M.A. Griffin won the Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition with The Poison Boy in 2012, writing under the name Fletcher Moss.
He works as an assistant head teacher at a school in Greater Manchester, having previously worked as a classroom teacher, shelf-stacker and van driver in France and Spain. @fletchermoss
Sneakers and Payback
by M. A. Griffin
Sneakers was a 1992 heist movie directed by Phil Alden Robinson, an ensemble piece starring two Oscar winners, Robert Redford and Sidney Poitier, and five Oscar nominees including Dan Ackroyd, Mary McDonnell and River Phoenix. You probably won’t have heard of it; a caper-movie that did OK business over 25 years ago and then faded into obscurity.
I was fresh out of university when I saw it. It’s stayed with me ever since, becoming one of those touchstone movies you buy on DVD in case it one day can’t be streamed. I have James Horner’s score on CD in case it one day can’t be streamed. I have the screenplay saved on my desktop in case… I dunno, the internet breaks or something.
When I was writing PAYBACK, I kept referring back to Sneakers for structural signposts. The novel only mirrors the movie in a few ways – heist-meisters stealing from the corrupt and re-distributing income, a trap is set and our heroes stumble blindly in – but I found it immensely helpful to return to Sneakers and re-watch sections whenever I came up against PAYBACK plot problems. It helped me figure out one of my characters better, for example. It helped with the positioning of a super-tense cops-closing-in scene, and the internal structure of a negotiation scene.
Anyone who’s read anything about screenplays will know the majority are tightly structured to the point of formula (Blake Snyder’s “Save the Cat”, anyone?) but that’s what makes them useful. Stay mindful of the different medium but borrow what structural devices you can when mired in confusion.
That serial killer police procedural you’re working on – the one that’s turned into an unholy mess and is giving you sleepless nights? It might be improved by watching Zodiac or Seven.
That kids-versus-monsters thriller you started (inspired by Stephen King’s IT) might get a reboot after you’ve watched Jaws or Super 8.
That middle grade series about a school for magic-users might feel sharper once you’ve watched… no, hang on. You need to ditch that novel. Bin it now.
There’s not a whole lot that’s transferable between film and prose. Write your novel too cinematically and your dramatic roof-top chases last fifteen pages and have readers yawning. Or your slapstick comedy sequences, in which you describe characters bumping their heads on unexpectedly low door lintels, fall seriously flat. But films can be super-accessible proxies that can help with structural issues.
PAYBACK has certainly felt easier to figure out than my previous books. I certainly didn’t have to throw so much writing out (my current personal best? A 65,000 word novel arrived at having deleted 80,000 words of material)
Who knows, maybe my unhealthy obsession with Sneakers has – a quarter of a century later – finally borne fruit…
Payback, an enigmatic anticapitalist group staffed by teens, has one mission: to steal from the rich and give to the poor. Its dramatic heists create a sensation. But when excitable Payback fan Tom is recruited, he accidentally brings with him a shady money man, Mr Ruiz. And he’s not the only one on their tail. As the net closes in, the teenagers of Payback fight to stay alive – and true to their values. Being Robin Hood has never been this hard …
PAYBACK by M. A. Griffin out now in paperback (£7.99, Chicken House)
Follow M.A. Griffin on twitter @fletchermoss and find out more at http://www.chickenhousebooks.com