Beginning to write novels after twenty-five years of screenwriting is a steep learning curve. Much remains the same, some new skills have to be learned and, as I’ve been rather slow to discover, some assumptions have to be unlearned.
It has taken me two novels to realise – duh! – that I no longer have the advantage of writing for actors. For the screen, it’s possible to explore self-deluding, manipulative, obsessive or selfish behaviour in people whom one nevertheless wants the audience to root for and ultimately like. I’m interested in writing about how and why, under pressure, we can all behave badly, can know we’re behaving badly and still continue to do so . But – and it’s a crucial ‘but’ – when my character is played on screen by a loved and admired actor, it’s never a problem to show someone not being their best self because the audience will always trust in the inherent qualities of the actor so the character comes good in the end. Indeed, the right actor can make us root for even the most despicable screen characters.
In fiction, one no longer has the in-built advantage of that kind of trust, which is what makes creating character along the knife-edge of psychological suspense so difficult – and such fun.