Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Book him Danno

A few years ago I told my agents I wanted to write a novel. They nixed the idea. 'You're a script writer, stick to what you know' I listened to them.
A good mate of mine, a dyed in the wool script writer, has just signed with the biggest and best book agent in the country - with his first novel. He finaly got fed up with the worst aspects of the TV world. The numpty execs, the incoherent notes, the plethora of D girls with attitude, the numbing blandness that seems to be the order of the day and the pointless meetings.
He took a break and sat down and wrote a novel. Here's a snippet of the conversaton between Big Time Book Agent and Mate.

This is fantastic writing. The pacing is tremendous. How many novels have you written?

Counting this one? One.

You're joking.

Nope. Never had time. I've been writing TV for the last 8 years.

Ah! That explains it.

And it does. See I think that if you are a good writer, that means you are a natural storyteller. Books, Tv, Films, all the same. Storytelling. I've been on websites where novelists and screenwriters, largely unpublished or unproduced, talk about how different the script is from the novel and how they are completely disparate skills. Bollocks. They are different platforms. A platform is easy to master. That's not a skill. Good writing is a skill and a transferrable one. Pick up just about any thriller and you will see that structurally it's just like a very long treatment for a movie.
If anything I'd say that being a scriptwriter is a major qualification to write thrillers. David Balducci only wrote Absolute Power as a novel because no one wanted to buy the script, saying there was no appetite for political thrillers. Several months at the top of the NY Times best seller list disabused them of that notion.
The novel isn't for everyone, but here's a couple of points. The shit pile in the novel world is many times greater than that in the script world [which is plenty big enough] So if you have any talent at all you will stand out. And secondly, an author is treated with a lot more respect in the TV world than 'just' a scriptwriter!
I'm dusting off a few old movie scripts and digging out a thesaurus.


Anonymous said...

Damned right. Scripts are fantastic templates for novels. And if you can write, you can write.

If you catch my drift.


Charlie Williams said...

Dave, I hope you don't mind but your post inspired me to write a sort of response on my own blog. I started writing is a comment here but it got a bit long, and would have looked like I was parking tanks on your lawn.

Anonymous said...

When a couple of years ago I decided there was a writer in me that wanted out, I decided to go down the scriptwriting route rather than writing novels. I know my limitations, and I know that I couldn't write the kind of fiction that I like to read, which tends to be quite literary.

I think you're absolutely right, though, that there is great cross-over potential in the thriller genre in particular. One of the things that appeals to me about screenwriting, whether for film or TV, is that it requires a lot of discipline, and if you are prepared to learn about structure etc that is actually very liberating and really works to a new writer's advantage - and is readily applicable to pacing a good novel.

Still, a literary agent friend of mine said that publishers want to know that a writer is committed to producing a series of works - not just taking a busman's holiday from screenwriting - and that a marketable personality is more important in the book trade, which would be a problem for me, English and white, if I wanted my Africa story published.

Sorry about the tanks.

Anonymous said...

As the writer under discussion, it's weird seeing Charlie Williams post a comment. When I was doing the research for the book one of the people I met (a doorman) pressed one of Charlie's books on me and wouldn't shut the f-ck up until I read it. Thanks, Nick!

By the way Charlie, Fags and Lager was a cracking read.

ED summed it up better than I could. I was sick of writing TV and felt the need to stretch my writing muscles.

Already, I've had more smoke blown up my backside (a not altogether unpleasant sensation by the way) than in those eight years of writing TV, and it hasn't even gone to a publisher's yet.

To pick up Terraling's point, the thriller is intended as being book one in a series (with serial elements). So that's the first part covered. Now, marketable personality? Oh no, I'm fucked!

Helen Smith said...

Write a book, Dave, it's great.

Everyone in the business is lovely to you and treats you with respect, love, awe, admiration, envy - all the things you ever wanted for yourself when you dreamed of being a writer when you were a child.

A book agency functions a bit like a social services befriending scheme for authors run by Cambridge graduates. They have been set up to deal with dotty geniuses and consequently you are not expected (as you are in TV/films) to go out and make your own contacts and get your own deals.

You can't expect to make any money as a novelist, so the usual advice is not to give up your job (i.e. scriptwriting) to do it. Better to think of writing novels as a kind of performance art and just do it for the hell of it.

No-one will ever, ever want to 'collaborate' with you and (in the UK at least) will not expect you to change a word of what you write unless they have flattered you for at least 45 minutes and compared you favourably to famous authors you admire. Even so, they will make sure that you are not crying because the use of a semi-colon is in dispute.

And, at the risk of stating the obvious, it costs the same to produce a book no matter what the subject, so you can set it on the Titanic and no-one will tut tut about the budget. Also, you can celebrity cast at will so if you want someone who 'looks like' Timothy Spall or if you want dear old dead Marilyn Monroe in the book, you can just go ahead. Actually, you can just go ahead and do anything you want - it's your book. Hence that lovely word 'author'.

Adaddinsane said...

I've blogged on writing novels too, partly in response to this...

Charlie Williams said...

Hey anonymous (you leave no name) - ta for the Fags and Lager thumbs-up. And it always cheers my heart to hear of a doorman who likes the books. If I'd only written them when I was younger I might have got around some of the bans!

We're angling to go in opposite directions, so to speak. You on one mountain and me on the other. Need any advice or whatever, drop me a line. Sounds like you've got a good agent though.

Those aren't tanks, ED, honest.

Andrew Roth said...

What does numpty mean?

English Dave said...

R - damned write!

Charlie - Don't mind at all. Read your post. Good stuff. It is a great counter point between the kudos and cash argument. The writer's eternal dichotomy! And my mate says you are now both in contact so excellent!

terraling - to some extent it's the same in tv. personality, or sometimes lack of one, counts for a lot. But it's all a bit like the famous Louis B. Meyer [I think] quote about a writer - 'get that bastard off the lot right now! Until I need him again'

Anon - you're a bit like Steve Mcqueen in The Great Escape only this time the bike soars over the barbed wire lol

helen - do they bake cookies? And yes great point about the limitless imagination you can bring to bear.

addad - i couldn't get your blog for some reason. probably my technofuckup.

Andrew - a numpty is like Harry Enfield's 'Tim, nice but dim', but without the nice.