On Writing: For Novels and for Screen

Guest Post by Sandra Perez Gluschankoff: Is it a movie or a book?

screenwriting tipsBeginning, end, middle. Set up, confrontation, resolution. Act one, act two, act three. Any which way these three examples are presented they define the structure of a story.  But what kind of story do they tell? Take your pick. A juicy gossip shared by friends over some elaborated and overpriced coffee drinks. Michael Angelo’s frescoes on the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling. A movie. A novel.

I wouldn’t know what to do with a brush, so I will not get into the artistic painting process. I would never admit in public of enjoying every once in a while a good piece of gossip. But, I would definitely get into the two storytelling forms I’m very familiar with: Screenwriting and novel writing.

Even though both writing forms can tell the same story; they are both driven by fear of death or loss, and the main character’s journey to attain redemption or validation of his or her existence, they do it differently.

How many times have we gone to the movies to experience a book we loved on the big screen only to walk away unfulfilled? It has happened to me and the reasons are simple. Screenwriting is subjected to rules that limit the characters’ abilities to cocoon themselves into the many feelings and thoughts that cannot be spoken or showed. Audiences are not mind readers.  A movie plagued with voice over narration becomes tedious, and too many flashbacks intended to show a character’s backstory only succeeds in confusing the moviegoer.  A screenplay must have a beginning, middle and end, filled with subplots, and it must maintain a balance of show and tell, of dialog and narrative. Pages and pages of narrative are translated into minutes and minutes of silent action on the screen. Pages and pages of long uninterrupted speeches turn the characters into chatterboxes.

Another important aspect to take in consideration when writing a screenplay is page count. Every page makes up for a minute of movie time, 90 pages, 90 minutes and so on and so forth. Unlike a book, which we can put down at any moment, go about our days and then pick it up again whenever we have the time, that is not the case with movies. The moviegoer’s time is precious. Screenwriters should take into account the audience’s attention span. They should treat the theater as a classroom and deliver their masterpiece in no more than 120 minutes.  Yes, there are some movies that tie the audience three hours to their seat, but that is a risky gamble done usually with highly successful adaptations of sci-fi novels.

Many of the characteristics attributed to screenwriting apply to the writing of a novel. However, in this form the writer has a different kind of freedom. Novel writing amounts to the author’s use of words aimed to create a visual image in the reader’s head. Characters can be explored deeply; the author can write their inner thoughts, describe their inner turmoil. Unlike screenwriting, the writing of a novel is not a small percentage or blueprint of the storytelling process, it is its all. A novelist owns his or her product and all of its creation without being subjected to changes necessary to appeal this or that audience, attract this or that actor. After the edits are done, a novel is ready for publication. After the edits are done, a screenplay is ready to undergo as many rewrites as necessary to satisfy the many other departments that make up for the production of a movie and the millions invested to make it happen.

Whether it is gossip, stick figures on a cave’s wall, a blog, a novel or a screenplay, we all contribute in our way to the most ancient tradition known to humankind; storytelling.

Keep the ball rolling and write!

About the Author

I was born and raised in Argentina. My mother, born in a refugee camp in Italy, my grandparents Romanians Jews, and World War Two survivors. From my father’s side the flavor of the Middle East. A mixture of the legendary traditions and art of Safed, Israel and Lebanon.

Different languages, colors and food were my everyday. So, was silence and fear. My childhood happened during the years of the dirty war, the military regime. I was extremely fortunate to have the best teachers, who would risk their lives by closing the classrooms doors and hush to us the truth of what was happening out there.

While my academic background is in psychoanalysis (a Freudian girl, gotta love the divan!), anthropology, Judaic studies, and Hebrew teaching, my interest turned to writing. I have written six feature screenplays, one original T.V pilot, and a reality show concept. My thriller “Voices From The Tomato Fields,” placed as a semifinalist in the Write Movies International Screenplay Contest in 2004, and placed in the top one hundred in Project Greenlight the same year.

For three consecutive years, I served as a Judge for the Brass Brad Screenwriting Mentorship Award and in 2012 I was honored to be part of the judging panel for the U.C.S.B. Student Screenwriting Competition.

A couple of years before writing my first novel The Last Fernandez, I kept busy as a freelance writer and script consultant.

Follow me: Twitter | Website | Amazon

photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

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About Jen Barry

Author of Young Adult novels. Reside in Nashville with my husband, a gorgeous Irishman. Drink too much coffee. Online way too much.

2 thoughts on “On Writing: For Novels and for Screen

  1. Dave says:

    This is a great comparison of the two. I always know when a movie has a good screenwriter if the movie holds my interest as well as the novel.

  2. sandra says:

    That’s the trick with movies, Dave. It is a joint effort. What hoilds the audience’s interest goes beyond the words on the script. It is the ambiance created by the lighting department, sound, wardrobe, make up,the directorial directions, the angles the Director of photography chooces for every scene, the feeling the actors put into the scenes, the music added to it and great editing.

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