Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Take Home Tuesday Hosted by David Coe

UPDATE: The winner of ROBIN HOOD by David B. Coe is Virginia. Please email your physical addy to contests(AT)knightagency.net.
Today marks the release of ROBIN HOOD, my novelization of the soon-to-be-released movie of the same title, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett. I had never written a novelization or even a media tie-in before this, and it was an interesting experience.

Let me begin by answering the most obvious questions. No, I don’t get to attend the Hollywood opening of the movie. No, I don’t get to meet Ridley and Russell and Cate. No, I wasn’t paid hundreds of thousands of dollars. Almost makes you wonder why I bothered, doesn’t it?

The fact is, though, that this was an enormously valuable experience for me, and that’s what I’d like to write about today. As a professional writer, you might say that everything I write is “for hire.” But really, most of what I do is a labor of love. I write my own books because creatively speaking, I have to. I have characters in my head clamoring for my attention, demanding that I tell their stories. As a writer of fantasy, I discover worlds in my imagination that I am desperate to explore and describe. In other words, I would write the rest of my books no matter what; there is a creative imperative that leaves me no choice.

ROBIN HOOD was different. Before I was approached by my editor about the project, I didn’t even know that the movie was in the works. Hearing of the movie, and about the offer, I was excited to do the work, but that burning desire to write this particular book wasn’t there. How could it be? The project wasn’t mine in any organic sense. This was truly work for hire.

So you might say that this was also the first challenge I had to overcome. I needed to find a way to be passionate about someone else’s story, about another writer’s dialogue.

Let me pause here to explain exactly what a novelization is. My job was to take the movie script and build a book around it. I wasn’t allowed to change or delete any dialogue, nor was I allowed to add scenes or subplots. Basically, the script was sacrosanct. On the other hand, I could choose my point of view characters for various scenes, I could describe settings and action, I could explore my characters’ emotions through internal monologue and voice. I should also add that, unlike most books, this one was on a very, very tight deadline. I received the script on December 1; the book was due January 4. That’s five weeks for a 90,000 word novel. That was the second challenge...

But getting back to that first challenge: In essence, I had to find a way to make a book that clearly wasn’t mine, into something that felt like it belonged to me creatively. The key for me lay in getting into the minds of my point of view characters. And in a way, I found that easier with the minor characters. Much of the book, obviously, is told from Robin’s point of view, and in those first few days of writing the idea of being in Robin’s head -- of being in Russell Crowe’s head -- intimidated me. But when I started writing a scene from Friar Tuck’s POV, or that of Richard the Lionheart or Eleanor of Aquitaine, I quickly grew far more comfortable. Why? I’m not entirely sure. I think because I knew less about the characters, and because I couldn’t even picture the actors playing the roles. These minor characters were mine -- or at least I could trick myself into believing that they were. After writing from their perspectives, I started to find the voice for the book, and that enabled me to go back to the early scenes that I wrote from Robin and Marion’s POV, and rewrite them more effectively.

For me, writing is always about character, about forging a bond between my reader and my protagonist. It’s not surprising then that character and point of view provided the “way in” to this project.

As I’ve already said, the second challenge I faced was entirely logistical. Before ROBIN HOOD, I wrote about 2000 words a day, and I considered that reasonable output. Actually, I thought of it as being on the fast side. For this book, though, I had to double that, and then some. And I did. I wrote over 4,000 words a day. I worked nights and weekends, which I rarely do. I worked harder and longer and more efficiently than I ever had. I’ve since completed another book, and while I didn’t write that one as quickly as I did ROBIN HOOD, I did work faster and more economically than I had before the novelization.

So, no, I don’t get to hang with Russell and Cate. And ROBIN HOOD won’t make me rich. But the project made me a better writer, a quicker writer, a more efficient writer. And really, those are far more important in the long run.
Visit David's website here!
Leave your name in the comment section to win a copy of ROBIN HOOD. The winner will be announced Thursday afternoon (4/29).

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Blogger Bill said...

I'm looking forward to seeing the movie, at some point, but I'd certainly be interested in reading the book as well.

~ Bill Wolfe

Tuesday, April 27, 2010 at 10:17:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Bill. Hope you enjoy the book if you decide to give it a look. I'm looking forward to the movie, too. After visualizing these scenes and people for so long, I want to see how they look on the big screen.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010 at 11:23:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Marilyn Brant said...

What a fascinating challenge! I appreciated reading about the reality of shaping a script into a book. Even with all of the dialogue and plot development already done, there's so much more that goes into fleshing out a complete novel. Thanks for sharing your experience with this, David...and 4,000 words/day?! I'm in awe ;).

Tuesday, April 27, 2010 at 11:29:00 AM EDT  
Blogger tetewa said...

When reading books that go to movies I usually enjoy the books over the movie! I'd like to be included, count me in! tWarner419@aol.com

Tuesday, April 27, 2010 at 11:37:00 AM EDT  
Blogger L. T. Host said...

This would be an awesome experience for a writer, I think, because it pushes the limits of what you can do. And anything that pushes you past your comfort zone can only make you a better writer.

Also; entering my name to win a copy :)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010 at 11:40:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did you find that the 90,000 words were quicker because you had the dialog from the script already complete? Or did you feel yourself blocked and hemmed in by the existing script?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010 at 11:44:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Jennifer K. said...

I've always wondered how novelizations came about. It sounds far more complex than writing your average novel. I look forward to reading the book after I've seen the movie.

--Jennifer Kammerer-Pulley

Tuesday, April 27, 2010 at 11:45:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Unknown said...

Can't wait!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010 at 11:50:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous T.J. said...

Can't wait to read it. I normally enjoy novelizations just as well as the movie.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010 at 12:18:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Marilyn. Deadlines are terrific motivators, and I probably couldn't have written so quickly had I not had the plot laid out for me in the script.

Tetewa, I hope you enjoy this one, too.

L.T., I agree. part of what made this experience so valuable for me was the simple fact that I'd never tried anything like it before. As you say, it pushed me beyond my comfort zone, and that helped me develop my craft in ways I'd never anticipated.

Mmarques, the short answer is "both". I'm sure I wrote faster because so much of the plotting and all the dialog was there for me. But there were times when I wanted to take the story in a slightly different direction, or I wanted to develop a point of view character a certain way, and I couldn't because it wasn't my book, and everything was already mapped out. So having so much already done for me was both a blessing and a curse.

Thanks, Jennifer. As I say above in response to Marques question, it was both more complex and less so. But it definitely was DIFFERENT from anything I'd tried before.

Thank you, Emily!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010 at 12:21:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, T.J. Hope you enjoy this one, too.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010 at 12:23:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Leona said...

I love Robin Hood. Russell Crowe, eh? SWEET. I can't imagine having to do 90k from someone else's script. In 5 weeks, no less, er, no more :) Congrats!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010 at 12:36:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Leona, I've always been a Robin Hood fan, too. I wanted to like the Kevein Costner version that came out in '91. Alan Rickman was a great Sheriff and I liked the Morgan Freeman character, but couldn't get past Costner's "acting". I think this version should be better.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010 at 12:51:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Andrea Blythe said...

I would be very interested in reading this. (I'm very excited to see the movie.)

I've always found the concepts of novelizations interesting due to the challenge they create for their writers.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010 at 12:59:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Writing Jo Lawler said...

All of this is fascinating. I would love a copy of the book.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010 at 2:07:00 PM EDT  
Blogger LSUReader said...

What a writing challenge! I enjoyed reading about your process. (Though I admit to being somewhat disappointed you didn't get to meet Ridley, Russell, et al.) Congratulations.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010 at 2:36:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andrea, thanks for the comment. The challenges are unique. I never used to read novelizations, but I will now.

JoLea, thanks!

LSU, I appreciate the comment. And yeah, I was a little disappointed, too. I think it would have been fun to attend the opening. But I guess I'll have to wait until Hollywood turns one of my original books into a movie!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010 at 3:02:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Unknown said...

I am looking forward to seeing this movie! It really looks good!


Tuesday, April 27, 2010 at 3:34:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Jana Stocks Brown said...

This looks like fun. :)


Tuesday, April 27, 2010 at 3:37:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Jean Viola Ryan said...

How did you feel about deviations from the Robin Hood canon?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010 at 4:55:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Kristin Laughtin said...

Interesting! I always wondered how much leeway tie-in writers got. I've read a couple of "in the novelization of movie X, we find out that Y character has Z and A power that isn't explicitly detailed in the movie"-type comments for various fandoms. It is interesting that you get to play with internal dialogue and motivation that way.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010 at 5:28:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

4000 words a day? Wowza!

I am eagerly looking forward to reading this one. First, 'cause I became a Robin Hood fan back when I was about 10, and never stopped. And second, 'cause I want to see what you did with it.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010 at 5:45:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Virginia, I agree. The movie should be great.

Thanks, Jana.

Jean, I found most of the deviations refreshing. Since the movie is sort of prequel, a "this-is-how-he-became-Robin-Hood" story, I was willing to give the screenwriters a good deal of leeway. I think that more direct deviations from the tale -- say a more traditional approach to the tale with key details altered -- might have bothered me more. Thanks for the question.

Kristin, we actually were allowed to do more in rewrites than the studio originally wanted, perhaps because they began to see that movie-making and novel writing really are quite different. Things can be hinted at in a visual representation of the story that need to be more explicit and more deeply developed in a written treatment. So the final version of the book does stray from the movie just a bit more than the initial draft.

Jennifer, thanks. I hope that when you read the book you enjoy it, both from the perspective of a fan of the traditional story, and also as someone who (I hope) enjoys this movie when it comes out.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010 at 6:14:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Linda Henderson said...

I'll look forward to reading the book and seeing the movie. I've always enjoyed the Robin Hood story.

seriousreader at live dot com

Wednesday, April 28, 2010 at 12:26:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Phoenix Sullivan said...

Thanks for the insights!

I find your comments about "passion" and "work for hire" interesting in light of a couple of recent agent blogs about the necessity of passion and connecting with a work. Personally, I enjoy the craft and process of writing; it's the passion for the craft over the subject matter that enables me to give 110% when writing about a topic at my job that I'm not especially passionate about.

I'd also be interested in knowing which version of the script you used. From your timeline, it seems you must have been writing while film editing was happening. I'm thinking of a number of movies that were hastily re-edited after they were screened. For instance, Daredevil in the director's cut is a completely different movie than the version released in theatres. Just wondering how closely you anticipate the script you followed will synch up with the final cut?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010 at 2:45:00 AM EDT  
Blogger sbjames said...

As I've told David already at Magical Words, I've been a Robin Hood fan for a very long time and am so glad they chose a true, quality fantasy author to do this book. Yea David!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010 at 10:58:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Linda, many thanks for the comment. I hope you enjoy both the movie and the book.

Phoenix, I believe we were working off the shooting script. But in our revisions we were in constant contact with the studio. They informed us of most, if not all, of the places where the editing deviated from the script, and we fixed as many of those instances as we could. Obviously some things that can be hinted at in a movie need to be explored in a bit more detail in a book, but I think you'll find that the book and movie are fairly similar. As for your other comment, I think it's great that you can connect with your passion for the craft as you write, even when the subject matter is of less interest to you. It sounds as though you write nonfiction, and I would guess that it's a bit different from my experience writing stories and novels. The passion for characters and narrative that I talk about in my post is a crucial part of the creative process for me. But when I've written nonfiction, I have found that my love of craft becomes more important.

Thank you, Susan. That's very kind of you. I hope other readers agree!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010 at 12:13:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Will certainly take a look at the book. I'm the editor of a magazine called Berkshire and Buckinghamshire Life in England and several scenes for Robin Hood were filmed around my area. My children went for a walk in Windsor Great Park and actually walked onto the film set! A castle was built on the lake shore and they saw monks in rowing boats.They even heard Russell Crowe make a speech. Apparently all of the actors applauded afterwards. Anyway, if you'd like to read the whole account of filming - and how Russell popped into our local charity shop and donated £1,000 - just visit berksandbucks.greatbritishlife.co.uk

Thursday, May 13, 2010 at 5:05:00 PM EDT  

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