Tag Archives: screenplays

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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How to Write Romantic Fiction.

Study a romance screenplay to find out its secrets.

The 1990 romantic comedy Green Card has it all: premise, plot, pacing; a setting that’s integral to the story; unique, developed characters who experience personality and/or motivation change; tension, conflict and a satisfactory conclusion, although considering what’s deemed traditional for romance writing, it’s not strictly “happily ever after,” or even “happy for now.”

Rom-coms are generally too lightweight for my taste, but this one is unusual, in that it exhibits the kind of intense storytelling that seems to be missing from much modern fiction. Novelists are creators of Written Art, but there’s a crossover into the realm of Visual Art, because the way an author uses words must be able to paint pictures inside readers’ heads.

A writing exercise.

If it’s been a while since you watched Green Card, buy it, borrow it, or dig it out of your video collection. Watch it through once, just to experience the story. Then watch it again, several times, concentrating attention on a different aspect of the story, as listed above. Take notes, using as much sensory detail as possible. Then answer the following questions:

  • How would you describe the street scenes and interior scenes, from a narrator’s point-of-view?
  • What details would you include about the characters’ bodies, behavior, expressions and tones of voice?
  • In Green Card, the two main characters are forced to focus on one another. How would you describe the way the main characters feel as they experience change in their perceptions of the other person?
  • How would you describe the way the main characters experience change in their perceptions of themselves?
  • How would you communicate in words the rising tension between the characters? (The background music in the soundtrack contributes to this, so you might turn off the volume, the better to catch the visible cues.)

You don’t have to re-write the whole script, just the parts that impressed you the most. If you know where your writing has trouble with constructing convincing scenes, you can focus on the film’s scenes that illustrate solutions to similar problems.

It’s an exercise in people-watching, which is really the way fiction should be written: as if the writer was observing some inhabitants of the Parallel Universe, and reporting on what is seen and heard, and how those things make the writer feel.

Finally, look at your own work-in-progress, especially if it’s a love story or has a romance sub-plot. What can you do to make your novel’s interpersonal scenes appears as vividly in a reader’s imagination, as the actors brought Peter Weir’s script to life on the screen?

 

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Review: Michael Collins (film)

Michael Collins.

When this movie came out, more than 20 years ago, it was long before I was in Irish anorak mode. In fact, at the time, I wasn’t even in movie-going mode. It wasn’t until a few years after I’d written Irish Firebrands that I became aware of this film, which is probably just as well, because during my cultural immersion research, what I learned about Michael Collins was based on reasonably well-established historical facts.

Facts are what must underpin historical fiction, which this motion picture fundamentally is, and like all fiction, this story has to find in speculation the fuel to keep moving its plot forward (even if, as in the WWII film Valkyrie, we all go into watching it knowing in advance what’s going to happen at the end). This speculative stuff consists of what could have plausibly happened “off-stage” in people’s lives, and is based on what can be extrapolated from their public behavior and utterances.

I can deal with extrapolations. It’s interpolations that irk me. And Neil Jordan’s decision to revise the facts of the Croke Park Massacre involves a departure from reality that was just big enough to destroy my suspension of disbelief. His justification for that decision (as elucidated in the accompanying documentary-interview video) was that the true circumstances would have been more horrifying for audiences than his fictionalization, but that doesn’t wash, with me. The fact that the armored car in reality did not enter the stadium during the attack impairs Jordan’s credibility. That’s a shame, because I’ve enjoyed reading his other fiction, and I own a few of his novels.

All that aside, this portrayal of a short segment of Michael Collins’s short life does make a riveting adventure film. It’s very fast paced, although that becomes something of a problem when so much of the action takes place enveloped in smoke and dust, half-light, or darkness, conditions which make it difficult for the viewer to follow details. Julia Roberts’s Kitty Kiernan is lackluster enough to be a nonentity, but Liam Neeson portrays a plausible Collins, and Alan Rickman’s own physical resemblance to Eamon DeValera is uncomfortably spooky. The documentary is informative, including much period footage, although there really isn’t anything Tim Pat Coogan can say that can dissuade my personal conviction that The Long Fella personally had much more to do with The Big Fella’s demise (which occurred 96 years ago today).

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