Screenwriting : Novel to Screenplay, or screenplay only by Kris Polson

Kris Polson

Novel to Screenplay, or screenplay only

I have had an idea for a novel for many years, but I started my writing path by writing plays. I then began to look at screenplays cause I love movies and the places that medium can takes it's audience. Because of this, I find my style of writing as thinking it through like it would be shown on a stage or on a screen. Writing a novel has stumped me in that I am having to describe all of the details instead of leaving that up to the director to come up with their own interpretation of how they want it to look. I have always thought of the process of writing a screenplay as a collaboration of my story points and then the unknown of the Director's interpretation of how events will look and be shown. It always makes it an interesting and exciting process for me because I try and give just enough in the script to get the important parts of the story across, but still leaving the Director to his/her creative genius to "paint" the story for the audience. So here is the question... Do I continue to try and write a novel for this idea, and the create a screenplay later if it is popular, or just fall to my comfort level and write this as a screenplay and leave it at that? I would love your feedback!

William Martell

Three things: 1) Writing a novel is probably closer to writing a screenplay than writing a stageplay is to writing a screenplay. The great difficulty in writing a screenplay is writing "action" that is concise and evocative and tells the story visually. 2) The director and all of the others are only hired after the script has sold, so you need to get across all of the ideas and feelings of the completed film in the screenplay using a few words as possible. Um, not easy. But you can not depend on the director or actor or anyone else to "make your script work", it crosses an exec's desk "naked", just words on a page. You need to make sure those words make the movie appear in their minds as they read the script, and that movie needs to be amazing without the great actor playing the role of the great director finding the perfect angle, camera move, and composition. 3) Screenplays almost never sell. They are usually job applications for assignments where a writer is hired to adapt a board game into a screenplay or something. So your script is a way for you to get work as a writer. Take that into account when making this decision. As a screenplay, the story may never get to the audience. As a novel it can. But the larger issue is: either novel or screenplay, it's never just this one story... it's a career of writing story after story after story.

Marsha Mildon

On a good day, I find that a 'story' comes with its 'shape' comes with it, for example, a story about playing hockey always felt like a short story as I wrote it. That worked. More often, alas, I muddle away between forms. I'm trying to revise a stage play, but some days I feel like it should be a novel and other days it seems to fit right into Final Draft screenplay. My gut feeling is that when the story seems to have a lot of characters and their dilemmas rattling around together, it might be a novel, while a 'hero's journey' with supporting cast may fit a screenplay better... just a feeling I have.

Richard Allis

Maybe write the screenplay first and expand it into a novel adding more scene description and inner character thoughts/feelings? That way you can write the story first in a format you're more comfortable with? And then learn the ropes of a new format with a story you already know.

Marsha Mildon

If a person has a format that they feel more comfortable with , then yes indeed, i'd go with that format first. My process is somewhat 'messier' than that. I've had novels published, stage plays produced, and won prizes for docunentaries... that's why I suggest that the form tends to develop along with the story. It probably does slow down my process at first, but I feel the end product works better if form and content grow together... but that's just me. Process probably depends a lot on whether the writer wants to start with a tight story or whether the writer explores the way into the story... that's a big difference in process. At least, I find it quite different.

Karen Lucille Samuelson

Doesn't it also depend on where your story has more marketability? For example, I've written a dramatic feature with a girl protagonist and an immigrant family. It is a good solid story but not "Hollywood" so I've had it suggested to me to write it into a novel, self publish and see if it gets some traction that way first. I'm dealing with a similar challenge with another script I've written. Any comments would be very appreciated!

Richard Allis

Karen, that's a good point to be considering too, in deciding on which format. A question about your "not Hollywood" script/story. Is there any feasability in getting your story done by an independent film group? Local or otherwise?

Kris Polson

I guess for me I like the idea of "the book first" if it can be done that way... but I am not certain I will be able to do it justice. Richard, I thought about having an indie group try it. I guess I should pursue that more and see if there are any that might be willing to take it on.

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