Is it Hollywood Enough?
by Editor Maggie Johnson
…your manuscript, that is.
You can hardly argue that plenty of money is being grossed by Hollywood movie makers. And weren’t you planning on accruing a little money yourself from the sales of your book? Then why not follow a proven money-making formula? When writing and editing (and re-editing) your manuscript, keep the following filming fundamentals in mind.
Actions speak louder than words…especially in the opening scenes. Many authors want their readers to become as intimately acquainted with their characters as they are, so they start off giving us the hero’s or heroine’s back-story for several pages. Imagine that each of these paragraphs is an intertitle (the printed narration or dialog between scenes in the silent film era). Take your musing one step further and decide how many of these narration cards you are going to be willing to read (Thirty? Ten? Or is even three too many?) before you get up out of your seat, go back to the box office, and politely (or perhaps not so politely) ask for a refund?
Plunk your reader’s into an action scene immediately. Their back-stories will emerge in future scenes and dialogs with other characters. But be sure each of these factoids is really necessary for us to understand the protagonists. Some of this stuff really does belong on the Cutting Room Floor. Believe me; those Hollywood Film Editors are not hired just because they’re pretty, any more than your book editor was (present company excepted).
While we’re on the subject of opening scenes, let’s talk about the Set Designer. Good set designing is subtle. When you finish reading those twenty-something intertitles, are you ready for the camera to slowly pan the entire scene and take in the rich jade-colored brocade sofa, the plush, cream-colored carpeting, the wild rose-patterned wall paper, the leaded cut-glass lamps and then move onto the details of the Costume Designer’s wares?
Maybe not…maybe you would rather experience these things when the heroine catches the spiked point of her stripper heel in the cushion of the hero’s rich jade-colored brocade sofa as she clumsily attempts to strike an alluring pose. (We’re watching a romantic comedy, by the way.)
If there is one passive verb I could excise from an author’s vocabulary it would be “wear” in all its forms and tenses. I would much rather have another character use their vision to translate their perception of the outfit for me.
Yes: He looked so hot in his torso-hugging white T-shirt and skin-tight jeans. But what was with the hideous fuchsia cowboy boots?
No: He entered the room wearing a white T-shirt, jeans and hot pink boots. (I told you it was a comedy...maybe not a complete laugh riot though.)
Now, let’s bring in the Dialog Coach. There’s got to be plenty of it to keep the viewer/reader engaged. It’s got to be realistic, and it’s got to be deep. (Superficial dialog serves no purpose except to irritate the reader.) And it’s got to be linear. Not every movie (or book) can be a re-make of “Groundhog Day.”
We don’t want to witness a conversation between the two love interests and then listen to Mary tell her best friend Sally exactly what she and Harold discussed. Yes, yes, we know that in real life Sally is going to go home and tell her live-in pool boy her own version of the conversation; but we’re selling fantasy here, the reader is getting bored, and we need to move the story forward. We’ve got to fit this all into an hour and forty minutes. Oh yeah…that’s the movie version…sorry.
And my final rant is about the Product Placements. In Book World…it’s pretty much the opposite of Movie World. The President, Mr. Big Shot of Big Shot Company, Inc. is not going to fill your pockets with endorsement fees. In fact there’s a likelihood he will do the exact opposite. Do you really have such a powerful marketing plan that your book sale profits have budgeted in the costs of the lawsuit when Mr. Big Shot sues you for trademark infringement? Awesome! Could you share it with us? I mean…since you’re in the sharing mood and all.
I know…you want your leading lady to be trendy…but what about the readers who buy your book three years from now? Will Denise’s trendy 2012 Big Shot Company dress be so passé by 2015 that she will seem to have no sense of style, giving an uncomplimentary twist to her character development? How sad.
A good friend of mine, Mr. Dickens (we called him Charlie) did not rely on the use of brand names, but instead meticulously described his characters’ togs and material possessions to point out their precise stations in life. Charlie could still be pulling in a pretty penny (as his books are still very popular) if he hadn’t had the misfortune of passing away more than 140 years ago. And then there are those pesky public domain laws. Alas! And…indeed!