Monday, May 18, 2009

Writing for the Ear; Writing for the Eye

Recently, I spoke to the Colorado Independent Publishers Association (CIPA) in Denver. They bombarded me with great questions about the creative process, but one question stands out: What are the differences and similarities between writing for television and writing a novel?

As many of you know, my day job is a copy editor on CNN's "The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer." And I've been a broadcast journalist for 40 years. (I hear those wisecracks about old age. Stop it!!) About 15 years ago, I added fiction to my writing repertoire. (I hear you media-basher cynics and your snarky remarks about fiction and journalism. You stop it, too!!)

Anyway..... the woman's question got me thinking that there are really more similarities than differences between writing for the ear (broadcast copy) and writing for the eye (print).

Broadcast copy has to be simple and lean because the listener only gets one chance to hear and understand. Unless you have TiVo, you can't tap on the TV screen and tell the anchor, "What did you say? I missed what you said. Could you repeat it, please?" The copy has to be clearly understandable the first time.

Print copy, obviously, can contain more nuance, details, and complexity. But the more I think about it, I see that a lot of my fiction writing closely parallels the broadcast style. For example, I'm writing the first draft of my third novel now. I'm finding that for most scenes, I write the dialogue first -- no action, no description, just two people talking -- a staccato, back-and-forth hot potato of word play. It's just like writing broadcast copy for an anchor because the anchor's copy is meant to be conversational, the way real people talk to each other.

It's only after I lay down my dialogue bed that I loop back and add action, description, and narrative. Yet even then, I apply the same principles that I've used over the years in broadcasting: keep it simple and keep it tight.

Some literary authors are great at writing lush, emotive descriptions. I wish I could do that, but I know my limitations. And I think I know that many readers these days don't want to get bogged down by convoluted sentences.

So.....perhaps novel writing isn't as different from broadcast writing as one might think. Your thoughts?

1 comment:

John Hallow said...

I hope so; I'm about to try writing out the dialogue first for the first time. :)