Screenwriting : Screenplays vs. Novels... by Derek Ladd

Derek Ladd

Screenplays vs. Novels...

Hey there, fellow writers. I've been writing and professionally editing screenplays for the past 10 years, and I recently found myself missing the journey of storytelling. You know what I mean? Just telling a story without worrying so much about page count, and the end product being stuck in a bottleneck waiting for someone to read it. I've found that, in many cases, novels often follow a similar structure to screenplays, but with a lot more freedom for the writer--this is promising news since I know structure quite well. Now I'm curious to know this: how many of you out there have switched from screenwriting to novels to enjoy more freedom in storytelling? Thanks!

William G Chandler Jr

Do you have a particular story you'd like to write?

Derek Ladd

Hey, William. I have a TON of stories, about half of which are in one stage of development or another. I think the reason I'm leaning back toward novels (even short ones) is because, once I complete a novel and have it professionally edited, I can market it and/or release it. With a screenplay I have a few options: I can enter it into contests (been there, won Silver in the PAGE -- nothing happened); I can pitch it to people and hope they say yes; or I can produce/direct it myself. The first option doesn't take a lot of time, but I'd much rather be writing than spending my time doing the other two. ;-D

Owen Mowatt

I much prefer the conciseness, brevity and discipline needed to write scripts. I read a book where the author used an entire chapter just to explain how a house got it`s name!

Scott Harper

I'm a bestselling, award-winning novelist who has branched out into screenplays and comic books. While I enjoy working on the latter two, it always feels good to me to get back to a novel. Not having to worry about script structure, and simply telling the story is a great sense of freedom.

John E. Bias

I just converted two of my screenplays into graphic novel scripts to see how that turns out as far as getting them out there. Submitting them to publishers and looking for an artist in the process. Figured since Hollywood is pulling from the comic book and novel industry, and comics is what got me started writing, see how far I get there.

Derek Ladd

Owen Mowatt, you just described the main reason I've stopped reading books in the past--too damn much description. I'm a visual storyteller and I like character interaction. Description should be done on an 'as-needed' basis. ;-D Like Scott Harper said, while I do enjoy writing screenplays, I also miss the freedom of being able to simply tell a story and deliver it to an audience. Some stories fit the screenplay medium like a glove, but I think those same ideas would also work as short novels. John E. Bias, that's a great idea. I have a few elaborate stories that I think would work well as graphic novels. Good luck!

John E. Bias

I agree. Tell your story without worrying about the page count. Start worrying about that, you will start taking away from the story. Tell a good story, the pages will keep turning no matter the amount of pages.

Richard Toscan

Open ended page counts certainly make sense in early drafts, but I suspect the fact that nearly all of what are said to be the top competitions charge an extra fee for screenplays running over 120 pages is sending a message that's worth considering.

Derek Ladd

JC, that sounds like a great idea. I do love the screenwriting medium, but again, there are many restrictions, not the least of which is finding a market for your work once it's finished. And it seems like, unless it's the right script, written at the right time and submitted to the right people, the writer is out of luck. "Derek, 99% of people on S32 are more worried about page count than story." Alle, it's so true. I see it when I edit screenplays all the time. But in Barb Doyon's book, she makes it clear that (for unproduced freelancers at least) page count is important, and it changes from genre to genre: action scripts have one page range; comedies another; dramas still another... For me it's a balancing act between putting in everything I want and keeping the page count within limits. It gets tricky and exhausting sometimes. Richard, you're absolutely right: some contests won't accept anything over 120, and others will charge more for anything over 120. I imagine the same rule applies when submitting a spec to a production company or a prospective agent (accept they simply won't look at anything over 120).

Derek Ladd

I read an article once about how producers take home a stack of scripts (that make it past their readers) to read on the weekends. When interviewed, the one constant was that producers were less inclined to take home anything over 120 pages. In most cases, those closer to 90 pages were selected first. Page length aside, I do miss long-form writing and I'm easing back into it. The project I'm working on now is (strangely enough) rewriting a novella from a screenplay that I based on an earlier draft of the same novella. I made so many improvements while writing the script that I now have to go back and incorporate those improvements into the novella. I find a certain peace in creating something like a novel or novella because it can stand on its own. I may walk this storytelling path for a while and see where it leads. ;-D

Hans Nielsen

My feature scripts always come out longer than I want. Still just getting close to the magical 120 number is a big help. Even if I can't find anybody interested in using the script, I have a nice tight storyline that I can expand into a novella or short novel. With today's young people and their cyber world, short is a plus.

Doug Nelson

Derek – I went the other way ‘round. I completed three novels prior to taking up screenwriting. In novelistic story development, if I write myself into a corner, I can write myself out again. I can’t do that in a screenplay; if my story derails; it’s gone - crashed and burned and I have to start at the beginning once again. Now I’ve cut it down even more. I only write short scripts and I really enjoy the challenge of a compelling story written in a “proper” format in ten pages or so. I think I enjoy the challenge more than the more freeform writing style. It all depends on your personal compression ratio.

Mohamed Omar

I need a screenwriter

John E. Bias

Mohamed, are you looking for a writer for graphic novel, animation, or live action?

Derek Ladd

Thank you for your comments, Hans, Manda, Jim and Doug (and everyone else). It's quite interesting to see how people view storytelling differently. Some writers prefer screenplays, others prefer novels, and some prefer doing both. I think there will always be ideas that pop into my head that prompt me to think, "This is a movie", while others lead me to think, "This is a novel." And I'm sure a few ideas will fit either medium, or both. As long as I have fun with (and take pride in) what I'm writing, the issue of which medium to work in will work itself out. ;-D

LindaAnn Loschiavo

@ Derek Ladd - - an option for good writers is the stage play. Incidentally, a newbie who has a hit onstage earns much more $$$ than a tyro screenwriter would. Something to put in your pipe and smoke . . . :-D

Doug Nelson

LindaAnn – Out here in Oregon, we got better stuff to put in our pipes – an’ it’s legal too.

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