Screenwriting : How do you decide? by John Jamison

John Jamison

How do you decide?

I'm interested in opinions...IF you have a story that has been rambling around in your head for 20 years and just won't go away, and you finally decide you need to get it out and do something with would you decided between first writing it as a novel or a screenplay? As you guess, I'm sitting here with that quandary right now, and have started it in both formats...but it seems smarter to focus on one and get it done...and then possibly take the other path later. But...which is the better first path to take? I have written and published short stories and 'prose' books before, but haven't tackled a full screenplay that may be a factor...but maybe not. How would you decide? Thanks for anyone taking the time to respond... - John

Dan MaxXx

If I were you , I'd write the Novel and spend all my energy promoting the heck of the novel. make it successful, a best seller. After that, let your Agent(s) fish the sharks out of Hollywood. They will throw $$$ to buy your novel. You will have leverage. Then hire the best screenwriter for Hire like Sorkin or Paul Haggis to adapt your novel. Sit back and enjoy the ride. Why would u want to do everything yourself? Be a Boss and fire/hire people.

Doug Nelson

I think you need to ask yourself where do you see yourself ten years hence – then follow the path that leads there. Personally I lean toward screenwriting. I have three novels to my name (none published). One advantage to writing novels is that you have over 100K words to play with – if you write yourself into a corner; you can write your way out. A FL screenplay is under 20K words so you must be much more concise. I think it’s difficult for a novelist to learn screenwriting (was for me) and I believe it difficult for the screenwriter to write a novel. The skills are different and they are not easily interchangeable.

Jeff Lyons

Dan is right. Novel. Self-publish and market yourself. Hard work, but you'd have to market youself anyway, even if you get a traditional publisher. I have two traditionally published books and I have to do all the work. My publisher is a big, niche publisher too in the entertainment book market, and they do some, but it's all on me. But, that's all good news. The great thing about novel writing now is there are no gatekeepers. You don't need to get anyone's permission to be successful. It's all on you as an authorprenur. And if you figure out how to sell your books, producers will come knocking. Going the other route is like having your lottery ticket hit by lightening on a leap year on your birthday. It can happen... but... :)

Robert Rosenbaum

I hate agreeing with Dan (lol) but if you've written short stories, writing the novel first is probably a better approach.

David Anthony

You said it's been rambling in your head for 20 years. How do you see it in your head? In pictures or thoughts. If you see it as pictures write a screenplay, if you see it as thoughts, then write is as a novel.

Dan Guardino

I would just flip a coin. It is easier to get a book published so if you want your story told then writing a novel first would be the best way to go. The odds of someone turning your novel into a movie are about a million to one so I wouldn't count on that happening. If the novel does well and you can write a good adaptation your chances are better selling that over just a original screenplay. I couldn't write a novel to save my life but I have adapted twelve of them so I guess I don't have that choice. Good luck whatever you decide to do.

Brian Onley

This is only my opinion and not a fundamental industry standard. Just write the story out in long form - not as a novel OR a screenplay. The story is the important thing. Finesse the story as best you can, rewrites, editing, cut and paste, work it until it bleeds. By the time y ou get down to an apparent close to finished story - you should have a good idea which way is the best to go. Like David Anthony said above (and I agree) if you visualize the story in film/movie mode, then that should be clear that screenplay is the way to go. If it isn't coming to you visually, now you would need to start working a broader outline to novelize it. In the end - the story is king. Cheers

William Martell

If I only had one idea rambling around for 20 years - novel. That's a finished form. A screenplay needs a bunch of other people and usually about $100m to become a finished form, and most never make it that far... so you need to write a big stack of screenplays. A spec screenplay is usually just a job application for assignments (which requires that you be an idea machine). So, go with a novel. We live in an interesting time when you can self publish and get your novel on Amazon (where it's up to the buyers).

Jody Ellis

That's a long time to have a story in your head. I'd say novel if you have no experience screenwriting. Like others have said, a novel is much easier to to get published than a screenplay.

David Taylor

Just start writing. Let it out.

Rosalind Winton

Write it as a novel first, have it in book form, if you're already a published author, you have the credibility to get this one published as well, hopefully without any difficulty, then, you can adapt it into a screenplay and submit it to film producers as well.

Doug Nelson

John – keep in mind that the novel skill set differs immensely from the screenwriter’s skill set. While it’s true that both are founded on the basic “show, don’t tell” fundamental, the means by which this is fundamentally different. As the novelist you become the Director, set designer, Actors, Editor and all the other people combined in order to effectively play your movie out in each reader’s conciseness. Juggling the roles can become overwhelming. The screenwriter uses way fewer words to tell others how to display the movie up on a screen to all to watch simultaneously. If I miss something in your book; I can turn back and read it again, if I miss something in a film I can’t go back (yeah I know about DVDs.) It’s entirely your call.

Jennifer DiSilvestro

Novel first.

Joleene Moody

I say start with one, and if you don't "feel" it, switch gears. :) Just read this, too, and wonder if it would help?

Doug Nelson

Joleene – nice find. I urge you and all newbie screenwriters to watch the interview with Jim (aka Professor Peculiar) for some really decent incite. John - In making your decision, you must look deep into your personality. Writing is essentially a solitary affair. If you lean towards being a control freak then I think you're better suited as a novelist where you can wear all the hats from the Publisher all the way to the Distributor. You can do the marketing all the way to being the Delivery Boy. Or (if you work well with others), you can be the screenwriter who creates a very clear and concise story blueprint for others to participate in putting your mega-hit up on the screen. Basically the choice is yours depending on your compression ratio but I do advise getting in touch with the real you.

Lorenzo L. Johnson, Jr

People misunderstand me daily in everyday life. I wanted to start my story I started in 2000 as a novel, but communicating how I visualized things in words just wasn't happening. So I opted to create a movie (web series).

Shawn Speake

Hey, John! I would purchase THE STORY SOLUTION by Eric Edson. This book shows you how to turn your story into sequences for a novel or screenplay. It's a strong read.

John Jamison

To everyone... I want to send a brief but heart-felt "THANK YOU" for your responses to my rookie question. I appreciate not just the points made, but the thoughts and comments behind them...what great learning! I am taking the first shot as a novel, getting everything out where I can see and hear it, and will then discover if there is something worth doing more with. I have written and published before, but usually short stories...this is the first serious attempt at the 'big piece'. I think I've always been afraid of ending up as another of those people with the half-finished novel sitting in a drawer somewhere. But I have to that I have actually started hearing the story unfold, it is difficult to NOT keep writing...and that is a relief...and a lot of fun! Thanks once again for everyone's comments! - John

Amanda Ianthe Greene

I would definitely go with which ever option is more fun and natural for you. This is not just personal but practical as well as the more you enjoy the process the more likely to finish and higher the quality. Also practically speaking I hear of books being converted to screenplays more often than screenplays to books. However, again, I would say GET IT OUT as fast and as fun as you can - it's been stirring for 20 years!! Just my 2 cents :)

Siegal Annette

I STARTED to write 2 scripts after learning cinema and script writting but earlier after a MA and BA in biblical studies .Everything after retiring from a medical carriere.There is life after pathology!but , inspite of a n excellent script doctor who follows my steps ,to sell a script is harder than being a professor .So I started to write an essay and now I'm in a middle of a novel.Let's see if it will be easier to publish them than my scripts

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