Tag Archives: films

The Many Lives of Ebenezer Scrooge.

Dickens’s miser may rival Doyle’s detective in reincarnations.

I haven’t compared lists of Ebenezer Scrooge’s and Sherlock Holmes’s appearances, but I’m willing to bet they’re neck-and-neck as the world’s most popular literary character adaptations.

These illustrations, gleaned via Wikipedia and Wikimedia, represent only a few of the cinematic adaptations of A Christmas Carol.

Dickens had to cope with people copying this work from the beginning, with the plagiarized version that appeared soon after he published the novella.

And ever since the book went out of copyright, it’s been fair game. But what I want to know is why Hollywood (and its international equivalents) can’t leave the text alone? Why do they have to make so many changes, when the original story is so very well written? In this it’s like Stevenson’s Treasure Island: you just can’t find a faithful transfer from the page to the performance.

I don’t mind so much the truly creative departures, like Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, but it seems that as far as what purport to be presentations of the original story, everybody wants to become a co-author, and re-tell it “their” way. The changes don’t add anything of value to the tale; in fact, they detract from it. Moreover, the altered versions are the ones that tend to stick in modern memories: do any of the people who see them ever go on to read the original book? If not, they’re missing the true masterpiece.

 

 

 

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Writing Wisdom.

The Pump:

This has got to be the best short feature I can remember seeing during the past forty years. The viewer suspects within the first couple of minutes where the story’s going, but the way the scenes build on each other keep the viewer hooked, waiting to see how it gets there.

The film is like a great short story. I write literary fiction, but I admire those who can whip together abbreviated fiction: pithy but tight, with not a word wasted; a whole story told in the length of a chapter (or less). The best I can do to emulate short story writers is to weave the chapters in my near-epic-length books tightly enough so that each of them has a distinct arc that can support the story’s structure the way flying buttresses support a cathedral wall.

Flying buttresses at the Lincoln Cathedral Chapter House.

The story of The Pump also constitutes a lightning lesson for writers:

  1. Creativity is always to be desired, but “DO NOT TURN OFF MAIN HIGHWAYS ONTO DESERT ROADS WITHOUT FIRST MAKING LOCAL INQUIRY.” To me, this means checking the absolute essentials, to make sure I have the ability to make what I’ve envisioned into a virtual reality for readers. These essentials are The 7 Reasonable Rules of Writing:
    Excellent spelling.
    Good grammar.
    Sufficient correct punctuation for signage on the path to meaning.
    Thorough research.
    Understanding of literary conventions.
    Love for language and loyalty to its complete lexicon.
    Writing by inspiration, rather than controlling the performance of the tale.
  2. If the washer gets dry, “Just prime the pump.” Writer’s block seems to be a big problem to a lot of us, but I never suffered from it.  I don’t try to force the issue by trying to write through it, as some advise: Staring at the desert wasteland of a blank screen isn’t where my inspiration comes from, and just writing to fill in the blank – good, bad or indifferent – seems like a waste of effort. So I continually prime the pump by editing what I’ve already written, and by engaging in research. There’s always more than enough of both tasks to keep my mind and hands happily occupied, and before I know it, I’m involved in filling another hole in the plot.
  3. “If you trust too much, too easily
    “You will live to be deceived
    “But if you do not trust enough,
    “You may not live at all…”
    This quote from the beginning of The Pump has two applications for writers. First: Well-written characters need to have many opportunities to make up their minds and take action, and the consequences of their choices, as with the reasons for their decisions, have to differ in good and bad ways. Second: Trust your instincts as a writer. Don’t let unreasonable rules destroy your efforts to bring to life the story that’s in your head.

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A Virtual Irish Vacation.

Meet historic Irish personalities.

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