I love Friday Questions that become entire posts. Either it means I have a lot to say on the subject or I just don’t know when to stop writing.
Today’s is from Ellen.
Hi, Ken. I'm a novelist working on a script, so it was interesting to read this reverse take on what I'm experiencing.
Two questions for you: Was writing a novel harder than you thought it would be? And also, do you think the experience will benefit you as a screenwriter?
It wasn’t harder, but it was sure different. I could never get into a character’s thought process before writing in prose. And I never had to be as descriptive before. You can’t just say INT. APARTMENT – DAY and leave it to the art and set department to design something for you. My stage direction in screenplays tends to very sparse. The apartment is a mess. Period. Done. On to the fun stuff.
The other thing I was struck with is that a novel becomes the finished product. Scripts are always works-in-progress. Once you get it on its feet things change. Sometimes the end result is nothing like you intended. Writing prose you have the last word. I find I like that for some reason.
I also enjoy that as the narrator I have a voice. I can express opinions and make observations. Certainly you can express your point-of-view through a character, but sometimes they’re not on the same page as you. Or have the same perspective as you. I don’t need there to be a character with a Ken Levine P.O.V in a novel.. I can provide it myself thank you very much. I like that too. It's like being able to provide the commentary track to your movie right on the movie itself. (Now there's a concept.)
And literary characters never question their lines. They never ask what’s their motivation? They never refuse to do nudity. They don’t require a twelve-hour turnaround between shooting days. And as opposed to actors, they welcome stage direction. They’ll say the lines just like you tell them to. He said accusingly. She said with a slight touch of anger. Write those indicators into a script and see how your actors respond. Think the first twenty minutes of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN.
It’s also nice that budget is not an issue in prose. The writer has a blank check to go to elaborate worlds, stage parties with thousands of extras... I mean, guests, globe hop if he so desires. You’re not paying for background people and having to feed them, you don’t need government approval to do scenes in certain countries, you don't need permits to shoot on city streets, and all your special effects go off perfectly without a hitch. You’re never delayed because of weather. No Teamster locals are going to go on strike preventing you from writing chapter six.
So I’ll definitely write more novels. Did the experience help me to be a better screenwriter? Honestly, no. Screenwriting has its own set of rules. On the other hand, I became a much better screenwriter once I became a director. I have a way better feel for how actors approach material and what they need to realize my vision. Screenwriters sometime forget (me included) that real human beings have to say these words and do these actions.
Ellen, for you to tackle a screenplay, I think if you’re skillful in dialogue (a tool you need in prose) you should be fine making the transition. The only thing I’ll say is remember, to convey a character’s emotion or motivation you have to do it via behavior. You have to find clever ways for characters to express their inner feelings based on the choices we see them make, their body language, and other behavioral clues. You can’t just say what he’s thinking. Thought bubbles like in comic books are frowned upon.
Good luck, and allow me to take this golden opportunity to once again plug my novel. MUST KILL TV. When was the last time you treated yourself to a really funny book? For $2.99 be a sport. Don’t make me have to go back to writing screenplays. Here's where you go. Thanks.