WRITING A SCRIPT VS. WRITING A NOVEL
It’s been said, for good reason, that the play is an actor’s medium, television a producer’s medium, film a director’s medium, and the novel a writer’s medium. With the exception of one’s editor, the author of a novel pretty much has free reign and the final say in how he or she wishes to tell a story.
Writing for film and television is different than writing a novel or a play. In a play, the story is essentially revealed through the characters’ dialogue. Even under the guidance of a director, it is the actor who ultimately conveys the essence of the play. (This was true, incidentally, in old-time radio as well).
In a novel, the author can rely on a combination of narrative and exposition to lay out the story. A visual medium, however, is just that. Visual. Here, the old axiom “show don’t tell” strictly applies.
For example, in a novel, a young, resolute ballerina might say, “I realize this is hard work, but I’m determined to make dancing my life’s work no matter what it takes.”
On film she’d say nothing. Instead, we’d see her removing her wrinkled waitress uniform and change into a leotard. She’d twist her long pony tail into a bun before sitting down and removing her shoes. We, the audience, would watch her slip worn ballet slippers over feet that are bruised and discolored. She’d walk into the dance studio, take a deep breath, and begin a strenuous dance routine. Her determination to dance despite all obstacles would be revealed without so much as a line of dialog.
A script can go on for pages without dialog. To some writers, this might seem easy. Personally, I find it challenging. My strength is in writing dialogue (I would love to have been a writer on one of those old radio shows). I preferred script writing for the soaps as opposed to writing story breakdown. I also find it more natural for me, in writing a mystery, to include a lot of dialogue in addition to exposition.
Writing a screenplay is a trickier proposition for me. I find that I have to constantly remind myself to convey a scene with as little dialogue as possible. I would probably have an easier time adapting a screenplay to a novel than I would adapting a novel into a screenplay.
Another thing to keep in mind is that to a film director, a screenplay is often no more than a blueprint. He (or she) will interpret the story as he sees fit even if that means completely overhauling the script. In contrast to a novel, a screenplay or a teleplay is usually a collaborative effort.
At the end of the day, whether one is writing a play, a novel, or a screenplay, it is imperative to keep in mind the particular medium for which one is writing.
Vivian Rhodes is a published mystery novelist, Emmy-nominated television writer, and connoisseur of all things mysterious. Her recently republished novel, Groomed for Murder is available as an e-book on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Vivian lives in Los Angeles and writes about all things nostalgia- from film noir to vintage toys- on her blog, Rhodes Less Traveled.