by Peggy Bechko
Whether you’re writing a TV show, a movie, a nevel, you-name-it, one simple truth stands out:
Tell the damn story.
What, you say, “simple? How the heck can I keep storytelling simple?”
Somewhere I heard, “a screenplay is a simple story complexly told.” Sounds reasonable. Having written novels (a lot) and screenplays (less so) I can tell you there’s a heckuva difference.
If the script you’ve written feels like a novel, you’re in a lot of trouble. For me, a script is tight and fast and sharp. A novel is more leisurely as the writer gets into the heads of characters and tells the readers things that could never be put up on a screen.
Even if it’s an action/thriller, the writer has much more leeway. The novel is much more dense; there can be a lot of set-up before the plot kicks in. (Actually these days the novel should kick in much more quickly with plot points as well, but that’s another issue.)
Look at it this way. If you’re already writing screen scripts you know you’ll need to come up with a logline and a treatment and a pitch. If you can’t come up with a crisp logline and/or a tight pitch, then you may have written a novel in screen script format.
How many times have you heard someone complain, “the book was better than the movie.” The simple fact is a novel offers more depth and detail. A screenplay simply can’t accommodate the broader scope of a novel and thus many times things the book reader loved won’t be up on the screen.
So going back to the story, simply put, it will be different from the viewpoint of the novel writer and the scriptwriter. The screenwriter who adapts novels to script well aren’t simply pasting scenes from the book into scriptwriting software and tweaking. Nope they’re using storytelling skills, pulling the spine of the book’s story forth and transforming it into the cinematic version of the story.
This frequently means great divergence from the original book and always means leaving things out. Sigh.
Keep it simple. Beware your own lack of faith in your story to the point where you are cramming in lots of characters, complications on top of complications, red herrings, flashbacks and amazing action sequences that just don’t belong.
All of that’s a distraction from the story. Instead of exploring the idea behind your story you’ve buried it and hidden its beauty. The script reader will spot it immediately.
In the end, however, the script and the novel have a lot in common.
There’s the simple story complexly told. It’s the writer who brings the execution to the story telling. It isn’t simply a great ‘concept’.
There’s the premise that delivers on a promise and manages to bring something clever and new to the genre. Think about the movies you’ve seen and loved and the novels you’ve read and loved.
Script and novel need a hero folks can root for – one with a flaw that traces right to the center of the story.
There’s the conflict that must escalate apace and the added twists that grip the audience.
The place where script and novel diverge is the description. Novel is allowed more depth and detail. Script must be lean, but with such sparkling description that it creates the environment with such targeted detail that brings forth the tone of the story while managing to convey subtext.
Supporting characters of both novel and script are complex, compelling, and dimensional.
Dialogue is crisp and real and allows reader or watcher to know that character just by speech.
Finally there is the satisfying ending.
Always we look for the storyteller with a voice. Script or novel. The writer, the one who tells the story must know what their story is truly about at its very core.
Keep it simple. Know the core. Do this and your writing will reach the heights you’ve envisioned and aspired to.
Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. Learn more about her sensational career HERE. Peggy’s new comic series, Planet of the Eggs, written and illustrated with Charlene Brash-Sorensen is available on Kindle. And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page and her terrific blog.