What differences did you find in the writing process between creating a novel and creating a screenplay or TV script (if any)? Thanks!
This is the perfect project to make that comparison because MUST KILL TV was originally a screenplay David Isaacs and I wrote back in the late ‘90s. One of my hopes for the book is that someone will want to option the movie rights and pay us to write the screenplay we’ve already written.
But in truth, I’ve changed the novel considerably. The script served as more of an outline.
First off, the venue is the TV industry and the industry itself has changed over the last fourteen years. By “changed” I mean unrecognizable from what it used to be. So I had to do more than just update references. I had to redefine the arena. Fortunately for me, the TV industry has gotten more cutthroat and murderous. Sometimes a writer catches a break.
In screenplays you need to be very economical. Scenes begin in the middle. A long argument is maybe three pages. Visual images do a lot of the heavy lifting. In novels you can let scenes breathe, expand them, and say a lot more than you could in a screenplay. I found that very liberating.
I changed a lot of the story, filled out some things, and re-imagined the final act. I also added a lot of dialogue although there were speeches and runs that came right out of the screenplay.
One enormous difference is that you can get into a character’s head. You can convey his thoughts. I decided to have some fun with that. As my main character was being placed under more and more pressure I made his thoughts more rambling and insane. This was a tool I had never had before and I loved it. A new avenue for characterization and laughs! Yes!
These were the hard parts:
Re-training my brain. As a screenwriter it’s been drilled into my head to be as sparse with stage directions as possible. In a novel it’s the author’s obligation to put the reader into the scene. You’re the director, the art director, the lighting director, the wardrobe person – everybody. You’re fifteen unions and six guilds all at once.
I also saw my job as a narrator to be a tour guide of the world of television – an outspoken tour guide who would likely get fired for being too outspoken. Rarely if ever in screenplays would I think to make the kinds of editorial comments I so freely share in the book.
In screenplays, everything is written in the present. Most fiction is written in past tense. This drove me fucking batty. The only comparison I could give is driving your whole life in America and then going to England and having to drive on the other side of the road.
Some authors will tell you head hopping is not important, but I tried to do it right. Again, I can’t thank my novelist friends enough. Their notes were invaluable.
So that’s it. But the main difference at the end of the day between a screenplay and novel is that in a novel you really have to have a voice. You set the tone, you create the world, and the one unique thing you bring to the book is YOU. People follow authors because they like their style. For me, writing a blog every day for eight years went a long way into establishing that voice.
But I’m still afraid to get behind the wheel in England.