In With the New

In with the new project, that is. I had a little choreography to work out, since I’m planning to co-write a story with a friend soon, but just got a great idea for a screenplay that pretty much appeared in my mind, not quite fully-formed, but almost. The screenplay sort of brings together a lot of things I’ve wished I could see in a Korean SF movie, and following Justin Howe’s advice, I figure now is a good time to try write it… especially since there’s enough time to get a draft done and submit it to the PIFAN-hosted NAFF It Project 2013.

I don’t dare give too much away, but it’s basically what the film 2009: Lost Memories should have been: a meditation on the muddy ambiguities of ethics in a colonial setting, and the corruptive force of power and of coercion, and the lasting impact of war and oppression… but which actually takes into account the modern neo-imperialism in which Korea and South Koreans are participating today, and doesn’t just reinforce a narrative of Korean victimhood. I guess I’d say the impetus comes from wanting a grown-up, intelligent response to some of the questions that were posed and ignored in 2009: Lost Memories, in other words… and I hope that my script will be at least as challenging as the Bok Geo-il novel that those filmmakers ripped off, though obviously from a different angle.

Plot-wise, it’s sort of a Korean-styled mashup of Graham Greene’s  The Quiet American (1) and Rohinton Mistry’s Such a Long Journey (the latter a less-famous novel, but no less wonderful), set the late 1970s in an alternate history where geomancy is a functional science, where Korea has taken over stewardship of the collapsed Japanese Empire, and… well, you know, there’s this guy…

I’ve got about half the treatment banged out, and the other half should be done by dinnertime. Then I’ll give it a day to ferment, show it to some friends for feedback, and get down to drafting it in full. If my limited past experience is any indicator, once I have a treatment the drafting should be a pretty smooth process, though of course it’s probably different for different projects. Still, I should definitely have a pretty good draft ready for the April 30 deadline.

(If I’m really happy with it, I may even turn it into a novella or something eventually… though I have my doubts that Western readers would necessarily grasp what I’m doing with the diversions that make the history alternate. We’ll have to see how workable that all would be.)

But my experience with the treatment–which is something like a heavily-detailed outline–also has me thinking about novel-writing. I found the synopsis very useful, an important part of the screenplay-writing process. Screenplays are relatively short, mind: the last one I wrote was 100 pages long, but only 20,000-odd words long. But what it helped me with was the plot and structure, and when I sensed problems in the script, I was able to go back to the treatment and see where things needed to be changed, or added in. It made the whole process a lot less vague and painful in my mind. I didn’t stick to it too closely, but it provided me with a structure from which diverging felt a whole hell of a lot less crazy or unguided than it otherwise would have done… and it helped me to think about the overall structure and how changes would have an impact in what had already been written, and in what I was planning to write later.

So I’m planning to write a “treatment” for the novel I’ll start starting in on in May, before I do any actual drafting. Until now, I’ve only rarely outlined stories, but since I keep bouncing off the task of writing novels (having drafted three or four of them so far, and been so unhappy with all of them as to never revise them, at least not yet) I figure I might as well see how portable the technique might turn out to be.

(1) Yes, yes, it’s kind of stereotypical to go to that Greene novel now that I’m in Vietnam, but actually I have been a fan of the book (and the Caine film) since I lived in Jeonju, and have long thought a narrative featuring a Korean colonial occupation of Southeast Asia would make an interesting story. And by the way, I am thinking of setting the colony in Indonesia, instead of in Vietnam, though I played around with Vietnam as a setting in my head for a while, and in the treatment too.

2 thoughts on “In With the New

  1. I read your comment about peoples with a history of being colonized being resentful or not of their colonizers, and I can only say it not only makes sense, but also explains a lot that had previously puzzled me about Korea. The same applies to Korea too, not only in attitudes toward Japan, but also toward America, though technically America never colonized Korea.

    Finding an audience for the screenplay does sound challenging. I myself have as my life goal writing a novel in Korean and English in equal parts, and I don’t think anyone is going to read it!

    I’ve started work on the story I mentioned, the Lovecraftian take on the comfort women issue. I only have a few bits and snippets written, but the plot is basically fleshed out. The trouble is, I don’t know how to end it, whether to have the character be destroyed mentally in true Lovecraftian fashion, or whether to have her survive and come out of the experience stronger. The first treatment threatens to victimize and objectify. The second runs the risk of trivializing horror and denying the scars the experience invariably left on these women. I’m torn between a couple of endings that seem to be in the middle ground.

    1. Note: I’m not sure why but WordPress is stripping formatting from my comments now. Argh. Will try sort out soon, but in the meantime, will do as below:


      Yeah, reading Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth was kinda mind-blowing in how much it clarified. Korea’s resentment of America is, I daresay, a case of blaming someone else for one’s own problems, combined with the way people seem to be trained to naively believe those in power will look out for the good of the powerless. (A handy meme for preventing them rising up and taking power, come to think of it.) College kids today still seem to entertain that naive idea, about the Korean government, which is perplexing until you remember that all the bad-guy-ness got transferred to other states (Japan & America, mainly).


      Ha, yes, the audience for a novel in both languages would be pretty small… would you consider doing two versions, one in each language, with subtle differences that only someone fluent in both could catch., but which could be enjoyed independently by the poor unwashed monolingual types (like me, essentially).


      Yeah, it’s hard: one of the more difficult aspects of translating the Lovecraftian mystique to a Korean setting, really. I think somehow one cannot end up stronger after confronting cosmic horror, but I also think victimized objectification isn’t good. I’d search for a third way forward.

      Anyway, I’m curious to see what you come up with… :)

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