Simultaneous book writing, film writing and plate juggling – differences in script and novel writing.

I am currently writing a book and writing a film, at the same time. Well, not actually physically at the same time. I mean I am not ambidextrous or split-brained in some weird SF grey matter bisection style. I write one on one day, one on another and try not to get too mixed up with the plots. It keeps me fresh and I don’t tire of either and fortunately they are both science fiction (no brain splitting involved mind!) and they are both, sort of coincidentally, adaptations, but going in different directions.

So far so good.

My favourite book cover still waiting for a book
My favourite book cover still waiting for a book

What I do have to watch out for are problems connected with the differences between screenplay and book writing, because of course there are differences. I always try to be aware of these distinctions, but one gaff came to my attention yesterday. I was writing what I thought was a particularly good scene with snappy dialogue going backwards and forwards very nicely when I realised there was a problem. The problem was this: “the snappy dialogue going backwards and forwards very nicely”!

I think it was Alfred Hitchcock who said something along the lines of: “we’ve written the script, now we add the dialogue”. He certainly is quoted as saying: “dialogue should simply be a sound among other sounds, just something that comes out of the mouths of people whose eyes tell the story in visual terms”. Yoiks! I’d gone into ‘Dialogue Overload’!

There is always a temptation when writing a script, especially when adapting from a book, of taking all the character’s internal thoughts (and when adapting, even material from the written descriptions) and putting it all into people’s mouths. This was what I was doing.

Now, I am not somebody who gets hung up on the “film is a visual medium” malarkey, as far as I’m concerned film is a recording medium and you do what you want and what is appropriate. Sometimes it is right to have scene after scene of characters expressing their thoughts and emotions … and we call them French films. You just need to be aware of what you are doing and consider if this is the time to be doing it because most of the time you won’t be writing a French film, even in France. It wasn’t appropriate for my SF script.

And I looked back and I realised that the scriptwriting was also causing some problems for my novel writing. Book sentences were becoming too terse and too short. Although this is actively encouraged for scriptwriting, where action is usually condensed to a couple of lines per paragraph, such writing can get very wearing for readers when presented in book form. I would argue that it can even be irritating in a spec script, especially if not done really well! Although you can get away with grammatically incorrect, or even incomplete, sentences in a script you need to get proficient in this style of writing and this proficiency isn’t something that comes overnight. I always think you should stick to simple evocative sentences when starting out scriptwriting.

A spec script, in particular, isn’t a shooting script and its first job is to be a pleasurable read to get somebody interested in your story. And although I am a huge fan of the hard-boiled detective style of writing sometimes in a book you should take the opportunity to stretch yourself a bit to produce a sufficient fluent read for your reader.

Time for some rewriting, I do believe.

‘And what about the plate juggling?’ I hear you ask.

I dropped my dinner, because my mind was elsewhere (in SF movie and book land as it happens), which is another story – one about concentrating on what’s at hand.

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nicelystrongoak

Author and scriptwriter, Terry Newman

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