In the previous post, which also concerned proofreading, I said this:
While I certainly don’t want typos in my milestone drafts, a typo in a script feels like less of a crime simply because a script is a blueprint, not a finished work. When I really came to terms with the fact that I would be producing a finished product with my name on it, my level of concern (and vanity) about typos markedly increased. Where I previously felt that typos in a script were unprofessional, I suddenly felt as if typos in my short story collection would be a personal criticism of me.
I don’t disagree with those statements, but in the intervening days I’ve come to realize that I completely missed the main difference between proofreading a script (screenplay, stage play, interactive script) and proofing prose fiction. It’s not simply that scripts are blueprints while fiction is finished work. It’s that the density and complexity of fiction is infinitely greater than anything you will find in a script, precisely because the availability of techniques is so much greater.
For example, screenplays are almost always written in third person, present tense:
EXT. A GROCERY STORE — DAY
Bob walks down the sidewalk, spots the grocery, hesitates, then crosses the street and enters the store. The store explodes. Fruit and veggies everywhere.
In prose fiction the opportunity to expand on and deepen this sequence, to look at it from any narrative point of view, any character’s frame of reference, or even to express it in the past or future tense, is almost infinite. Consider:
Bob caught sight of a grocery store out of the corner of his eye. His brain translated the dull knot in his stomach to the image of a mango, and a moment later Bob could feel juice running down his chin. Hesitating to let a delivery truck pass, Bob veered across the street and into the store, his mind suddenly seized by the idea of fruit salad.
In a script there’s no place for Bob’s thoughts unless you want to get into voice-over narration, which is generally (and, I think, unfairly) frowned upon. In fiction it’s not simply possible to express the inner thoughts of a character, it’s expected — often to excess. In a script Bob goes here, goes there, does this, does that. In fiction Bob thinks about everything he does in exhaustive detail, after which he thinks about what his therapist said last week, or how he hates his father, or how geopolitics, global warming and a trendy intellectual topic-du-jour all maddeningly suggest that he’s growing old despite his best efforts to the contrary. [Cue authorial angst.]
Editing and proofreading my short story collection, The Year of the Elm (TYOTE), wasn’t more important to me than working on a script. All of the stories I tell are important, and I don’t want typos in anything I write. The magnitude of the difference I felt between TYOTE and any script work I’ve done was a direct result of the narrative complexity of TYOTE, which presented me with a number of craft problems that I found unique. (TYOTE is told episodically through twelve short stories that take place over the course of a year. The structure, along with my desire to be honest in depicting the main character, created authorial obligations that were new to me as a writer.)
I like writing scripts primarily because I like writing lines for actors. But finishing TYOTE and writing my first novel have reintroduced me to the world of fiction that began my storytelling journey. I like the freedom of fiction, and the techniques that are available, even as I have always tended to avoid many of the most popular trends.
There is a lot to say about the craft of fiction that has nothing to do with sales or critical appeal, and everything to do with telling the truth and being the best writer you can be. It’s a subject I used to think a lot about, and one I’m drawn to again.
— Mark Barrett