People often ask me things. Things like, “How can I improve my protagonist’s character arc?” and “Why is it important to have three acts?” and “Could you please stop staring at me? It’s creeping me out.” And those are all good questions. Except the last one. I wasn’t staring at you, I just lose the ability to focus my eyes sometimes.
Where was I? Oh, yeah. Questions.
Another question I’m asked occasionally deals with writing novels versus writing screenplays.
I know a bit about both. My novel RUN was amazon.com’s bestselling sci-fi novel for a while. It was also on the bestseller lists for horror and thrillers (it’s a “genre bender”). Another novel of mine, Billy: Messenger of Powers, a fun YA fantasy about a boy who discovers he’s in the middle of a secret magical war that will determine the fate of humanity, has been on numerous Amazon bestseller lists for most of the past year.
And as for screenwriting, well… I’ve had screenplays do very well in numerous high-profile screenplay contests. I’ve optioned screenplays (and if you don’t know what that is, trust me, it’s pretty cool), and been hired to do rewrite work on scripts. I’ve also sold several screenplays, and am a member of the Writers Guild of America (which is statistically harder to get into than major league baseball). So I’ve got some street cred in that world, too.
And let me tell you something: they are different worlds. Some people think that screenwriting would be easier than novel writing. After all, a screenplay only demands about 100 pages of writing (much of which has margins that dramatically cut down on the word count per page), while a novel requires hundreds of pages and tens of thousands of words.
But in reality, I have found that both have their “easy” parts and their “hard” parts, their ups and downs. Novels do require “more” work from the point of view of simple quantity, but they also allow you more leeway to spend time creating a world, to establish a credible narrative voice and reel the audience in. In scripts, you generally have about 200 words to “hook” your audience. After that, they’re just not interested. On the other hand, scripts don’t require you to explain the backstory of every major character in exhaustive detail (though most competent writers will at least have a sound idea what that backstory is).
In sum, both are different kinds of storytelling. I liken them to speaking different languages. It is possible to be fluent in both, but it also takes a lot of effort. That’s why a lot of novelists write atrocious screenplays, and why a lot of screenwriters get bogged down and lost in the mazes of novel-writing.
But it can be done. And why? Because at their heart, both are in service of a common goal: telling a story. Whether on the page, or on the screen (or, in the case of some of my work, on the page of a novel and THEN on the page of a screenplay and THEN on the screen of a theater), the storyteller has one rule: engage the audience in a compelling story that will allow them to have experiences that they could not otherwise have.
I think that’s the great thing about novels and movies: their ability to speak to us, to take us from one place to another in the blink of an eye. To give us the gift of story, the thrill of a tale well-told.
Again, they are different languages. But all languages, at their heart, are about talking, about communicating. And similarly, whether in a book or on the screen, a good story-teller is at the heart of each tale.
Michaelbrent is a bestselling novelist whose books RUN and Billy: Messenger of Powers have been amazon.com bestsellers. He is also a produced screenwriter and member of both the Writers Guild of America and the Horror Writers of America. His blog is at http://michaelbrentcollings.com/blog2.html, and you can follow him on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Michaelbrent-Collings/283851837365 or on twitter @mbcollings.