Saturday, April 27, 2013

Guest Post: C. Michael Powers

Writing--Novels Vs. Screenplays

 Hey everybody,

As I was going through the editorial process for my first book, Mirror Images Book 1: The Darkness of Man, I realized how different the process of writing a book is compared to writing a novel. Here are a few of the differences.

Length: Screenplays should be no longer than 120 pages, and even that is pushing it. Most readers don’t care to read anything over 90 pages. The reason is, each page of the script is thought of as being equal to one minute of screen time. Most movies nowadays are right around an hour and a half. So anything over 120 pages is like watching a movie well over two hours. I got my script down to 110 pages, and that was after cutting out a few characters and chopping the script up a lot.

Novels can be as long as they need to be to tell the story. Of course, nobody wants to read a 1,000 page book full of description and no action, but you’re not locked in to a maximum page number like you are with screenplays. You can spend more time on your story.

Editing: Back to talking about length, editing a screenplay isn’t that difficult. Most of what you read is either dialogue or small sections of text. A novel can take forever to edit.

How you write: This is one that I’ve struggled with a little bit. Because I started out writing screenplays, I was used to that style of writing. I read David Trottier’s The Screenwriter’s Bible (which is an awesome book if you want to learn about screenwriting) and studied it, from front to back. With screenplays you can only write what the viewer will see.  So, for example, you can’t write the following:

Dave stands at the front door of her house. He remembers how nervous he was the last time he saw her, the time he almost threw up on her shoes, and he considers standing her up, out of fear of his own lack of confidence.

Why can’t you write that? You can’t because the audience isn’t going to be able to see what he’s thinking. So your options would be to either use a voice over, to show that he’s thinking out loud, or use a flashback and actually show what happened the last time he was with her.

Novels are different. You can absolutely tell what the character is thinking. In fact, that’s a part of character development. Knowing that Dave is nervous and threw up last time, could make you feel sorry for him, and worried about his upcoming date.

Which tense do you use: This is another one that’s difficult, especially if you switch back and forth between writing screenplays and writing novels. With screenplays you write in the present tense. Always. So you would write something like this:
David walks up her driveway and approaches her door. He raises his knuckles to the door, about to knock, when he hears loud arguing coming from the other side.

Novels can be written in several tenses, but most of the time you’re telling the story of something that has happened, so you write in past tense.

David walked up her driveway and approached her door. He raised his knuckles...

Since I often go back and forth between novels and screenplays, I catch myself writing screenplays in past tense and novels in present tense. Then, I have to go back and rewrite.

POV (point of view): Here’s another tricky one. I think I’m a very visual writer. I like people to clearly imagine every piece of action that’s going on in the story. If there’s a fight, I tell you exactly how it went down. This can make staying in the correct point of view tough.

I like to write novels the same way I write screenplays. So, I might tell you about Jimmy’s fight in the bar, but I’d like to also tell you about the cops pulling into the parking lot outside. This becomes a problem with novel writing, as you’re supposed to only write what the main character can see. So if Jimmy’s in the middle of a fight, he won’t see the cops pulling up outside. So, technically, I’m not supposed to write that.

POV glitches were the main things I needed to fix during the editing of my book.

A good example of how POV is done perfectly is George R.R. Martin, one of my favorite authors. He wrote the Song of Ice and Fire books (Game of Thrones). In his books, he names each chapter after one of his characters, and in the chapter, you only see things through the eyes of that character. His way of doing it is just genius. I plan to borrow that style in one of my upcoming books.

The fruits of your labor: Perhaps one of the biggest differences, nowadays, between writing screenplays and writing novels, is the ability to actually do something with your work. It’s difficult to really break into Hollywood and land a big producer. So, unless you have a filmmaker buddy, or you’re a filmmaker yourself, and you’re able to create a low budget indy style film, you may never have the chance  to see your work on the screen.

However, through sites like Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, and many others, you can self publish your book. It’s free. If you want to put it out in paperback you can do that too, at Createspace. You’ll only pay for a copy of your book. That’s it. Marketing is a whole other story, but if you just want to see your book on your shelf at home, you can do it.

Plus, there are tons of small publishing houses willing to take on new writers. You might have to work harder than you would with some of the big power companies, and you might have to pay a little bit for proper editing and good cover art, but other than that, it’s cheap to publish your own book. Just don’t go with one of the vanity publishers that will charge you $2,000 to publish an ebook version of your novel. Why pay someone to do what you can do for free?

Whatever you do, whether you decide to write screenplays or novels, just make sure you write. Don’t let anything hold you back. Writers write.

Thanks so much for reading,

C. Michael Powers

Mirror Images is available now from Amazon