Nicola Monaghan's news, events and general thoughts about life and writing.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Structure in movies and Inglourious Basterds.

I went to see a brilliant movie this week, Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds (I hope I've spelled that suitably incorrectly...) I don't want to say too much about it for fear of spoilers but I will say that (no surprises) it was brutal, inappropriately funny and had a spectacular ending that left my jaw hanging for about three entire minutes (which is actually a long time to keep your mouth open like that...) The soundtrack (as ever) was amazing and I was particularly struck by a version of Fur Elise that meandered into Western-style classical guitar at each main chord. Brilliant. The acting was brilliant too. Best ever Brad Pitt (except for perhaps his performance in 12 Monkeys) and a particularly compelling performance by Christoph Waltz as Colonel Hans Landa. (Sorry for all the brackets. Not quite sure why...)

It also, like Pulp Fiction, had an unusual structure. Pulp Fiction is told through various 'stories', each having its own clear narrative structure like a mini film, but over lapping. Chronology is all over the place so that characters dead in one scene are suddenly back in another. You can only truly understand the opening when you've seen the end of the film. I adore this movie.

Basterds is also set in chapters, although the characters, rather than the action, overlap, and the action is shown more or less in the order that it happens. It's still an unorthodox way of writing a script, but it works really well for this story.

I've been working on The Killing Jar treatment for months, trying to turn it into one smooth, straight A to Z story like I was taught in screenwriting class, succeeding on some limited scale. Then I saw this and felt like I'd been struck by lightning. Immediately it was obvious. I'd already sketched out TKJ as three part TV, but also knew it was too extreme for British telly. But just because it's a film, it doesn't mean it can't have three parts, does it? Well, not according to the Tarantino school of script writing, and he's my man when it comes to the movies.

I've put it down in a skeletal way and it works. I think I hang onto much more of the spirit of the book this way and I genuinely believe this isn't just the author of the novel in me trying to hang onto too much. I just have to see if I can persuade the world this is a good idea. For me, three chapters really fits with the story The Killing Jar tells but also, its major themes. They could almost be the caterpillar, pupa and emerging insect of the story. Bang on.

I just hope the world can see that and doesn't think you have to be Tarantino to get away with it. Answers on a postcard please...

Saturday, 1 August 2009

The Big Question

I decided today that I'm going to blog about 'The Big Question'. No, I'm not about to go all Hitchhikers on you and talk about life, the universe and everything, and come up with a random two digit number as the surprisingly simple answer. In fact, it's almost the opposite. The question is much less ultimate, and the answer an entire novel, rather than anything as elegant as 42.

The Big Question I refer to is the one that all writers dread and all writers are asked, over and over again at events and readings. In terms of writers' talks, it really is the ultimate question, the one that everyone seems to want the answer to. Where do you get your ideas from?

There's a reason writers hate this question. It's the one question guaranteed to make a writer's face fall, and cause he or she to mumble something incoherent about life, the universe and everything, or claim an almost spiritual kind of inspiration guiding their hands over keyboard or dragging the pen along the page. The more sarcastic amongst these creatures may comment 'I buy them all from the ideas shop', and the more honest 'I really don't know.' The latter is about the truth of it and it's near impossible to describe the creative process in any quick, simple way.

But, now, I've come up with the perfect answer. Write about it! Create a character who is an artist of some kind, put her in a settling and write a novel. Spend the entire two hundred odd pages exploring the creative process, as well as moving the plot forward, setting scenes, adding complications and eventually resolving everything. When people ask refer them to said book. Not only does it mean one won't have to answer 'The Big Question', but also may result in further sales of said book. Win, win, win!

There's only one problem with that. One whole novel later and I'm not sure that it might not have been easier to say '27' and leave everyone to go away and work out what 'The Big Question' actually is, after all.

Empathy, I've decided, is important, and an ability to switch off and tune into the subconscious mind, hence the garbled explanations that seem to point to some weird, psychic automatic writing that even Yuri Gellar would find dubious. Mostly it comes from the actual writing itself. That sounds very chicken egg but it's true. The more I write, the more ideas I have. When I first sat down to write I had none; now I have folders and documents full of the things, sitting there peskily calling to me, telling me I'll never have time to write them all. Not that I'm really complaining. In a sense, ideas are like friendships. You can never really have too many of them, but if you try to focus on them all at once they will probably come to nothing.

If that doesn't help then, well, you're just gonna have to read the book.