Saturday, January 22, 2011
What to Keep and Forsake
I recently watched the absolute classic Samurai movie "Yojimbo" its one of my all time favorites, afterwards I watched "Fistful of Dollars" Sergio Leone's spaghetti-western take on the same story. As much as I love Clint Eastwood and the "Man with No Name" I was almost dumbfounded at how much I preferred the original (we will not even discuss Bruce Willis's Last Man Standing version)-same thing with Seven Samurai versus Magnificent Seven both are great but the original is better.
I started pondering for the sake of storytelling why is that? What makes those better? It's not what I saw first-I saw the western adaptations first. I don't think its the cinematography, score, actors or directing. Its all the nuances, the little things the story itself tells you-or doesn't tell you. And you have to have the right balance. The right amount of wonder and resonance. Leave too much out and the audience is lost and left wanting, tell too much and the audience gets bogged down.
I recently read a story by a friend of mine Bruce Durham and I was struck that the things he didn't tell me (in the right way) were what made me think about the story after I put it down. Another friend had the same thing to say about Cormac McCarthy's The Road which I also love.
I can't put in a blog the magic key to the right things to leave out, Elmore Leonard famously said "I leave out the parts people skip".
I'll know it when I see it. I don't think its something you can fake-I write historicals and I leave things out that don't have to pertain to the story itself-But I know the background, I know why they are or aren't there. IF I didn't know I think the astute reader would recognize the hollow spots, as Hemingway called them. Its like the iceberg, most of it is hidden-but its there supporting the rest.
I remember during the edits for Heroes of the Fallen, the manuscript was 130,000 words. It needed to be cut, I cut a good 15,000 words and the book is better for it. Blood of Our Fathers is currently at 117,000 words and I have more to write to flesh out a few key scenes-and yet I know I will be going back in and cutting-hopefully with a scalpel and not a chainsaw. I'd like to think I've learned enough the last couple years that my editor won't need to do more than a few stitches and transfusions.