Stephen Donaldson just answered my latest brace of questions to him.

Captain Maybe:  I’ve just finished watching the third season of 24 (only now because the BBC decided after day 2 that it was too expensive, damn them) and I realised that it reminds me a lot of my favourite series of books – the Gap sequence. It has that same breathless and brutal intensity, the convoluted plot and the reliance on technology; what it doesn’t have is the depth of characterisation.

I had a vague recollection that the programme had been mentioned in the GI so I did a search: you said that the actress who played Teri Bauer could just possibly play Morn. Which suggests that you watch the show – do you (still)? What do you think of it and do you see parallels with your own work?

My second question is related, so I’ll include it here. I also realised while watching 24 that something that film and TV can do very well is silence, the absence of anything happening, people just standing staring in shock, awe, grief, whatever. Prose can’t do this (it seems to me) because there always have to be words on the page carrying the narrative forward. My question: How do you, as a writer, handle silences, pauses, absences of action?


I do watch “24”. As a student of what I call “long-form storytelling,” I’m interested in almost anything that promises to tell a coherent and interesting story in more than 42 minutes (or more than 242 minutes, for that matter). The problem with “24” is that it seldom delivers what it promises. More often, it conveys the sensation that the writers and directors are scrambling, even floundering, in a desperate attempt to stretch their story beyond its natural limits. The result is more and more implausibility as the episodes go by. (Just my opinion, of course.) Years ago, I followed “Babylon 5” for much the same reason–and gave up on it when I began to believe that the wheels had come off.

Every storytelling medium has its inherent advantages and disadvantages. Visual forms like film and theater are especially good at silences–and gestures–and action of all kinds–and (since these forms usually include sound) voices. (Of course, “silence” can be seen as a sub-set of “sound,” but that’s not really the point here.) Images-with-sound allow the storyteller to communicate several messages simultaneously. They are not so good at managing emotional complexites–or at enlisting the imagination(s) of the audience.

It’s probably pretty obvious that I handle “silences, pauses, absences of action” by using those opportunities to delve into the hidden depths of my characters.


Categories: Literature, Quotations
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