The Crime Readers' Association

John Bayliss – Lights, Camera, Write!

3rd April 2015

If someone trained a camera on me whilst I was writing, I suspect that the results would not be as dull as you might expect.

I don’t mean the typing part (which is dull), but the fact is that hammering a keyboard takes up only a small proportion of the time spent writing anyway. Nor do I mean the numerous intervals when I disappear into the kitchen in search of a cup of coffee or some chocolate or something else of a comforting nature. I’m thinking about the part when I am staring at the screen, or staring into space, or at the ceiling, or walking around the room pretending that the computer isn’t even switched on, because this part of the task is generally accompanied by deep sighs, frowns, and various gestures of exasperation. There will be times when my lips are moving but no sounds are coming out; there will be other times when my lips are moving and sounds are most definitely coming out, even though there is no one else in the room to hear them.

On second thoughts, perhaps it’s a good idea that I don’t have a camera trained on me when I write. It’s an even better idea that there’s no technology known to mankind that can see inside my head as I am writing, because that will reveal something akin to watching the ‘rushes’ of a feature film, the same scene played over again and again with slight variations in dialogue or action. Some scenes fade away into silence and inaction, some scenes repeat themselves unnecessarily, in some the characters stop what they are doing and gaze at me with ‘Okay, what do we do next?’ expressions on their faces. Often I have not the faintest idea of what they are going to do next; sometimes the best I can suggest is that we rewind to a point where everything seemed to be working fine and try again.

If what was happening inside my head was really a film, then there would be a talented team of people at my disposal to turn it into reality. Writing a novel is a solo effort: I am not only the director, but I also have to be the lighting director, the set designer, the costume designer plus all the actors from the main characters all the way down to the most insignificant of extras. I am the editor, too, choosing which version of which scene should appear in the final manuscript, and which is discarded.

But it is wrong to think that the writer does everything by themselves, because every writer needs one essential collaborator: the reader. A story does not come to life until a reader reads it and turns the words on the page into images. It is they who get to see a finished movie of their own, conjured up from the words on the page and (most of all) their own imagination.

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