Writing A Book Vs. Writing A Screenplay; No Contest…I Love Them Both

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When it comes to writing, I love just about any kind of writing I can do. Poetry is probably the first I’ve tried and what I’ve done the most, but in more recent years, I’ve written books and screenplays. Between the latter two, I thought the other day about which one I “prefer” and the answer is simple. I love them BOTH.

It’s sort of like music with me. If I was forced to choose just ONE genre, it would probably be jazz, but on a typical day, it all depends on my mood. It’s hard to really say that one is “better” than another because it’s all about how I’m feeling at that time of the day.

These days, people feel like everything has to be a competition and a decision HAS to be made to choose one or the other of something. In some cases, that is the only option, but I’m intelligent enough to know that not everything has to be that way.

Right now, with what’s going on in Ferguson, MO, there are VERY FEW FACTS present, yet the majority of people speaking on it are just picking sides, like they’re afraid to say, “I’ll wait for ALL the facts to come out before making a decision.” It’s either that, or they can’t fathom that there could be fault on both sides. No way, right?

I’m going to pick up a 2014 Dodge Charger when I get back home from Afghanistan in about two months and it’s funny because I see so many people comparing it to the Ford Mustang and the Chevy Camaro, again, as though a decision HAS to be made on which one is “better.” Please. I think they all look pretty good, but my preference is the Charger. I don’t need to badmouth the other two to feel better about my decision.

Back to my writing…when it comes to writing books and writing screenplays, they are completely different. Maybe that’s what I love about them, but to put it in simple terms, what happens in a book is written at a slower pace than what happens in a screenplay. The action in a screenplay goes much faster.

Again, this is not to say that one is better than the other. I’ve written books first, so in that, I learned that I am the narrator, meaning I am to explain EVERYTHING. The actions, the thoughts of the characters, the scenery and so on. I had a LOT of fun doing that.

With a screenplay, I am only describing what people watching CAN see. For those who don’t know what a screenplay is, it’s basically just a movie script. A “play” done on the screen. Then you have the teleplay, which is of course, the television script (A “play” intended to be done on television). The most traditional is the stage play, which is self-explanatory.

What makes the pace of a screenplay much faster, along with what I said above, is that about 98% of it is dialogue. Just as it is when you sit down and watch a movie, you’re spending most of your time listening to people talk. That’s exactly what’s involved in the writing.

In a book, since the reader needs to know EVERYTHING that’s happening because all they have are words in front of them, then everything possible has to be captured. Practically anything that I can think of needs to be included in the book, because the reader has NOTHING to go on. Along with knowing that it’s sometimes difficult to keep the attention of some readers with just words, that makes it even more important to include as much as possible without overdoing it.

With writing a screenplay, since the viewer will SEE a lot of what’s happening, then I can get into the action right away without spending a lot of time on scenery. When it comes to what someone is thinking, either it comes out in the dialogue or it doesn’t come out at all. Remember, it’s about what people can SEE and they can’t SEE someone’s thoughts (unless it’s one of those flashback scenes, but even then, it’s still written out in dialogue rather than described as it would be in a book.)

While I can’t fully express how much I love doing both, it is NOT easy to go back and forth. The pace is mostly what causes this difficulty. Think of it this way; I’m asking you to go outside and sprint down the street as fast as you can. Then there is a point where I tell you to stop, drop to your knees and then crawl. Now sprint. Now crawl. Now sprint…and so on. A little more extreme of an example, but this is similar to what my mind goes through when I attempt to write one right after (or at the same time as) the other. For those of you who are runners or have runners as friends, I know a lot of people who are GREAT at cross-country running, but lousy sprinters, while some can sprint better than most and can’t long-distance run to save their lives. That’s another way to look at it.

I am working very diligently on re-writing a screenplay right now and I am just dying to write it into a book once I’m done. I’ve actually tried to do it and I realized just how difficult it is to get my mind to slow down enough to know to include EVERYTHING. I’m still going to do it and it may take longer, simply because I’ve trained my mind to write mostly dialogue and EXTREMELY limit my descriptions of the scenery or a character’s thoughts. Once I finish the book and go back to screenplays, it will be the same thing. I’ll have to speed up my thinking and remember that everything is mostly revealed through dialogue, of course, without dragging things out too much.

If you’re a person who has seen a lot of movie adaptations from books and one is WAY more disappointing than the other, this may have a lot to do with it. Sometimes, it’s pulled off VERY well, but often, I hear from others that it is not. My belief is that the difficulty of the change of pace along with the fact that going from book to movie, the book is often written by just ONE person, but now there are MANY more people involved (actors, producers, directors, etc.), which means things will be tweaked or flat-out changed and the next thing you know, the movie is NOTHING like the book. I haven’t heard many examples of a story starting off as a movie first before becoming a book, but I’m pretty sure that’s happened.

Even the writing on the pages themselves add to the difficulty. I use Microsoft Word when writing my books, and with that, of course you fill up entire pages. With screenplays, I use a program call Celtx. Now, the format is totally different, so pages will be filled in MUCH faster. Since I said above that most of a screenplay is dialogue, that’s mostly what is done; however, the dialogue doesn’t start on the far left of the page. It is centered, kinda sorta. I say “kinda sorta” because it’s not “centered” in the same was as Microsoft Word where it would start in the middle and just work its way out the more you type. Basically, the dialogue area is restricted to the middle of the page. You’ll only be able to get about four or five words per line and then it goes on to the next line. When writing the VERY brief scenery or character descriptions, that starts on the far left and goes to the right, but the rule of thumb is that we shouldn’t do more than five lines of that. With the dialogue, a line is skipped every time a new character speaks, so believe it or not, that will fill pages up VERY quickly.

Each page of a screenplay is estimated to be one minute of screen time. This is when I realized just how fast the pace has to go, especially when I realized how little dialogue can happen in just one page. When serious dialogue is going on, it is nothing to fill up five pages. Then I realized that not often in a movie are people sitting in one scene and talking for five minutes. Again…this showed me just how difficult it is to limit the dialogue to a reasonable amount of time for one scene while also capturing everything I need.

Now that I’ve put you all to sleep with explaining all that, I suppose it’s time to wrap this up and get back to work. In case any of you are curious or have any other questions, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll answer as best as I can. I don’t know too many people who have done both like I have, but if any of you are out there, your insight will be very welcomed. Thanks for reading.

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