Saturday, 1 October 2016

PUTTING THINGS IN THE RIGHT ORDER by Penny Dolan


For readers too young to remember, this circular object was used to hold a stack of photographic slides. Slide holders came in horizontal, less space-age devices as well
Last century, photographic transparencies were positioned in this device, in an upside down but orderly set of 20 or 30 or 50 or more. When placed within a projector and illuminated by a strong light bulb, each photograph image appeared in turn, right way up, on a special screen - or bed-sheet or blotchy wall - as long as someone remembered to turn the lights off. 

Although slides could be used for educational purposes - and were - along with the slide show came, all too often, a commentary like this:
 A. “And here's Reg and Mary from Luton. We met them at the Hotel Bellissima.”

B. “No, that’s Ron and Margaret from Ipswich. You wanted to show how big the swimming pool was, and that was just before . . .”

(Whirr, Click.)

A. “Sorry, we’ll be on to the next slide now. It's us with our foreign ice-creams and . . .”

(Whirr Click. Roars of laughter and - dare I say - mockery. The slide has appeared upside down. Ha ha!)

A.“Did you do that, our Dave? Well, all I can say is that you’ve ruined the whole evening for me and for everyone and for yourself too. .  .”

(Shouting, arguing and slamming of doors follow.)

A:“Well, I hope he’s learned his lesson. On to the next box of slides now . . .”
You think we didn’t have fun in the olden days?

Now, during the time I’ve been involved with children’s books, I’ve noticed a deep change. Once written by dons and teachers and librarians in their studies or inglenooks in pubs, children’s books gradually expanded to include the voices of a new round of socially-aware teachers, keen to promote a wider social world to their young readers. 

(Meanwhile, at home, "ladies" fitted their typing in between gaps in the housework, or had in “a woman what did” or “scribbled” while their off-spring were at nursery or school. On the other hand, they could also become supposedly neglectful mothers and writers, doomed by dreadful popularity.)

Then the world changed. Writing itself became a subject of study. Courses were planned and free grants granted. Writers wrote. (Often on the dole!) They flourished or faded or became lecturers on even more writing degrees, or went into publishing or teaching - and then along came a second world of film-studies and script-writing and screen-plays. I wonder if it is possible, now, to write a children’s book without some awareness of script-writing? (Some - those that read like "novelisations" - could be said to have much too much awareness.)

Even if you only intend to write novels, I'd suggest the task of working on a drama script or screen-play can be a really useful learning process. I know my own local playwriting group helped me to really visualise scenes, sharpen my storytelling and be much more willing to cut and change my oh-so-precious words. 

Now I’m part-way through editing another long novel, I’m wondering about browsing through my screen-writing notes and “bibles” again.

However, back to that slide-projector image. 

Remember how the machine worked. one slide at a time? 
Rather like stop-animation, in my opinion. 
Right now, while I work through scene after scene in my tome, trying to judge how effectively the section works in my story, I return to the words  of a certain children’s film-maker that I find very pointed. 


This film-maker and animator said:

 “I also found myself thinking very carefully about the choice and sequence of the shots. In the same way that writing a story is not simply a matter of writing lines of words, but calls on the writer to assemble the sentences in such a way that the reader receives them in the right order for stacking them in the mind so, too, the task of filming the story in pictures calls on the film-maker to present the pictures in such a way that the feeling of what is going on is delivered and the viewer has the sense that it is actually happening.”
 
The man?  

Oliver Postgate, writing in his autobiography “Seeing Things.” 

Onward, onward. Time to get my own scenes stacked correctly . . . 



6 comments:

Joan Lennon said...

I so remember those slide projectors! And you're right, editing is not unlike them at a certain stage - a scene at a time. But don't worry, the flow WILL emerge! Onwards!

Susan Price said...

Brilliant, Penny. I wish I had time to unpack all the different ways it's brilliant, but...

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Lynne Benton said...

Great post, Penny - and very thought-provoking. (And at least when you shuffle your sections around you won't put any in upside-down, like the slides...! I remember them well.)

Sue Purkiss said...

Oh, those slide shows...

David Thorpe said...

Very astute. I use everything I learned in my scriptwriting course in writing novels too. The techniques lay bare the anatomy of all writing.