So. The thing that was going on is that I’m no longer trying to write a screenplay for Homing. I tried for a year, but as the renewal date for the option approached it became increasingly clear to me that the producers and I just didn’t share a vision of the project. They kept asking questions about Nathan; I kept parrying those off. Nathan is a ghost, a possible figment of the protagonist’s imagination. He is not the protagonist; Homing is not Nathan’s story, much as they wanted it to be.
I knew the impasse had come one night when I sent myself an email from a friend’s house. “Sorry,” I said, “it’s just I have an idea for my screenplay and I don’t want to forget it.” And so I took a break from the dinner party to type myself a hasty email.
The next morning when I read it, I almost cried. “Maybe Leah does leave the house,” the email said. “Just to go to the store, or scurry to Charlotte’s. She’s always guilty when she does it, but maybe she does it anyhow.”
If you’ve read Homing, you know Leah leaving the house is not really in the cards, for a variety of what I think are pretty good reasons. And I know, a housebound protagonist doesn’t instantly scream great film, but then again, that’s what the book is, so if a producer reads it, loves it and wants to make a film of it, they should come to the process aware that the whole housebound thing is a thing, you know?
Anyhow, I did, I almost cried. I couldn’t believe I was ready to sell out that part of my quiet little story.
So blah blah blah, I quit the project. It’s still going ahead… or at least, the company has renewed its option for the next year, and has the option to renew again after that. God knows who will write it. Maybe someone great. Maybe they’ll make a masterpiece of it. Or maybe it’ll be The Lovely Bones.
Regardless, I am done. And that is that. And I am glad to be free of it. I will make a shed and deck in the side yard with the money from the option and that’s a tangible positive out of it.
And next time I’ll know better.
Meanwhile, I dig in the garden, dirt under my nails, pulling goutweed and planting anemones. Tomato plants line up awaiting their new home. Ants are farming aphids on the climbing rose and the wild raisin. Who knew they farmed aphids? They’ve been sprayed with dish soap and we’ll see what happens. All the while, Fallsy Downsies grows too.
You win some, you lose some.
The differences between writing Homing-the-novel and Homing-the-screenplay are huge and many. Homing the novel was such a solitary endeavour, a feverish fugue of writing, thinking, some rewriting, more thinking, not quite enough rewriting and not quite enough thinking and then it was out and on the shelf and in my hand.
Homing the screenplay holy smokes. At this point, it’s still Homing-the-synopsis, and it’s already in its sixth, maybe seventh draft. It’s a painstaking process of honing and shaping and honing and shaping and paring and shaping and honing. With lots and lots of input from the team of producers and story editor/mentor. When you’re writing a novel there’s no one who says, “maybe that’s not how Leah gets the pigeons, maybe Charlotte doesn’t go down to the library.” Because, what the hell are you talking about, of COURSE that’s how she gets the pigeons. That’s what happens! With the screenplay, there’s a lot of what if she, and maybe she ought to, and perhaps he feels… and that’s pretty strange to me, to my process, to the kind of writer I am. They ask a lot of questions, and sometimes those questions make me defensive, and that’s usually when I notice that I feel edgy about not having the answers, which means there’s some work to do there.
So it’s quite a process. I think I’m getting better at it, but I can’t really be sure. Maybe I’m just making a bunch of new drafts, and putting some new error or hole in each one. Hard to say. It feels like a lot of concentric circles and not a lot of straight lines, and I am so all about going forward as a writer. So it’s a good learning opportunity, if that’s not too weeny a thing to say about it.
It is definitely affecting the way I talk about the book when I am called upon to read from it (which I have been rather a lot over the last couple of weeks. Weird little flurry of activity for wee Homing-the-novel). The process of writing the treatment and synopsis for the film have definitely clarified my intention around the characters and story line (such as it is) in the novel. Very interesting cross pollination. I don’t know whether it holds up for a new reader of the novel, who doesn’t have access to the emails that fly between me and the producers, a reader who hasn’t read all frillion drafts of the treatment and synopsis. But it is yet another life the novel has, and I am so interested in that. There’s the life it had while it was being written and published, before it belonged to anyone but me. Then it came out, and belonged to everyone but me, and so the story changed again, every time someone read it, and told me what they thought. And now, as the story gets processed to become a film, it changes again, becomes no longer mine, nor yours, but ours, this common material with so many fingerprints all over it.
I should hate the process, but I don’t. I really don’t. In fact, I kind of like it. Potentially famous last words, but for now, I like it.
So I think I’m finally figuring this thing out. I wrote a second draft of the treatment for Homing: The Movie… and it didn’t suck! And I wrote two full scenes…and I’m pretty sure they didn’t suck either! So that’s very exciting. In fact, I am beginning to feel real enthusiasm for writing this thing, which is great.
Up till now the enthusiasm has been intellectual. As in: Hmmn, interesting challenge, I wonder if I can figure out how to make a novel into a film. And then that feeling was interspersed with lots of despair and aggravation and boredom at what felt like simple retelling of a story I’d already written and moved past years ago.
But, having immersed myself fully in trying to solve the story’s problems as it moves from novel to screenplay, having watched a zillion movies a week, having read the screenplays for Dead Poets’ Society and Rushmore (both films I’ve watched ad nauseum), I actually feel like not only CAN I do this… I really, really WANT to do this.
Hurray for that! And also, having completed the treatment, some character studies and two master scenes in time to meet a couple of funding deadlines…I just may be able to steal back a bit of time to work on Fallsy Downsies. Bring on the winter, I say, with its short days and quiet mornings and husband on tour–all perfect for getting some serious writing done. I don’t think I’ve ever looked forward to winter before. I must be growing up.
I pity the individual who got here–twice–by googling “success writing screenplay treatments.” Ha!
(Let me know if you find anything out, hapless googler. I could use the help.)
Oh thank god. This morning, on the way to physio (rotator cuff injury probably from over-zealous drilling during the summer of making decks, compounded by incessant Snood playing, and furious typing of screenplay treatment), I figured I’d better give some serious though to the problems posed by the screenplay. Those in charge feel I haven’t quite found the right place to start the film. And I can dig that. I tried to put in a bunch of backstory, but I think it’s just too much.
So, there I was, rolling along Summer Street, past the graveyard, giving it some serious thought.
And as is my habit, I was talking aloud to myself. I find the quality of my thoughts is best while I am in transit…in the car, driving, or on foot (not so much on the bicycle, mainly because I need to concentrate on not falling off or getting killed or maimed), and the talking to myself is very helpful, and it’s tough to do that while on foot (though the temptation is strong), so, given a few minutes alone in the car, I figured I’d best make the best of them.
And as I pulled up to the physio’s office and put the car in park, it all began to fall into place. I plugged the meter, and noticed I had in my bag the tiny, bird-covered notebook Kit gave me before I left for Toronto in July. No pen or pencil though. I was, for once, without my trusty pencil case. I cursed everyone who’s ever mocked me for carrying that glorious thing, and then I cursed myself for not popping it in my bag this morning. And then I hustled into the building, the elevator, and the physio’s office, trying to hold the whole thing in my mind. This is very, very difficult to do. It is quicksilver, and I was panicky. Got there, receptionist on phone. Saw someone I know somehow, made small talk about our respective injuries. But wanted to rudely command him to be quiet and her to stop her phone conversation and hand me a damn pen, woman, can’t you see I’m on fire here!
I was raised better than that, and so I chit-chatted till Vera was off the phone, then politely procured a pen and began to scrawl and scribble. My physio kindly hooked me up to the prickle-machine first (no doubt that’s its technical name) so that I could scrawl in peace for fifteen minutes. Which I did. Possibly to the detriment of my shoulder, which had been feeling much better, but stiffened up some whilst I was on my back, scrawling with a spotty ballpoint in a teeny tiny notebook propped on a clipboard. But no matter. One must suffer for one’s art, and so there I was, very bourgeois in my suffering indeed. In any event… fifteen minutes later, the prickle-machine sounded its we’re-done-here alarm, and I finished capturing my notes on Act II. Act III I think will stand almost exactly as its written in the first draft of the treatment.
Oh my god, the relief at solving that problem. And now, I may not have solved it to anyone’s satisfaction but my own, and even that might disappear once I really start writing it out. But what a weight off, to have at least an alternative place to start.
Remind me to muse on that sometime. On how, when you’re writing a novel, the things in it happen the way they happen because…that’s the way they happen! Whereas, it seems, when you’re writing a film, maybe things happen this way or maybe that way. Or maybe some other way. Not because that’s the way it first appeared to you, but because that’s the way it works best for the film. Or maybe this way. Or that way. Or let’s ask that guy, he can probably figure out how that thing should go.
It’s a strange shift for a writer like me (for a writer of the kind that I am, that is to say), but not an entirely unpleasant one.
Soon I will embark on Homing: The Movie Treatment take two. Notes are beginning to come back to me from those who know more than me (hell, you probably know more than me, why don’t you send me some notes, too?) Over the last twenty four hours, I’ve been presented with a number of questions about the story-as-a-movie (so very, very different from the story-as-a-novel. Oh, so different), and my mind is busy chewing those questions and forming them into answers. I am cautiously optimistic about the likelihood I will knock it out of the park on my next go-round. I would very much like to do so because then I think there’ll be a certain amount of time in which nothing further will be required of me, and I can think about Fallsy Downsies some more.
Because the winter is approaching and there is nothing like winter for getting novels written. Ideally, I should live up north where it is dark twenty hours a day. That way, I could turn in for the day around 7pm, sleep till about 4am, write for four hours in the quiet dark and bang out a novel a year. Ha ha, like that’d happen. I’d be the executive director of the local lantern festival by the end of my first week, and would spend all my spare time strewing twinkle lights ahead of me wherever I went.
Till now, Fallsy Downsies has wanted to be written in loud public places. But I am feeling the pull, as the days shorten and crispen, toward early morning hours of quiet, just me and my head and the stillness of the house, spinning sentences into paragraphs and paragraphs into pages, and pages into a bound item you can hold in your hands and enjoy. Christ, if I could outsource the writing of it, I surely would. I think I am going to require a mini-retreat, during which I get fifty pages done. Yes please, and soon.
You never hear of anyone coming down with that, and I wonder why. Spring fever, absolutely, but no fall fever.
I get it every year.
Maybe because my birthday is at August’s end and seems each year to usher out the summer, even though officially summer has several weeks left to spend. But the summer mindset, the headspace of summer, it goes by the first of September. Then it’s all sharpened pencils and too-hot sweaters and stew, even though the weather stays summery.
In an effort to buck that particular trend, I agitated for a trip to the beach this afternoon. We ate Dragon’s Breath blue cheese, and local peaches and got sand between our toes… and wore scarves with our sunglasses. I stepped into the ocean for the first time this year and damn, it was cold. But good. My feet still feel unusual. They know they’ve been in the surf.
On the way we stopped at some big box housewares store, because we have a sudden yen for a Crossley turntable thingy. Thought we might find one there. We did not. But being in there stoked my fall fever, which always manifests as a desire for new lamps and ottomans (ottomen?) and a new rug. And some boxes to put things in. What things, and then where will I put the boxes? Please don’t bother me with your petty concerns, I am attempting to treat my fall fever.
The other thing that’s going on, quite suddenly, is a desire, a deep, deep desire, to be writing Fallsy Downsies. So far, I’ve pushed it away, my usual laziness, or lack of willingness to give everything to writing. But I can’t hold it off much longer. The fall is a sure time for writing for me. The dark wraps right around, and I dream people and things up. So.
The complicating factor right now is the screenplay. Tomorrow night I have a meeting, at which I will be furnished with notes on the treatment. I know it’s broken, and I hope to figure out how to fix it. More with the birds, for sure. Plus, cut out two thirds of what happens in the book. Ah, but which two thirds? And how to show Nathan alive and interacting with Leah, without making a four-hour movie? These are questions to which I hope to have answers this time tomorrow.