This morning in my Twitter feed I saw the @Skrawl_it tweet sharing a quote that said: “You know you’re a writer when you sit down to write your novel and you procrastinate by dreaming about the day it’s adapted for film instead.”
In the shower I pondered that quote and how the word “instead” should have been left off. This is because telling the story in novel format or in screenplay format is very different.
For the last few years I’ve been taking my screenplays (and the ones I write with my husband Mitchell R. Miller) and adapting them into books and ebooks on Amazon. And less often I take a novel I’ve written and adapt it for a screenplay.
And “adapt” is the operative word because the two formats are not the same.
One of the biggest differences is POV (point of view). In contemporary fiction writing the preferred method is a single POV in any scene. In other words, you can have multiple POV characters in a novel as long as those multiple POVs are not in the same scene. In any one scene the reader can only know the thoughts of one POV character.
In screenplay writing there is no POV character because there is no internal monologue. This makes writing easier in one respect and harder in another. For example, if dialogue to share a character’s inner thoughts isn’t appropriate in the screenplay, how do you show his/her angst or any other private emotion? (Cigarette smoking used to be a frequent stand-in for this angst.)
And while a character whose POV you want to share could reveal this in dialogue, you have to be very careful not to be “on the nose” with the dialogue — for example, the “as you know, Bob” method. This is having one character tell something to a second character who already knows the information only so that the information can be imparted to the audience.
Subtext is very important in screenplay dialogue, and I’m still working on mastering this. A subtext example would be a couple fighting over whose turn it is to take out the trash when the subtext of the dialogue is really who loves who more.
At a seminar I once heard a famous Hollywood screenwriter say that he adapts a book to a screenplay by opening the book and starting to type. In terms of the plot, this may be true if the novel is told more or less in linear fashion and without huge swatches of interior monologue. This is not true for all books.
One such example is the 1997 Oscar best picture winner “The English Patient.” It was known around Hollywood that many studios had passed on the novel by Michael Ondaatje because the adaptation could not be imagined. After I saw the movie (and predicted it would win the Oscar for that year) I read the novel. While the novel is also compelling, I saw what a genius Anthony Minghella was in his adaptation of the book. (For the success of the movie it surely helped that Minghella also got to direct his screenplay.)
In terms of my own writing of both novels and screenplays, I am always working on learning more. At this precise moment I just finished Jeff Gerke’s book “The First 50 Pages” (recommended by Paula Wynne’s book “Pimp Your Fiction”) and am now reading his book “Plot Versus Character” at the same time I’m taking a ScreenwritingU.com online course.
Much of the knowledge I’m learning from the books and the course is applicable to both novel writing and screenplay writing. In fact, I’m in the midst of revising a scene in my feature film screenplay of sci fi THE MOTHER SIEGE and then I’ll revise that scene in the novel.
And speaking of that revision, it is time to get back to my homework for the ScreenwritingU.com course!
© 2016 Miller Mosaic LLC
Phyllis Zimbler Miller (@ZimblerMiller) has an M.B.A. from The Wharton School and is the author of fiction and nonfiction books/ebooks. Phyllis is available by skype for book group discussions and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Her Kindle fiction ebooks may be read for free with a Kindle Unlimited monthly subscription — see www.amazon.com/author/phylliszimblermiller — and her Kindle nonfiction ebooks may also be read for free with a Kindle Unlimited monthly subscription — see www.amazon.com/author/phylliszmiller