Why you should approach your novel like a screenplay.
Okay, okay. Chris Colfer isn’t really starring in Blades of Grass because, well, as of time of writing I haven’t even finished the book. So it getting optioned for a film adaptation? I think not. But that tantalizing headline is the onramp to my thoughts on writing novels so that your story plays out like a movie…at least in a sense.
The two mediums aren’t terribly different, really. Riveting plot, well-developed characters who start at Point A and fumble their way toward Point B, changing in some fundamental and relatable way by the time you reach the last page (or the screen fades to black).
In his memoir/how-to-guide On Writing, Stephen King says that the rough cut of a movie should exist within the pages of your book. And, perhaps without even realizing it, that’s exactly how I’ve always approached my novels.
In her post How to Make Your Book Play Out Like a Movie, author Jody Hedlund lists some strategies for approaching a novel like a screenplay, and her first reason is really the strongest, or at least the most adaptable to my own style.
She says to choose scenes strategically, noting the importance of understanding genre expectations and sticking to fast-paced, tension-filled scenes. Think about it: a movie has two hours to tell a complete story that might be playing out over days, months or years for the characters.
After Dorothy pulled the Scarecrow off the pole in The Wizard of Oz, they danced off down the Yellow Brick Road, singing their little hearts out (right into a painted backdrop? Ehh…). We don’t pick up on the action again until they come upon a group of crabby tree bullies in the dark, depressing forest. Why? Because nothing happened between the cornfield and the forest that we needed to know about. The Scarecrow probably fell down a few times. Maybe Dorothy had to stop for a pee break. Whatever happened, we didn’t need to know about it.
Novel writing requires the same approach. Sure, you have more space to flesh out characters and scenes without the confines of a time limit and a camera lens. But why fill up page after page with mundane details that aren’t driving the story forward to its next plot point? This ties in with Jody’s second suggestion: eliminate unnecessary transitions. She lists a couple other suggestions, but these two really drive the point home.
Perhaps its because I dabbled in screenwriting during college and took some production courses. You learn how to visually tell a story when writing for the screen. Anything that appears on the page of a screenplay should have a visual element. If you can’t see it happening on the screen, don’t put it on the page. And while that particular rule doesn’t apply to novels, because we need to be inside our characters’ heads more intimately in a book, it’s possible to use this approach to ensure you are pinpointing the most important scenes so your result is a tight, well-paced novel when you type THE END.
[Oh, and Chris Colfer, if you happen upon this blog while Googling yourself, gimme a ringy-dingy. You’d make a decent Taylor!]