paring things down
After being awed by the novel of Girl With a Pearl Earring last week, I borrowed the DVD from the local library. On first viewing I was rather disappointed as it makes changes which alter the heart-leaping sensuality of the book. As it is due back tomorrow*, I watched it again tonight with the author/screenwriter commentary on and, yet again, the thing has got me thinking. I can see why the changes took place, and why these changes make a good film out of a good novel without being line-by-line faithful. The writers talk about how they pared events and dialogue down more and more. Chevalier has said that she thought the novel was sparse until she saw the film. What really came over in the commentary (as well as the fact that writers are nearly always better than directors to listen to**) is the way in which the story escaped them to become a story beyond authorship. It wasn't about who owned it but the best way to transmit it to the reader/audience.
And the talk of paring down, combined with my own desire to write more sparsely, makes me want to detail some of the editing process on Warring States or, more specifically, some of the radical reworking which took place when it became apparent that it really couldn't be allowed to overrun. The problem is I don't want to mention this in case anyone then reads the book wondering what specific scenes were ringfenced with "it's not plot-driven but it is essential". Suffice to say the editor didn't want to make certain cuts either and knowing that he wanted to save the same scenes made me much more comfortable with hacking out other stuff. And hopefully this is the first, if enforced, step on the road to writing with the sort of clarity and evocative sparseness that I admire in others.
*which shows how keen I was on the novel. I finished reading it at 2am on the Friday morning and had the DVD out of the library by 3pm.
**Joss Whedon excepted. Oh, and the Buffy writer who just tells you exactly what is happening on screen and nothing of interest at all.