Month: July 2018
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Lots of authors are interested in adapting their novels into screenplays. These authors usually fall into one of two categories:
- they have no idea how to do this
- they think they can just translate their prose into script format.
For writers who’ve never had no experience in writing screenplays, it’s better to be clueless than confident.
Books and films are completely different forms. Books often operate as cerebral entities – being inside a character’s head; being privy to their thoughts; witnessing their emotional responses, decision-making, and how events affect them. Film and television are visual mediums. Short of using a narrative/voiceover (not highly regarded in screenwriting unless it’s done exceptionally), none of these book drivers work in screenplays. Information has to be communicated visually. Some of that is left up to the actor, and their ability to express and relate what they’re feeling. But a bigger portion is left to the screenwriter, and how they set up their scenes so this is communicated.
Here’s a scenario: a protagonist comes home to find their partner, and all their belongings, are gone.
In prose, how is this handled? The protagonist comes home to an empty house. They might initially believe that their partner is out, so they call to them but there’s no answer. The protagonist checks the bedroom, and finds their partner’s clothes and things are gone. Maybe a note of condemnation has been left on the protagonist’s pillow. The protagonist realises that their partner has left them. There might be some context now, relating as to why this has happened – all the possible reasons that frame the situation for the reader’s interpretation. The protagonist is saddened, then angry, and tries to call their partner. Nothing. They question themselves. As they take responsibility and ownership of the situation, they break down.
Now, how about in screenwriting? All the physical actions can be represented – calling to the partner, the note, the empty closets and drawers, and that sort of thing. But how is the internalisation handled? How does the screenplay get inside the protagonist’s head to explore why this might’ve happened? The protagonist can’t just think about how they’ve been inattentive, or a workaholic who’s sacrificed their relationship for their career, or whatever the context might be. So how is that gotten across? How is the sadness and anger portrayed? In prose, it can as simple as a sentence saying just that. In film, it has to be expressed visually, e.g. the protagonist begins to sob, then grows enraged and slams the door.
Another distinction is that books are, usually, the sole vision of the author. They see the story from inception to completion. Even an editor exists to try help the author get to their destination.
Screenplays are a collaborative process. At some point, other people will get on board – a director, producers, etc. They’ll have their own interpretation of what a screenplay needs. It’s actually not unusual for the screenwriter to be phased out of the process, and another screenwriter (or screenwriters) are brought in to carry the project forward. Some of these screenwriters might be specialists, e.g. a screenwriter who specialises in structure, or who specialises in dialogue, or a ‘script doctor’ who’s brought in to help with a troublesome script. Directors will also rewrite the script. A big-name actor might demand changes, or refer the screenplay onto their preferred screenwriter. Or a screenplay might be changed to suit a particular actor, e.g. Beverly Hills Cop was intended for Sylvester Stallone, but was made more jokey when Eddie Murphy was hired; Salt was intended for a male lead, but then rewritten for Angelina Jolie. Most Hollywood screenplays would’ve gone through numerous screenwriters (although regulations stipulate that only a certain amount of screenwriters can be credited).
Because of this, it’s best if details in a screenplays are sparse. A book might elaborately describe a character. A screenplay might just say they’re ‘thirty-something’. The reason for this is because each reader of a screenplay – and particularly a director – will envision the story in their own way. They don’t want to be told specifically how everything should look. In fact, these kind of details can disconnect them from the material, and decrease their chances of taking it on. When they do, they use the screenplay as a basis for their vision, or for the studio’s vision.
Ultimately, both forms of writing have to be handled differently – they require a fundamental shift in the way writers think they need to express their stories. A novel will, on average, be about 80,000 words (and sometimes bigger). A screenplay is about 25,000 words. In screenwriting, a page equals about a minute – it’ll vary from page to page (depending on if a page is heavy with dialogue, or with action) but, over the course, will even itself out. While writers still need to observe structure, screenwriting substantially gives them less space with which to play.
These are just a handful of the differences, but should offer enough of an insight to see how each form varies.
July 11, 2018
I was quite chuffed when Blaise asked me to write this week’s blog. I’m three months into my six month internship here at Busybird Publishing. I find myself looking forward to Wednesdays, not only so I get to spend some time with Oscar, the dog, but because it’s a place where I am given freedom to learn and create under the guidance of the experienced and talented Busybird team.
So how did I get here? Well, a few years ago I turned forty – I know, right! I realised I’d reached the age that in my younger years, I had proclaimed with great conviction that I would retire. Ambitious or naïve, either way I was determined, so I worked hard and did my best but, spoiler alert – I’m not retired. Despite that, I believe the journey I am on now, is the next best thing. Whilst I enjoy discovering new technology and educating people in the IT corporate world where I have been for the past twenty years, and I have daily opportunities for business writing, I realised it was time to start a new adventure in the literary world.
My writing life started when I was young, but it was on that milestone birthday, I made a decision to seek it out and follow it. So, I started with a short course, blurted out a first draft (which I continue to write and rewrite), joined writing organisations and writers groups and through those connections started this internship. Three and a half years down the track, I feel I am still at the beginning, but I am happy to be walking this writing-life pathway experiencing new and exciting prospects – and I’m so glad I started.
I won’t lie, it’s not been easy and at times it can be hard to keep the motivation going. I continue to work four days a week and have a family to look after, whilst perusing this path. But, I truly believe we all carve out the time to do the things we love. Whether it be exercising, reading, cooking or walking the dog. I also know this busyness of working two jobs will not go on forever and one will begin to wind down whilst the other ramps up. When I struggle with motivation, I reach out to my writing community.
Recently, I volunteered to be part of the event team at the Emerging Writers Festival (EWF), a not-for-profit organisation whose focus is on writers, particularly new writers. Their artistic vision is: “We develop, nurture and promote Australia’s new writing talent, creating platforms for connecting writing communities and their audiences.” Under this umbrella they run two artistic programming streams: “to provide opportunities for emerging writers to develop professionally; and to support emerging writers to engage new and larger audiences.”
This year the EWF is in its 15th year. It was held in Melbourne and from 19-29 June 2018 it had over 70 events on offer, held from early morning to late in the evening at several locations including the State Library, The Wheeler Centre, Deakin Edge, a number of different bars and other great locations.
The EWF Program is vast, as are the speakers and topics covered. With Lunchtime Lit sessions, the Speakeasy, performances, one off-events and the National Writers Conference that runs over two days at the State Library there is something for everyone. Many festival events are free and some are provided at a cost, such as Master Classes and Writers Night School. I highly recommend taking the time to research the speakers and topics and ensure they are the right match for you to ensure you have the best experience.
As a volunteer, I was required to attend a mandatory information session at The Wheeler Centre that covers all the information needed to volunteer, what to do and how to do it. From there it’s all about enjoying the experience. So, I picked up my lanyard and EWF Team t-shirt and was allocated three shifts over the ten day festival. The EWF staff encourages volunteers to enjoy as many events as possible, and when rostered on, if an EWF staff member says it’s okay, volunteers are free to watch.
I was lucky enough to be rostered onto the Writers Night School: Romance Writing with Alli Sinclair, and have a EWF staff member give me the okay to watch. Although I write crime fiction, I was able to take away with some great writing tips and meet and share experiences with a highly motivated, energetic and successful author. Alli was able to provide great advice and reconfirm my belief in the importance of being part of a writing community and building relationships.
Volunteering is a great way to build experience and build relationships. I find if I’m not happy to volunteer, then I’m not on the right path and I definitely won’t be able to go the distance. This writing path is different to most other paths I’d travelled that often had signage and a path (or at least someone) to follow. Here, it’s totally up to me which path I take – I can even create my own.
So as I walk, I discover writing can sometimes be a solitary path, often on rough, unexplored terrain. But it can also be one filled with people and support – who knows where I will end up? But, isn’t that half the fun? It’ll be just like creating a character, I think I know what they’re going to do and where they’ll end up – but they always seem to surprise me, and show me a better and far more interesting journey.