The Novelist and the Screenplay

screenplay It would be interesting to know how many novelists have tried their hand at writing a screenplay. Whether adapting a book or starting from scratch, a screenplay is a good way to strengthen writing. But wait, you say, novels are about words. Screenplays are about pictures. Actually, both are foremost about stories. They simply approach the story from very different perspectives. Learning the screenplay perspective can make you a better storyteller.

I am a fan of words. I like to knit them into warm phrases, string them together like elegant pearls (knit one, pearl two). The novelist has to write words that create a picture in the reader’s mind. The screenwriter has to transform the idea of specific pictures into words. That exercise, which reverses the process in effect, is a valuable tool for the novelist–especially for the writer who struggles with story and pace.

What is so different about a screenplay? It has action. It has dialog. It follows a story. All true, but where the novel has general guidelines for format, length and structure, the screenplay is a tightly structured, largely inflexible, standardized, length-restricted production tool. All that rigid structure forces the writer to focus on the visual story. Even the dialog has to be handled differently–more attention to how it sounds than how it reads.

Screenplays are an exercise in precision and concision. Each page of a screenplay is estimated to represent one minute of screen time. The target length for a screenplay is around 100 to 110 pages, roughly an hour and forty or fifty minutes. A 350 page novel has to be transformed into a document one-third its length and perhaps one half the number of words. “A travesty!” says the novelist. “A revelation,” say I. Remember, we are not replacing the book, we are re-imagining the story, thinking in sounds and pictures, leaving parts of the story to the comprehension of the viewer rather than the exposition of the writer. Read the rest of this entry »

A Music Lesson For Indie Authors

Thank You Ma’ams

I have written lots of songs over the years, not professionally. My skill at it can be debated on several levels, but the songs all follow a standard convention that includes some combination of verse, chorus, bridge, tag, break, etc. The style is usually in the neighborhood of Americana/Country, perhaps something in between. It is the “in between” issue that can be both frustrating and freeing.

Fiction writing and songwriting follow certain conventions that pertain to structure and commercial viability. Certain features of writing are measured against a commercial standard for publication. A thriller must maintain a certain pace and level of suspense; science fiction must maintain a plausible suspension of disbelief, etc. It is the same with music styles. Country music contains features that identify it as such, just as bluegrass has its own recognizable qualities. The difference between songs and writing is that those who professionally evaluate writing seem less flexible, less accepting when it comes to the “in between.” Read the rest of this entry »

Guest Post for Indie Author News – Pace Craft – Understanding the Tension bewteen Action and Exposition

INDIE AUTHOR NEWS is a good resource for Indie Writers. Here is a recent guest post they published: Pace Craft – Understanding the Tension between Action and Exposition

Writers Are First Readers


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When someone tells me he wants to be a writer, the first thing I say is that he has to be a reader first. Well, okay I’m not that quick, but it is the first thing I should tell him at any rate. I don’t know if it is at all possible to be an effective writer without first doing a lot of reading. I don’t mean just reading for fun, although that is the primary thing. If reading isn’t fun for someone, why in the world would that someone ever want to write? It would be like someone who hates food wanting to be a chef. Reading provides not only the motivation to write but a lot of the education to do so.

Let’s take a fiction writer for instance. Reading a lot of good fiction helps the writer understand what makes good fiction–just as reading bad fiction shows what to avoid. Writers ultimately write what they would like to read. Most people like to read good fiction. Therefore, if they have some skill, they can glean from others what they themselves enjoy and re-create it for their readers. Reading a variety of authors and genres provides the ability to develop an individual voice. I dare say if all I ever read was Faulkner, I might lean toward the tendency to write in a similar manner by stretching and stretching my sentences until they reach the equivalent length of a common paragraph under the pen of other authors who broaden their perspective by engaging a larger pool of literary resources. Reading not only helps us hear other writers’ voices, it enhances our vocabulary–at least for those who have the perspicacity to recognize that benefit (somebody is going to learn a word today), and it exercises our imagination. These are critical to good writing.

Reading is essential for other reasons as well. The discipline needed to sit for long periods of time turning the pages of a book is precisely the discipline required to write one. If a person can not be bothered to invest hours reading, how will they ever invest even more time in writing. The time it takes to read a paragraph is likely a fraction of the time it took the writer to create it. Read the rest of this entry »