01 September 2010

Writing Scripts, Writing Prose

There are some writers who can move fluidly between prose fiction and scripted fiction—John Sayles is one such author, and you can probably think of several more. The rest of us stumble along as best we can trying not to let dialogue carry the action in our prose, while trying to not to rely on descriptiveness and subtle nuances that actually serve to hinder a workable script.

My friend Tom Baum is a screenwriter who has enjoyed a measure of success with such Hollywood movies as Carny and The Manhattan Project. A born writer, he's always testing himself in different narrative forms—lately he's turned his hand to novels and stage plays. The pleasure he gets from writing is evident in his works. Since we're friends, then, I think I can be honest in critiquing Tom's latest novel The Memory Gene (Amazon, 2010) without spoiling his fun.

The plot of this medium-length novel falls within the classic framework of a boy's journey in search of his absent father, but with one interesting element thrown in: the boy, Arky, has inherited not only his father's looks and habits, but also his exact memories. Of course being a kid with the memories of a grown man affects Arky more than the usual adolescent feelings of alienation. But they also equip him with an unusual emotional and sexual maturity, not to mention a slightly out-of-date vocabulary and instantaneous fluency in a foreign language, Spanish in this case.

All this should make for a fascinating tale, and it would if it weren't for the fact that Tom tells it almost entirely through dialogue rather than narration. Worse, the dialogue often has no indicators to let you know who is speaking. And since the characters are not especially well-delineated, the storyline can get a little confusing. This is one of the drawbacks of being a good scriptwriter—the very skills you need to write for stage or film are different from those you need for prose fiction, which requires a much more equal balance of narration and dialogue.

But here's the good news: The Memory Gene should go over well in its present form as an ebook because it fits our current idea of what an ebook should be, a light, fast read. The fact that it is written in short bursts of dialogue makes it ideal for reading on the small screen.

~ Cantara Christopher

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