. It's about a Surgeon who used to be a Hit man. His new life goes to the dogs when his former associates, the mafia, come sniffing for him. Sounds like a winner. And guess what? It's already in development for a movie!

Let me just say it upfront, clear and without question: Novels are not meant to be movie blueprints.

When a writer embarks on a project, be it a novel, play, screenplay, short story, poem, song, or what have you, the medium in which it is written is a carefully chosen creature. Each form requires a very different approach to be successful, and that's why when something gets adapted into a different medium, it's the person who adapted it who gets the award. It's not a matter of translation, but revision.

So when a novel is like "reading a movie" what I really hear is "The author wants to sell the film rights to this". A novel, even a piece of genre fiction, should always resemble a novel and nothing else.

I suppose that requires some elaboration. A novel should have some level of internal focus; it allows us to see the interior landscape of a human being. That's not something to use casually. It allows for slow-boil suspense; you don't have to jump from one point to another. Moreover, isn't it better that a car-chase be written for a film than a novel? It's true that you can do great things with words; gore will always be gorier, and suspense always more tense, but sometimes a picture can do more than a thousands words.

Wait! We're overlooking something, dear unnamed thing.

We live in a world where a book that reads like a movie will sell millions of copies, and I don't need to tell you that with the publishing industry, a single multi-million seller is a publisher's yearly bread. Yes. Perhaps Dan Brown is a literary martyr, pinning himself to a cross so the rest of us may read Chabon or Roth. He is not greed-driven and selfish, but selfless!

Yes. That's it exactly. So go forth writers! Craft your blueprints! Sustain us all! Even the Times falls to its knees in conspiratorial compliance. God bless the novel that reads like a movie.

No comments:

Post a Comment