7 Things Novelists Can Learn From Writing a Screenplay

The contrasts between writing novels and screenplays are many, and writers usually tend to specialize in either one category or the other.

For instance, a novel often relies on descriptive narrative to immerse the reader in the story, while a screenplay utilizes action or dialogue to advance the story line. Additionally, novels have the freedom to introduce the reader to the character’s inner workings, and screenplays tend to focus more on the visual aspect of the character’s outward actions.

Despite the differences between the two, several techniques can work equally well for creating both novels and screenplays.

Here are seven things a novelist can learn from trying to write a screenplay.

How to Cut Out Fluff

There is no restriction on how long a novel can be, but most screenwriters limit their projects to about 90 to 120 pages in length.

Writing a cohesive and complete story in this short format forces you to choose the most important details and events to focus on. While your novel can still be more than 120 pages in length, applying this concept as a novelist can help you eliminate any conversations, events, or descriptions that don’t make a significant contribution to your story.

That a Story Can Be Built in Scenes

As opposed to novelists who often attempt to write a complete story from chronological start to finish, screenwriters rely on individual scenes to convey important developments in the story.

This piece-by-piece approach allows a screenwriter to have the flexibility of presenting the plot elements in whatever order best serves to advance the story.

Learning how to write a screenplay can help you think about your novel as a collection of pieces or scenes that don’t have to be written in chronological order. This fresh perspective can open up new possibilities to present your story in a creative, compelling manner.

How to Use Tension

Screenplays need to move the story along quickly both to hold the audience’s attention and to bring the story to a satisfying conclusion in a short amount of time. Since novels are usually much longer and tend to take a slower pace, they can often lose that feeling of tension.

Crafting tense situations is a screenwriting technique that can work equally well when you’re writing a novel. Giving your audience an inside view of a situation that the protagonist is unaware of, creating the possibility of an uncertain outcome, or setting up a battle between good and evil are a few examples of ways to use tension to your advantage.

How Plot and Character Can Work Together

While compelling characters are vital to a successful novel, it’s equally important to create a memorable storyline. However, many novelists spend more time focusing on the characters themselves rather than the story’s plot development.

Screenplays tend to offer some of the best examples of the ideal blend of fascinating characters and unforgettable plots. For instance, the reality hidden behind the framework of “The Matrix” forces a dramatic change in Neo. Despite George Bailey’s tortured soul, “It’s a Wonderful Life” may not be the classic it is today without a timeless stories that appeal to people of all generations.

Software programs like Writer Duet allow screenwriters to experiment with character and storyline development. Using these same techniques in your novel can help your plot and characters evolve simultaneously while building off of one another’s energy.

How to Make Dialogue More Engaging

While novels have much more room for descriptive passages or narration, screenplays often rely heavily on dialogue between the characters to keep the audience up to speed with the storyline. Writing a screenplay can help a novelist learn to condense their dialogue and give each exchange a solid purpose.

Whether your project is a screenplay or a novel, these ideas can help you sharpen your character’s conversations.

  • Give each character distinctive speech patterns or characteristics, and use them consistently throughout the story.
  • Don’t use dialogue to suddenly reveal critical pieces of information. Scenes can reveal major plot twists, but keep your dialogue focused on advancing the story in smaller pieces.
  • Use normal conversational patterns. People rarely give extended speeches in real life, and unnatural dialogue often feels forced.

The Importance of Structure

Choosing a structure gives you a definite plan of where you want your story to go and how you want to get there. Some story structures that have stood the test of time include building your characters and plot around a central event, character arc, setting or philosophy.

Screenplays must follow a structured path in order to give the story depth and reach an orderly conclusion in a set amount of time. Borrowing this idea for your novel can help you develop a clear vision for your story, and having a pre-determined structure can also help you identify potential areas that aren’t essential to your overall goal.

The Importance of Character Development

Even if your plot is captivating, you’ll leave your audience unaffected if you don’t invest the time to create well-developed and intriguing characters. Learning to develop your characters quickly and effectively in the short format of a screenplay gives you a good base of knowledge that you can also use when writing your novel.

In general, characters that display both good and bad qualities have a tendency to resonate best with your audience, and this applies equally to protagonists and antagonists. Give your protagonist an inner battle to fight, and surround them with healthy challenge and encouragement from supporting characters.

Conclusion

Novelists stand to gain much by taking some cues from the screenwriting world.

By condensing and organizing your material into a solid structure, you give yourself the freedom to create appealing characters and a compelling story line that keeps your readers on the edge of their seats.

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