How Screenwriting Improved my Novel Writing

Writing a screenplay version of your novel brings about a different perspective to writing a story. Although the ideal novel and screenplay should both possess gripping plots and compelling characters, there are vital differences between the two, which when synthesized, could improve the author’s novel writing skills overall.

Scripts for Creative Writing Ideas

Soon after I completed my second novel, The Shuttered Room, I decided to write a screenplay version of it. This was in response to a call for screenwriters to submit scripts to the BBC. I read DIY books on screenwriting and soon learned that the screenplay is a totally different writing medium to writing a novel.
In artistic terms, a novel is rather like a painting in that the artist has the room to add as much detail as he/she wants. In this analogy, the screenplay is more like a photograph. Because of the enforced economy of words and page count, the screenplay can only offer a snapshot version of the novel. No inner thoughts of the characters are permitted, nor are lengthy descriptions or back-story.

Difference between a Novel and a Screenplay

The screenplay format comprises basic elements of writing a story, being dialogue, action description and sluglines (indicators on the time and place of a scene). Pithiness is the essence of the screenplay.

The typical novel is between 70 and 150 thousand words long. The screenplay is a mere 17 thousand words or so. The movie script has to be properly formatted so that each page represents one minute of screentime. Reading a screenplay should represent the movie’s real time, so a 100-page screenplay could be read in 100 minutes. In this way, a novel adapted into a screenplay can be read in one sitting.

Brutal Creative Writing Activities

The adaptation of The Shuttered Room into a screenplay comprised cutting, cutting and more cutting. I had to omit the backstory of the main character, a hostage called Jess who is held to ransom in an upstairs room by three thugs. The economy of words simply would not permit the subplot of Jess’s unhappy marriage to Harvey and her concerns over her son’s behavior. I also had to cut out all her inner thoughts as she spies upon her captors through a peephole in the bedroom floor. All that was left was her speech and actions.

Novel or Screenplay Websites

 It is impossible to describe the various elements of how to write a screenplay in one article, so I have created a separate website explaining screenplay essentials. Here, you will find in-depth advice on various aspects of screenwriting including writing dialogue, action description, the three-acts of the screenplay, the story-hook, the story theme and much more. Incidentally, I have also created a website on how to write a novel. As can be seen from the two websites, both writing arts are vastly different.

Tips on Writing a Book

Needless to say, once I had adapted The Shuttered Room into a screenplay I began to see ways my story could be improved that would otherwise have remained invisible. For starters, I was able to see the unfolding of Jess’s fate from afar. Condensing a novel into an hour’s length of screentime means that I am able to read the entire story in one sitting. I could see how the relationship between Jess and Jake evolves during her capture in a matter of minutes.

Seeing a project gestalt enables you to see glaring errors not visible otherwise. Imagine the difference between looking at a painting close-up so that you can only see one part of it? And then try looking at it from afar, so that the entire painting can be seen. These two ways of seeing are poles apart.

Film Script Writing for Novels

It is not possible to read a novel in one sitting. This means that the story can only be appreciated in sections. Continuity errors and story flow problems may not always be easily appreciated.

As it happens, the BBC loved my screenplay enough to write a lengthy feedback. But the project never got taken on. However, this spurred me to conduct several subsequent drafts of The Shuttered Room which helped tighten up the plot and inject more compelling dialogue. I have my screenwriting venture to thank.

What Screenplay Writing does for Novels

My third novel, Falling Awake was completed in reverse to The Shuttered Room in that I wrote the screenplay first. I have since written a screenplay version to all my novels. Writing a screenplay version of a story idea is great for creating a skeleton map of where you want to go with the novel. It also helps counter writer’s block, as the screenplay has already provided the direction for your story. All you have to do is fill in the ‘gaps’ between dialogue and action sequences. This might be the thoughts of the characters, a little subtext (as the screenplay is rather bare) and necessary backstory.

Benefits of Screenwriting for Novels
Screenwriting is a great way of improving fiction writing, as this abbreviated version of the story enables the writer to see the story from afar. Plot problems or story flow could be improved greatly with an overall view. The screenplay can be read in one sitting meaning that the writer is able to easily identify issues or make vast improvements to the story. As the screenplay permits only what can be seen and heard on screen, it represents a snapshot version of what the novel embodies.
The Shuttered Room Charles J Harwood
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Image details: An Underwood Keyboard, BrokenSegue, Wikimedia Commons