Study Novels

When author Michael Blake wrote the screenplay “Dances with Wolves,” nobody in Hollywood cared. So Michael Blake rewrote his screenplay as a novel and got it published. Now as a published novel, suddenly Hollywood was interested in “Dances with Wolves”. Best of all, as a published novel, “Dances with Wolves” already laid out the story so Hollywood would be less inclined to drastically alter the story, which Hollywood does with ordinary screenplays.

So if you’re interested in screenwriting, consider also writing a novel. The big difference is that novels are told through the thoughts and emotions of different characters along with sensory details of sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste.

Since movies cannot get into the thoughts of characters, screenplays have to tell stories visually with audio. That makes screenplays a different medium than novels, which is why some authors like Stephen King, fail to write good screenplays because they don’t fully grasp the visual and audio nature of screenwriting.

If you’re interested in writing screenplays, consider turning your screenplays into novels. Not only will this give you credibility, but it will help reduce the chance that Hollywood will drastically change your story around.

To get a brief lesson about how novels work, read this excerpt from John Grisham’s “The Firm” novel. Notice that much of the emotional and physical description cannot be filmed. This is how novels can provide a richer story telling experience from film, but great films provide visual experiences that novels lack.

The managing partner, Royce McKnight, studied a dossier labeled “Mitchell Y. McDeere–Harvard.” An inch thick with small print and a few photographs, it had been prepared by some ex-CIA agents in a private intelligence outfit in Bethesda. They were clients of the firm and each year did the investigating for no fee. It was easy work, they said, checking out unsuspecting law students. They learned, for instance, that he preferred to leave the Northeast, that he was holding three job offers, two in New York and one in Chicago, and that the highest offer was $76,000 and the lowest was $68,000. He was in demand. He had been given the opportunity to cheat on a securities exam during his second year. He declined, and made the highest grade in the class. Two months ago he had been offered cocaine at a law school party. He said no and left when everyone began snorting. He drank an occasional beer, but drinking was expensive and he had no money. He owed close to $23,000 in student loans. He was hungry.
Royce McKnight flipped through the dossier and smiled. McDeere was their man.
Lamar Quin was thirty-two and not yet a partner. He had been brought along to look young and act young and project a youthful image for Bendini, Lambert & Locke, which in fact was a young firm, since most of the partners retired in their late forties or early fifties with money to burn. He would make partner in this firm. With a six-figure income guaranteed for the rest of his life, Lamar could enjoy the twelve-hundred-dollar tailored suits that hung so comfortably from his tall, athletic frame. He strolled nonchalantly across the thousand-dollar-a-day suite and poured another cup of decaf. He checked his watch. He glanced at the two partners sitting at the small conference table near the windows. 

Notice that in the first paragraph, all that happens is that a man named Royce McKnight is studying a folder. Yet beyond the minor physical details (“An inch thick”), most of the details revolve around describing the importance and background of this folder and the information it contains (“prepared by some ex-CIA agents”). 

Then the last paragraph describes another man. Rather than just describe his physical details (young) most of the paragraph describes the thoughts of Royce about this other man while also providing background information.  So the purpose is to inject more detail so readers feel as if they’re actually in the bodies of the characters. Physical details are far less important than emotional details that include thoughts and feelings of the characters. Describing thoughts and history details makes even a seemingly mundane item (a folder) far more interesting than simply describing its physical characteristics. Also notice that the information is given to the reader through the thoughts of the characters. So rather than simply describe information, we get this information and learn about one or more of the other characters at the same time.

Novel writing and screenwriting are two different mediums. Some authors can do both, some can only do one. Still, look at novel writing as a way to validate your story and give it credibility. Writing a novel could be the shortest route to getting your screenplay produced. Just ask Michael Blake what happened with “Dances with Wolves.”

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