The film novel: A book or a movie?

It was one of the first questions I had to ask myself: was I writing a book or a movie? I did not know how to write a movie. For that matter I wasn’t sure I knew how to write a book.

But there I was viewing the story in my head as though it were a movie. I quickly discovered that I needed to learn how to write it in the form of a script, for me if not for anyone else. If only I could figure out how to write a screenplay, then maybe I could see this work of art in a way no one else had yet created it, maybe even to be viewed on the big screen. The more I worked on writing the more I wanted to write a novel, but the more I worked on this first work the more I pictured it as a succession of scenes.

Did I really think that my writing would one day be seen in film? No, not at all. At least not at that time. Nonetheless, I wanted to see what it would look like if I wrote the story to be a film rather than as a novel. My creative side started taking over. It was only a matter of time before I sought out the knowledge to understand how to write in that format. That’s when I met Dennis Packard, a professor at BYU of philosophy of art and literature. My journey to writing took a twist and it demanded a lot more attention and several extra steps to get it where I wanted it to be. Only I did not end up writing that first film novel in full. I had only completed a couple chapters when I started to learn the concept of film novels.

I’m not going to debate whether I should be catering to this genre or that genre. I’m not going to debate whether I should be catering to this format or that format. I won’t say the work took on a mind of its own altogether. But what I will say is that I found that writing that first story best fit into a new form, and that form is a film novel.

I went to the English Department and asked if anyone knew a professor who could teach me how to write a script. I was careful to explain that it was nothing serious. I just wanted to know. In the back of my mind I constantly told myself that my writing was just for fun. I still wonder if it is worth it. I have put far more hours into it than I ever expect I will be able to say I got paid for. But when you can’t stop your mind from creating the story, solving the problems in your plot, and picturing the words on the page and the actions on a screen you just keep writing. I pitched my novel idea to my new professor that day. He liked my writing voice and the way I handled the subject matter and then he did something completely unexpected. He asked me if I would write a story that he had been looking for a couple years for a writer with my abilities to take on. He said if I would do that he would teach me about writing a screenplay by writing a film novel and that he thought there was a good chance it would get published.

I spent much of the rest of my college career studying and testing how to write a film novel that would read well as a book and just as well display as a film. It consisted of more than I ever imagined: outlining, researching, asking questions, laying out scenes, and redoing things again and again. It became apparent that studying for college had taken on a life of its own. I had a passion now to learn something of my own accord, rather than just gain passing knowledge good enough to get a grade. I found that when I wanted to learn about something I learned a lot more than when someone else chose the topic. But–and there is always a “but” when pursuing something you love–writing is hard work and it doesn’t pay unless you get published or produced. At first this new book was not my own, but I made it so. In order to write a good story, I had to like it more than anyone. I would be reading this story over and over and critiquing it more than anyone. Little did I know it would take 15 years from when I first heard the story for me to bring it to greater light.

Well, all told that was the motivation that saw this work through. The more I learned about the story the more I knew it needed to be told. I don’t write because I think I’m going to be a millionaire. To tell you the truth I don’t write because I love it, although I do love it. I write because I can’t help myself. I started this journey and I want to see where it goes. I am persistent and I have a high standard. When I commit to something I want to do it the best that I can. So I was teary-eyed at the news that this story was being published, as much for myself–as the writer–as I was for any reader of this great story of universal appeal and that’s the truth. Now it is where it needs to be, not just benefiting me. Hopefully it will gain the readership it deserves. If it has an audience in book form, I expect they will want to see it as a movie the way I visualized it to be. Hopefully that day will come. Then I can say this film novel is truly both a book and a movie. But at least for now the novel, Sterling Bridge, is rearing to go, coming to a shelf near you this November. Check it out, and see what you think of the film novel genre. I think you will love it!

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