Sreenwriting Versus Book Writing
by D.A. Serra
Since I have worked in both fields, I am frequently asked in what way screenwriting and novel writing differ. When I teach writing workshops I always explain that reading a script happens with the eyes, and reading a book happens with the ears. What I mean by this is, when someone is reading a screenplay they must visualize as they read in order to understand the work, whereas when reading a book, most of us hear the words in our heads. Aren’t you hearing mine right now? There are so many differences in the way one writes for these two dissimilar mediums: each has pros and cons, each has value.
For screenwriters, attention to dialogue is considerably more critical to success than it is for narrative writing. While accepting that the visual depiction of location and setting carry some of the story’s information, and can certainly be an element in creating tone, the majority of the story, in film and television, is communicated out loud in dialogue. There are no relaxed sequences inside a character’s head where we learn expositional facts or get emotional information. This puts significant stress on the authenticity of the vocabulary and the legitimacy of the characterization, while depending on the deftness of the writer to transfer expositional information without it sounding like little paragraphs that are out of time and place. Alternatively, a novelist can wander around patiently inside a character’s head while he or she considers choices, or feelings, or reviews a memory. So, while the novelist can ramble on in lovely prose about a seminal childhood experience, the screenwriter has little time, and many constraints, and must hit-n-run with emotion and information that feels authentic.
There is more freedom in narrative writing. Screenwriter’s miss out on the satisfaction of exquisite sentences with lyrical language; there is no call for, or appreciation of, a metaphor that makes the reader gasp, or that puts a fist in one’s throat. If that’s going to happen it had better happen in the dialogue or visually to be successful. Screenwriters envy the novelist’s freedom: the non-existent restrictions as to form, structure, time, place, and length. Screenwriters create inside a box with extremely rigid sides. It is challenging, but rewarding.
Novelists envy the screenwriter’s fulfillment and satisfaction as their creations actually walk and talk; it is a thrill to see your character embodied. Also, I have spoken to novelists at conferences who mention that they envy the screenwriter’s reach: a great television show or successful film may grab an entire nation at the same moment in time. It can drive the national conversation. It is a powerful phenomenon and considerably rare in the book world. I’ve also been told that some novelists are jealous of the collaborative camaraderie with other creative people (directors, actors, set design) which can be a true joy (or a complete nightmare), and some do wish for the economic benefits of screenwriting, which can be much more favorable to dental appointments and new shoes.
It was interesting to write Primal first as a screenplay and then a novel. I saw these craft differences in play on the page daily. I have to say I enjoy both types of writing – although currently I’m much more focused on my novels — at least until I need another pair of shoes.
Buy Now @ Amazon
Genre – Thriller
Rating – R