Saturday, September 3, 2011

How "The Help" Helped Me

Tonight I made a rare trip to the theater to see the film adaptation of "The Help." I read the book not too long ago. I didn't love it, but it was very nice. I mostly went because I adore Emma Stone and wish we could be best friends in real life. The film was pretty great, but what resonated most with me was just one of the end credits: "Based on the novel by Kathryn Stockett." This whole movie was made because one day a woman sat at her computer and began to type.

I started writing a novel almost exactly one year ago. It wasn't my first attempt. There are drafts written in pencil on college ruled notebook paper going back as far as second grade. And for my fifth grade yearbook ambition, I wrote that I wanted to be an author. In high school and college I cultivated my love for writing through creative writing classes, screenwriting classes, and other studies of what makes for a great story well-told. Once I got my first real job though, writing sort of took a back burner to bill paying and mindless TV watching.

While I was pretty much unemployed during the first part of 2010, I was finally able to exercise my long lost creativity. I started working on a script with a good friend of mine. We made it two-thirds of the way through a promising coming of age adventure story inspired in part by the Goonies before we hit a wall. Plot-wise we were stuck. And it was time for me to go back to work where I actually got paid. And so the story sat unfinished in the dark recesses of my aging laptop.

Since it was looking like that would never again see the light, I decided to once again try my hand at novel-writing. Screenwriting has so many rules. Relentless formatting, keeping descriptions succinct, letting directors and actors decide how a line should be delivered instead of instructing them, and what pitfalls to avoid lest your script appear juvenile. All that for little pay, less credit, and the joy of seeing your baby be torn apart by people who don't know a good script from their Aunt Mildred. With a novel, you can pretty much do whatever you want. Sure you have to keep to a basic story structure if you want it to be successful. But there is so much more you can do with tone, setting, and characters. You can really develop where you'd have to hold back in a script.

With this somewhat bitter attitude, I began my novel. It was semi-autobiographical even though the concept of a writer writing about themselves as if they are the most fascinating subject in the world irritates me. But you have to write what you know and just hope that others can relate. (That is, if you hate doing any kind of strenuous research, like me.)

I went back just now and read the first 11 pages. I only read 11 because that's as far as I got last September. But as I read those few pages, I was pretty damn proud of myself. Normally I go back and read something I wrote and cringe ever so slightly. But I made my future self laugh out loud! So now I'm inspired to go back and if not finish this book, at least keep heading in the right direction. Any progress is better than none.

Because some day I want to see "Based on the novel by C-------- H--------" on the big screen just like Kathryn Stockett. (Not that she's my new hero or anything. Tina Fey will always be number one. But I figure if she can do it, why can't I?)


  1. I know what you mean about screenwriting. I finished my first screenplay this year, and I'm still editing it, finding that I need to be more succinct with the dialogue or do more showing than telling. The rules are exhausting. I've begun two more, but I've considered making one of them into a novel instead, just to give myself a break from the format.

    Good luck! I'm excited for you!

  2. Congratulations on finishing the screenplay! I've never actually finished a whole feature by myself. I've completed them with partners, or for shorts/tv spec scripts. But it's hard for me to stick with something that long.

    That being said, I'm now up to 17 pages in my novel! We should simultaneously bust open a couple bottles of champagne whenever one of us finishes!

  3. Sounds like a plan! Heck, let's bust open a bottle every few chapters. :)

  4. Haha, I like the way you think, lady! Cheers!