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netribution > features > interview with terence doyle > page two

Could you recommend any writers that one could draw the correct sort of inspiration from?
They talk about writers being visual or cinematic, that was a term I heard a lot before I started scripts and I never knew what it meant, I probably would now if I went back and looked at more novels. I'd say work by John Grisham, Michael Crichton and certainly Elmore Leonard, you can see the movie there, you just have to take out a bit of the prose. One thing that does remind me of is that a friend of mine never reads fiction when he is writing scripts and I'm finding that now. I used to read a novel a week, I did for 20 years probably but now I can't read fiction at all, I hardly have the patience for it anymore because it just gets in the way. Again, the way you think about scripts is so different from novels so my recommendation would be to not read novels in the hope of learning anything about scriptwriting but to just stop reading novels.

Don't you see that as a sacrificing a leisurely pursuit, especially as an ex novelist?
Well it was always work to me despite it being one of the greatest pleasures in my life, I'm still a great believer in the value of literature and that it is more rich in meaning than film and I believe novels will last forever. So yes that does distress me now because I can hardly read and when I do its usually a thriller, its very upsetting. Reading novels is fantastic but scriptwriters should just read scripts, you really should read about 100 and don't just read them but tear them apart and make charts or whatever because you really will learn a great deal from them. I'm reading A Fish Called Wanda at the moment and thoroughly enjoying it, its a very funny script but I'd get no value out of it unless I go back and break it down, make my charts. The trouble is that you can read them without understanding why they are good but, certainly, scripts that read easily are usually bad scripts because they will invariably be very descriptive. Good ones are rarely exciting because they depend on the visual image and that can't be there on the page so, to get anything out of them you have to go away and build that up for yourself. One of the things you immediately start to see once you disengage yourself from the story is that one must always end your scene early. You should start it as late as you can, cover the last two sentences of a conversation or just cover the first two, you also start to recognise the juxtaposition of scenes. Its really much more science than art.

A very simple question, how do you write dialogue?
That's always something I've always found easy, an example of that is the first script I wrote which was much too talky. I still believe that this movie could be made if I went back and trimmed the dialogue. I had scenes with characters saying sometimes 4 sentences at a time, you are much better off with a sentence followed by someone else's sentence and so on. Although I have gone too far with that recently, someone called it 'too staccato'. They talk about cinema being about highs and lows, you can watch any movie for that.

How long, on average, do you take to write a script? Can one take too long?
My guess is that most people do take too long. I was reading an article on Neil Jordan writing Michael Collins on which he wrote many, many drafts over 10 years. One thing that stuck in my mind was that he said that when he actually sits down to write the draft, he does it in one go and tries to make the writing of it as much like the movie experience as possible. I usually write mine in a week but the rule is that you should try to do 5 pages a day, its almost impossible to do more than 15. One of the challenges is trying to identify with your characters. Bear in mind that, when writing a novel, you might take a day to write a 1500 word argument between a couple. In a movie you could take the same time to write a marathon road chase, a fiery love affair to picking up your mother and you've got to be in touch with all the emotions of the characters as you write. Its incredibly difficult to keep making those changes and it makes you very tired so I only write from 8am to 1pm every day without answering the phone. At times you just need to get up and walk around to forget about the car chase in order to think about what the wedding is going to be like and if you get stuck on one scene then move on to the next. A script is only 100 pages which only takes a week to type, I just finished one which took me 25 days from start to finish but I suppose my average is 6 weeks.

Tell us about your book.
I called it, 'The Heretics Guide To Scriptwriting' because it is a book for people who don't believe the standard credo of scriptwriting and I wrote it because there is a lot of blarney about how one must write scripts in a certain way. I'd like it to give confidence to everyone starting out and I'd like to save them from getting locked into the expensive route of taking too many courses which talk about the same old thing. All the books I've read about it talk as though there is only one type of movie and there isn't. There are movies like Ratcatcher, movies like James Bond, there are comedies and dramas and every one of them demands a different writing technique. One or two principles apply to them all but generally, the rules they set in these books are just too vague for individual forms. I'd hope mine would be the only book that would provide an alternative to the rest but it would also be concise, maybe 100 or 120 pages at the most.

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