Saturday, January 10, 2015

Novel Craft: Screenplay Lessons

Hi, folks! I am an artistic person, and I buzz around art. I will dip my toe into most forms of expression. There are a few that I've focused on and have found that those experiences have informed my novel craft.  This week I'm going to talk about screenplay lessons.

I've written a few screenplays. This experience has helped me with novel craft.  A screenplay is a working document, it is not the finished product: the film.  I've learned about writing novels by writing screenplays. Here are three useful bits that I've learned:

First, screenplays force you to think about scenes and pacing.  A screenplay has a tight structure. It is much more compact than a novel and rarely has any room for internal thoughts. Becoming more aware of scenes has made me more aware of what to cut in my novels. Every scene in my novel must argue for its right to be there.  Novelists tend to be in love with the beauty of the words, and sometimes that is at the expense of storytelling. Each scene in my novel must move the plot forward, develop the journey of the main character, offer serious conflict, offer a glimpse of the internal working of the main character, have laser focus on the goal of the story, and offer some beautiful language and deep internal thought. If I can't achieve this with a scene, I toss it on reject pile.

Second, screenplays can help you move forward when you are stuck.  Like picture books, screenplays are a visual medium. Sometimes, I reach a place in the novel that I'm not sure how to proceed forward. I break open Final Draft or Celtx and move forward with my novel in a screenplay format.  My first drafts are now always a mix of screenplay sections and narrative. Writing a screenplay is analogous to sketching. A rough draft is a sketch of the novel. All the needed scene pieces are broken apart: opening with setting, dividing the dialogue, dropping in an emotional tag, and then describing the action can keeps me from bogging down in a first draft.  Next time your draft grinds to a halt, try writing the next scene in screenplay format.

Finally, screenplays can help you beat the static parts out of your novel. Screenplays do not welcome big chunks of dialogue, must keep action swirling on screen to entice the film goer, and must be aware that the person who plays the character in the screenplay is paramount in making that character come to life. I avoid prosy dialogue. Screenplays have made me aware of this. No one wants to read about nothing happening. It's surprising how easy it is to write about a character watching the sunrise or swimming in the lake, or reading a book.  Blow up that sun, fill that lake with piranhas, and have the heroine  toss that book into that arrogant so-n-so's face.  Also characters must be nuanced. I really cast my characters now when I write. I learned this from screenplays. Character on a great journey is still a working document, the character in the screenplay vs the character in a film. It's the little things that set characters apart and make them spring from the page. You have to know if your character loves chocolate, scream when she is angry, or bite her fingernails.

Novels need to breath with life. Screenplays have helped me achieve that.

Hope something here is helpful. :) I will be back next week with more novel crafty lessons.

Here is a doodle: Clown

Finally a quote for your pocket:

When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art.’ I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing. George Orwell


Debbie Austin said...

Molly, I am going to couple this with the idea from last week. Thank you for such practical insight. And I love the George Orwell quote. Have a great week!

MollyMom103 said...

Hi Debbie! I did find some series resonance between picture books and screenplays. Glad you are finding this useful.

Debra McKellan said...

I was a Writing for Film/TV major my freshman year at college, so I almost always think in screenplay format, especially when editing for friends. I never thought to write a scene that way to help myself on those stuck moments, though! Great idea! :D

MollyMom103 said...

Hi Debra,I hope this helps you create those important first drafts!