Friday, July 13, 2012

Screenwriting for Novelists


Total word count of The Language of the Unheard: 52,008

Number of form rejections for Finding Innisburg: 0 (not sure if this is good or bad)

Number of books you have to read and review for the Seattle Public Library system to be entered to win a Kindle: 3

Number of free book giveaways entered on 15

So now for our main topic.  Screenwriting.  Last summer I decided to attempt to write a screenplay.  Although I'm fairly convinced that I will never be a famous screenwriter (Hollywood has too many politics and rules and cliques.  I prefer good old-fashioned publishing), writing a screenplay may have been the best thing I ever did for my writing abilities.

Screenwriting in much, much different than novel writing.  I didn't even write an original screenplay, I just adapted one of my favorite novels, Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery.  Screenplays are the epitome of SHOW don't TELL.  In a screenplay you can't even write a phrase like "Tom, Joe's brother, enters the room."  Unless Tom is going to be wearing a sign around his neck that says "Joe's brother" you can't put it in the screenplay.  You have to find a way to work it into the dialogue.  This is tricky, let me tell you.

Descriptions of locations have to be kept short and sweet also.  In screenwriting, one page of properly formatted text = one minute of screen time (approximately).  So if a scene is going to be shown for three seconds before the characters start talking, you have to sum up the scene in only a line or two.  No long-winded pages of purple prose here.  The trick is to choose one or two details that "sum up" the scene.  Instead of saying "The farmhouse is old and blue.  There is a flower bed in front but the flowers are dead and brown.  The fence running behind the house is falling down and the barbed wire is rusty.  The grass is long, clearly no animals have grazed here in a while," you cut it down to the essentials: "The paint on the farmhouse is peeling and the rusty barbed wire is sagging into the overgrown grass."

In screenwriting, the specific details (the color of the house, or exactly how many plants are in front) are pointless to put in, because the director is not going to follow your directions that closely.  What you want is to make a point about WHAT KIND of farmhouse this is, and let the director follow through with the details.

In novel writing, the same principle can be applied, not because a director is going to come in and change it, but because leaving some details up to your readers imagination is crucial.  Unless this is a classic Martian farmhouse, a reader will be able to fill in the scene without you spelling out every detail.  Pick a few things that sum up the feel of the scene and leave the rest out.  Over describing can pull a reader out of the scene, while the right choice of details can make them feel like they're right there with you.  Of course, if they were to draw what they pictured the farmhouse looking like, it might not be how you pictured it at all, but that's okay.  When a book is read, the reader brings his or her own experiences to the table and views the story against the backdrop of his or her life. 

So if you've ever been curious about writing a screenplay, even if you have no intention of selling it, I would absolutely recommend it.  Screenplays are short and sweet.  At 90-120 sparsely-filled pages, they are much faster to write than a novel, and you just might learn a thing or two about writing in the process.  I would highly recommend the book How Not to Write a Screenplay by Denny Martin Flinn for anyone thinking of undertaking this project.  The book covers formatting, plotting and everything else you need to know.  Also, every April the NaNoWriMo people have a screenwriting month called Script Frenzy, in which screenwriters attempt to write 100 pages of a screenplay in a month.

Happy Noveling!

P.S. If any of you noveling folks are on, you should friend me!  My user name is Annakaris

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