Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Print vs. Performance

This most recent Friday Challenge illustrates an important point. Writing for print and writing for performance are different. I don't have a good handle on the difference — I'm one of those relics whose orientation is not merely print, but ink printed on paper made from the corpses of murdered trees. And I've honestly tried to understand the difference. Along with all the other reference books in my office, I must have at least two dozen books on screenwriting and filmmaking that I've never been able to stay awake long enough to make it through.

I was in a screenwriting group for a while. I don't think they noticed that I dropped out. I was always the quiet guy who sat in the corner, listened to the other would-be writers' presentations (as best I could tell, only two guys in the group had ever actually sold scripts), and then at the end, after everyone else in the group was done gushing over the writer's sheer brilliance, said, "Um, there's just this one thing I don't understand." And then I'd point out some painfully obvious logical flaw in the treatment and the whole thing would collapse like a house of cards.

Hmm. Maybe it wasn't that they didn't notice when I dropped out. Maybe they were relieved.

At this point I should confess, I'm also the guy who once got a "C" on a term paper by slagging Hamlet and turning in a catalog of all the places in the script where, if the Prince of Denmark had just shut up and done something instead of standing around soliloquizing about it, he'd have solved all his problems in one stroke and ended up King of Denmark. From this, I learned an important lesson: When An Old Biddy Is Standing In Judgment Upon Thee, Thou Shalt Not Question Shakespeare.

All the same, get me going sometime on how much I hate Romeo and Juliet...

Sorry, back to topic. My point this morning is, when you're running a writing group, try to orient your critical method to the projected outlet. If your intention is to write for print publication, the group members should submit their work only in print, because that's how an editor will see it. Time and again I've seen it proven that a good, dramatic reading can, pardon the expression, paper over a vast multitude of sins that are painfully obvious when seen in print. Likewise, I've also seen it proven time and again that words that read great on paper don't always make the transition to a good performance. Just think of any novel you liked that ended up as a really lousy movie.

Whenever I do write something, I always try to find time to read it aloud at least once. For one thing, I've found that in reading to speak, my eye finds typos it elides when reading silently. For another, reading the piece out loud gives me good clues on where to trim fat and insert punctuation. If I find I have to pause for breath, I at least need to insert a comma, and might be better off excising useless words and breaking up sentences.

But as I said at the outset: I am a fossil, trapped in amber, oriented towards ink on paper. In this online streaming-media YouTube age, is there a better paradigm?

Your thoughts, s'il vous plait?