I have always been “bookish,” whatever that means. Yes, it was a treat to watch Mitzi Gaynor on the big screen, when I was a mere child. However, I preferred to curl up with The Bobbsey Twins or Nancy Drew on my own turf when it was convenient for me. Drama on demand. Today Netflix and cable TV cover that niche well, but I read more often. As a writer, I could choose screenplays over novels. There is a difference in the process. Of course, novel writers cannot use the same tools as screenwriters who can requisition a camera to capture facial expressions.
In a Miami CSI rerun I watched at 3 a.m., the first scene is a young Hispanic male who leaps out of a boat and swims toward land. He sloshes to shore with arms waving jubilantly. His run to freedom is ended when he is thrown into the air by an explosive device hidden in the sand. No dialogue.
The next scene shows Horatio and the gang investigating the crime scene. The ever solemn “H” is approached by an associate with metal in his hand and within two sentences of dialogue the viewer learns that this detective is familiar with land mines. He is instructed to follow up, but as he turns to leave, his foot ominously crunches something under the sand. The camera zooms in on the foot and the viewer hears the crunch. No dialogue. The camera shows the story. The foot, the crunch, the epiphany on the detective’s face, the fear all accomplished without words. “Stand still. I’m calling the bomb squad.” Terse words to that effect. “H” grabs his trusty cellphone. Fade out. Commercial for Lucky Charms or whatever.
On the pages, action must be conveyed with precise words so each reader can visualize appropriate images. Two different processes. Good dialogue is essential for a novel. There is no assist from a video that can influence an opinion of character. Have you noticed that attractive actors are forgiven much?(off screen and on, but that is another topic)
The advantage of the written word is a three dimensional character. A camera cannot reveal internal dialogue. Narrative writing reveals a character through details. By appearance, gesture, voice, action. Everything that a camera records and more. Inner thoughts, for example. Consider this scenario:
I gripped Calleigh’s hand to trudge up the sidewalk to her pastor’s front door. She reached out to ring the bell.
“Just a minute. One last drag.” I inhaled deeply and tossed my weed into the juniper bush.
“Are you nervous?” She giggled.
“Why should I be?”
“It’s a Bible study.”
“Just spectatin’ to please your mom.” I pulled her toward me, and caught the scent of the Herrera fragrance I gave her last week. One quick kiss.
The door opened wide, and Calleigh jumped back. A tall guy in a black turtleneck stuck out his manicured paw. “Welcome. The others are in the living room. Make yourselves at home.”
Right inside the door was a small braided rug with several pairs of shoes. Calleigh removed her clogs and put them with the others. Her pastor announced our names to the smiling faces turned our way. I saw the diamond earrings and the designer label shirts and skirts. These people looked ridiculous in their socks.
“Eric, your shoes,” Calleigh hissed.
“What the …? I’m not takin’ my shoes off for nobody. They’re clean.” And I didn’t whisper.
In this vignette, the reader understands action through dialogue, and also hears inner thoughts that reveal Eric’s insecure ego. Print has more texture than a visual image. The top layer is action that a camera would show, the secondary layer is coded with words requiring background for understanding, and a third layer adds intricate details that might reference a literary or metaphysical dimension unnecessary to the plot. IMHO, the most fun.
Is the written word being downsized by Twitter? Trivialized by television? It is not the string of quotables created by Shakespeare nor the ramblings of Thomas Wolfe. Nor is the dialogue the conversation you hear on the street. It is a contrived language to advance a plot and build tension.
The enjoyment of any reading experience will vary according to reader skills. But the impact also depends upon exposure. Another consideration for writers. Who is the target audience? Lurk and learn. Long live the printed word.