Saturday, November 19, 2011

INSIGHTS INTO THE WRITING OF THE NOVEL



This Interview was conducted by Basha Skulski, Media Relations Executive, at Lono Publishing


Q: You started as a screenwriter, and eventually became also a film and TV producer. Recently, you’ve been writing novels. I believe there’s been a “cross-connection” between the three mediums – Film, TV, and Books – that ended up influencing the writing of your novel, “DEMON DAYS – Angel of Light.”


A: I’ve always loved books… way before I fell in love with movies and TV. But any creative artist in this age who does not pay attention to the fact that all three are important elements of popular culture ignores a simple fact – readers, movie goers, and TV watchers are usually absorbing all three mediums. And in enjoying all three, it has changed the way we all process each medium separately.


Q: But “DEMON DAYS – Angel of Light” is not your first novel. So have you had this philosophy for a while?


A: I certainly had that philosophy on my mind while writing the book “Demon Days,” (which proceeded “DEMON DAYS – Angel of Light”). It’s wonderful that the book has been generally well received, but I believe I fell short with what I wanted to accomplish. I wrote a book that was fast paced and had the visceral thrills of a movie, but ultimately it lacked the character depth of a good novel or a well written dramatic TV series where you get to fully understand the characters.


So, my goal was to completely rectify the situation when I wrote “DEMON DAYS – Angel of Light.” Whether I achieved that goal is now up to readers to decide.


Q: Okay, then let’s talk about a “film” term that some readers will know about, but others may not – a “MacGuffin.” 


(Wikipedia defines the term as: "a plot element that catches the viewers' attention or drives the plot of a work of fiction".[1] The defining aspect of a MacGuffin is that the major players in the story are (at least initially) willing to do and sacrifice almost anything to obtain it, regardless of what the MacGuffin actually is. In fact, the specific nature of the MacGuffin may be ambiguous, undefined, generic, left open to interpretation or otherwise completely unimportant to the plot. Common examples are money, victory, glory, survival, a source of power, a potential threat, or it may simply be something entirely unexplained).


A: Alfred Hitchcock popularized the term to refer to an object – for him it was something tangible – that, within the framework of all the mystery/thriller movies he was making, would kick start the plot. In “North by Northwest” it’s a roll of microfilm. In “Psycho” it’s money that the main character has stolen. Now eventually in a Hitchcock film, the MacGuffin is tossed aside… discarded… no longer of any interest to the rest of the plot or story as the characters either die or their quest allows them to achieve something… more important. By repeatedly insisting his screenwriters use the same technique, Hitchcock was at least creatively consistent… but it also became a way for a thriller story to be told where the main character often times discovered that not only was the MacGuffin a throwaway, but something in their life was as well.


Somehow the plot device of a MacGuffin always made me think of John Lennon’s Beatle song, “A day in the life” and the line about counting “Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire.” I believe Lennon meant it as a commentary on the shallowness or rote nature of many human endeavors that can’t possibly lead to spiritual transcendence. But I used to think of it because I know Hitchcock could have used the line as a plot for a movie - While counting all the holes in Blackburn, Lancashire, Tippi Hedren’s character discovers a dead body. Eventually, she discards her counting of the holes and learns a few things about truth and happiness. 


Something like that.


Q: I brought up the MacGuffin because the plot of your book has everyone trying to get a hold of what is called “the Black pages” -- a medieval document that might reveal the key to a deadly plot to trigger the Apocalypse. The Black Pages are your MacGuffin, and yet you don’t play it in the way a MacGuffin often functions in a thriller plot, right?


A: I’m not going to spoil the surprises of “DEMON DAYS – Angel of Light,” but in an attempt to answer your question, I will confirm that the “Black Pages” function within the plot of the book as the artifact that the main and minor characters are trying to possess. And, you are correct, unlike a Hitchcock movie, these Black Pages are not a “throwaway.” Indeed my goal was to embody the Black Pages with more significance than just being a kick starter to the plot.


Q: Another cross-connection between the three mediums is how you handle your narrative. The way you unfold your plot sometimes feels like it has the energy of a movie or TV series rather than the normal narrative language often done in thriller books.


A: A few years ago, I read a very popular thriller novel, by a very well-known author. I’m not going to name names here because that’s not important. The novel’s premise was said to play out within 48 hours or something like that. Now that is exciting if you’re a reader because it promises a fast paced plot. The reality though was that often times chapters would begin with the characters moving into a room with a “sense of urgency” only to have the author than write something like, “they had met before… many years before … under completely different circumstances…” And then the narrative flow would switch… actually beginning all over again, as the chapter would then depict the prior meeting, in every detail, as if it was happening in the “present.” After that past “scene” was finished, the author then jumped back to the present, played out the scene we had originally begun with, and then the chapter would conclude.


On the most obviously level, that kind of storytelling hurts the pace of a thriller book. And rather than a sense of “urgency,” there was none, which means that “suspense” is going to be a narrative victim as well.


But on another level, that type of storytelling completely ignores this cross connection of the three mediums we’ve been talking about. Not only has the author failed to keep up with the possibilities of techniques to reveal his plot and characters, he’s ignored his audience, who have gotten way more sophisticated about receiving a novel’s narrative flow.


Movies started with non-linear story-telling, and when it was done right, it could enhance the suspense and thrills of the plot. TV series, like “Lost” and “Breaking Bad” have gone even a step farther. They have taken the non-linear storytelling to another level where they are not only dealing with a single episode but they are running a whole season of shows underneath a non-linear umbrella.


Now, “DEMON DAYS – Angel of Light,” is, for the most part, told in a straight forward linear plot. There are “diversions” and what I call “plot hiccups” that allowed me as a writer to increase the suspense, character richness, and thrills. And I was able to attempt this only because I know readers have gotten very sophisticated with the way they absorb their entertainment and I was able to use that sophistication to be very aggressive in my story telling.


So, yes, I grabbed the strengths from all three mediums in writing “DEMON DAYS – Angel of Light.” I would be completely disengaged with my potential audience if I didn’t attempt it.