The approach of Christmas means that I’ve dug out a few of my favourite Christmas films on DVD and have been watching them more or less on repeat for a while now. One of these films is Love Actually, and it always gets me thinking.
When Love Actually was released in 2003, there was quite a bit of hype about it. It had a lot of really big names in it, far more than you would expect to see in just one film. It was supposed to be the ultimate RomCom. I like the occasional RomCom, as long as it’s more Com than Rom, and although Love Actually is very heavy on the romance it is very funny, full of Christmas and has more turtlenecks than just about any other film, ever. Regardless of the hype, and the enduring love many people have for it each Christmas, it hasn’t really changed the landscape of RomComs.
Love Actually is essentially a series of short stories, all woven into one narrative. Each story is a snippet of love affecting the lives of a small group, and yet the film as a whole doesn’t feel disjointed or segmented. As one of the main characters from one story arc cameos in another story arc, we get a sense of contiguity and immersion just as we would from a simpler boy-meets-girl film. By having a series of brief encounters with multiple lead characters, we are treated to a film that is broad rather than deep. Every bit as engrossing and engaging, but in a very different way to the majority of films.
I don’t think of myself as a terribly innovative person. I’m not good at spotting the gaps in the market in order to fill them. But when it comes to writing, I find myself thinking outside of the common spaces. Novels are too long. Short stories are too short. Poems can be wildly epic, or smaller than a haiku. I think that we are so used to picking up books that are book-sized because that’s what books have to be when they’re published. The Lord of The Rings was originally an epic, until publishers pointed out that it was too unwieldy to be a single volume and it was split into three.
When you’re working in traditional publishing, I can see the point of this. Nowadays, however, more and more writers are publishing directly to ebooks. Last year, the tablet computer was one of the most purchased gifts, with some incredible statistics about the number that were bought and sold, and this gives us an amazing potential audience for ebooks, and book apps. When you’ve got a medium that is not tied down by the practicalities of the size of a book or the value-for-money aspect of publishing novellas and individual short stories, why are we still looking at novels of 80,000-120,000 words being the modal medium?
I have noticed an increase in the number of short stories than seem to be written and read, but it surprises me how few seem to be sold as a complete work in their own right. They are more commonly sold as part of a collection, or published free on blogs and author websites. And I’m still not aware of anything epic being sold as such – a 400,000 saga that is sold in a single volume rather than instalments with recaps and reminders, for example. An enormous, immersive reading experience.
I’ve also not noticed much that has become episodic, where a world is created and the story unfolds over a series of shorts produced on a regular basis. I have a project under development that may be produced this way, with a new short made available every month or every couple of months for less than the cost of a daily newspaper. This happens all the time in television, with the first few episodes setting up the world and then running for series and series with each episode being a complete entity. It works in television, so why not in literature?
Love Actually took a gamble in trying a new format for a film. It was well thought out and well developed, and it paid off. It hasn’t revolutionised the world of film, but it is still considered a success and is appreciated as something a bit different from other films. Maybe it’s time to do the same thing in literature. We’ve got the scope to play with the formats of writing at the moment, so perhaps it’s time to give it a try.
If you know of any other format-breaking media, do let me know in the comments below.