Friday, December 17, 2010

A comparison of novel and screenplay

Guess what I got from the library yesterday!!!

The Art and Craft of Writing Christian Fiction, by Jeff Gerke.


I just glossed over the table of contents last night, and saw a chapter that intrigued me. 'Twas entitled, "Change the Metaphor You Use for Yourself as a Novelist."

Interesting, I thought.

And what I read caused me to write a post about it.

I paraphrase what the chapter said: Don't have your metaphor be to a storyteller around a campfire. A campfire storyteller tells. Instead, Jeff Gerke says, change your metaphor to a filmmaker. A filmmaker has to show to audience every detail. Nothing can be told, or generalized, (as far as the visual stuff goes). And the last lines went like this:
"So toss aside your s'mores and put on you director's chapeau. It's time to stop telling stories and start making movies-- on paper."

Interesting, I thought again.

But after reading, It's time to stop telling stories and start making movies-- on paper., my thoughts abruptly turned to screenwriting. Which is, of course, putting a movie on paper.

However, I'm sure that's not what Mr. Gerke was talking about. Screenwriting is a whole 'nother beast.

Being a screenwriter, director, and novelist, I believe my writing journey will differ than most of my bloggy, Christian fiction writing peers. Just a little.

Because screenwriting changes the way I wrote novels. I showed so much in screenwriting, that it's a relief sometimes to just tell. However, those experienced in showing in their novels would love screenwriting, I'm sure. But screenwriting is different.

In screenwriting, you must write in present tense.

In screenwriting, there are more rules for formatting than a novel.

In screenwriting, you shouldn't be detailed in your descriptions.

In screenwriting, you have to be specific.

(Now, those last two things look contradictory, I know. But this:

LAURIE BALL, a tall but stocky librarian in her mid-20's, with a twinkle in her glasses framed, dark brown eyes and her short-cropped black hair held up by a large clip, walks purposefully down a aisle lined with dusty books. She holds a medium-sized book in her right hand, and a set of purple and blue assorted pens in the other, her shiny red heeled shoes making a dull THUD in the thick carpet as she strides.

Is toooo long.

This should be cut down to two brief, general sentences. Possibly like this:

LAURIE BALL, a librarian in her mid-20's, strides briskly down between the tall shelves of books, carrying a book and some pens in her hand. She adjusts her glasses briefly, her red, shiny shoes making temporary dents in the plush carpet.


The dragon spewed fire.

Is too general. How much of the dragon are we seeing in this shot? If, perchance, you wanted a close-up of the dragon's mouth, change it to:

We see the CU razor-sharp teeth of the dragon in the brief moment before fire streams out of the beast's open maw.

Make sense??)

In screenwriting, you have to trust that some things that look odd on paper will be stunning on film.

In screenwriting, you write shot-by-shot. You think very, very visually. You have to see every shot in your head, our else you have nothing to write. You are forced to see everything.

I thought it would be interesting to show you the difference between a section of a novel, and what it may look like as a screenplay.

Look at this passage of my novel. In novel form:


   He was not in the least surprised when suddenly there was a little bird in a nearby tree singing with him. Chance saluted jauntily to it, “Good morning to you, fine bird. I suppose I'm the first person you've seen today. This is quite a lonely road here, eh?" The bird twittered back, and Chance continued a conversation with it until his feet carried him out of sight of the tree. Then, about an hour before noon, he came upon a sign: terfey, 15 miles. Well! Chance looked at it with a sigh of relief; only fifteen miles more. 
   From there on, he began to see signs of people: off the road and down a hill there was a little village, reminding Chance of Betony. He glanced at it wistfully, then set stoically set his face ahead. He passed a man who was leading a donkey hitched to a cart; they shared a brief greeting in the passing. 
   Then a short time later, from behind him Chance heard footsteps. He glanced back and saw a young man strolling down the road, hands swinging freely, head high. Chance slowed his pace slightly so the other traveler could catch up to him. He was gratified when shortly after, he felt the presence of the other man very close behind him. Chance met his eye. “Hello there!" The other man's eyes twinkled with a curious glow, and he returned the greeting readily. “Hello, young sir! It's a fine day for a long walk, indeed." The other man was perhaps twenty, but he looked not much older to Chance's eye. 
   “A long walk? Then where are you heading to?" Chance inquired, shifting the pack's weight against his back.
   “Where I'm going doesn't matter now. What matters is where you’re going, and that I know."
   Chance was confused by this response. He said slowly, “So where am I going, then?"
   The other man's eyes laughed. “If you don't even know, then how would I?"
   “But you said--"
   “What I said and what you think I said are two different things, Chance." Chance's eyes widened in astonishment and suspicion. “Yes, I know you, Chance, son of William."
   Chance felt a funny feeling in his stomach. “Who are you?" He looked deep into the man's eyes, and they appeared fathomless and infinite. 
   The man replied with a question, “Who are you, Chance?"
   The words struck deeper than Chance thought they would. He looked away. “Lord, what am I doing?"
   The man smiled, and Chance's heart felt whole in that moment. “Go to Terfey, Chance. Then go on to Treygaron. Know this, son: you are meant for more than you think."
   Chance felt his heart weeping for longing, but he could not understand it. He turned questioning eyes to the other man's mysterious ones. “Lord?"
   “Why do you call me Lord?"
   Lost for an answer, Chance glanced at his boots for a second. “Would you rather I call you sir, or..." he turned to his companion, and his voice trailed away.
   For his companion was no longer there.


Okay, that sequence with the mysterious guy isn't perfect, being unedited and all, but that's not the point here. 

Look at how that section, plenty of telling in it, translates not onto screen, but a screenplay.

First of all... you may need to refer to this in a second.

OS: off-screen. referring to sound.
CONT'D: continued, abbrev.
EXT: Exterior
POV: Point of View. Referring to the camera angle.
MCU: Medium Close-up
ML: Medium long (shot)


(PS, I couldn't get the format right... this is what it should look like:

Unfortunately, everything below this is left justified. Sorry!)


Chance is walking down the dirt road, whistling as jauntily as he can manage.


From within the branches of a nearby tree, there comes the warbling of a little brown BIRD.

Chance salutes playfully at the bird.

Chance: Good morning to you too, fine bird! I suppose I'm the first person you've seen today. It's such a lonely road, wouldn't you agree?

The bird TWITTERS at him, and with a smile Chance turns back to the road before him. After a moment, he peers forward.


A SIGN on the side of the road comes into focus. It reads, TERFEY, 15 miles.

Chance sighs in relief.


A CART rumbles down the road, accompanied by the clopping of a donkey's hooves and the impatient barking of the driver. There are many people walking both directions on the road.

Chance is in the river of people, walking beside a MAN with a pair of goats. They are talking casually.

CHANCE: Do you live near here, Master?

The man's face crinkles in a friendly smile, and he gestures ahead.

MAN WITH GOATS: Aye. That village yonder.

Chance follows his gaze.


Ahead lays a quaint, small village that looks very similar to Betony.


Chance's expression changes to a look of pained sadness, and he bites his lower lip.


Chance shakes himself out of his thoughts, and glances briefly at the man, then looks to the ground.

CHANCE: I'm alright, sorry.

Ahead, there is a fork in the road. The road that veers away from the village is quiet and empty, and Chance turns onto that road. He turns around and waves to the man with the goats.

MAN WITH GOATS: Safe travel, lad.

CHANCE: And you, Master Goatherd!

With a twinge of uncertainty in his face, Chance sets his face to the empty road ahead.

Dissolve to:


Chance walks down the empty, silent road, staring thoughtfully at the ground beneath his moving feet. OS there are footsteps THUDDING into the dirt. Wear but curious, Chance glances behind him.

Chance POV:

A MAN in his 20's strolls down the road, apparently carefree. His head his high and he is whistling a merry tune.

Chance slows to a stop, and waits for the other man to reach him.

The other traveler is tall and dark-haired, with a pleasant face and a curious glow in his eye. He smiles as he falls in step beside Chance.

CHANCE: Hello, there.


The man turns to Chance, his eyes oddly deep for a young man.

MYSTERIOUS TRAVELER: Hello, young sir. Fine day for a long walk, indeed.

Chance adjusts his pack and looks curiously at his companion.

CHANCE: A long walk? Where are you headed for?

MYSTERIOUS TRAVELER: Where I'm going doesn't matter now. What matters is where you're going, and that I know.

Chance's eyebrows raise.

CHANCE (warily): So where am I going, then?

MYSTERIOUS TRAVELER: If you don't even know, then how would I?

CHANCE: But you just said--

MYSTERIOUS TRAVELER: What I said and what you think I said are two different things, Chance.

Chance's eyes widen.

CHANCE: You know my name.

MYSTERIOUS TRAVELER: Yes; I know you, Chance, son of William.

CHANCE: Who are you?

MYSTERIOUS TRAVELER: Who are you, Chance?

Chance blanches and looks away abruptly.

CHANCE: Lord, what am I doing?

The mysterious man smiles in a fatherly way.

MYSTERIOUS TRAVELER: Go to Terfey, Chance. Then go on to Treygaron.

Chance's gaze is locked on his companion's eyes.



The man's dark eyes appear fathomless.

MYSTERIOUS TRAVELER (CONT'D): You are meant for more than you think.

Chance looks down at the ground, and takes a deep breath.


MYSTERIOUS TRAVELER (OS): Why do you call me Lord?

Chance's eyebrows lift, and he turns back to his companion, and stops walking.


Chance is standing alone on the road, looking with shock at the empty space beside him.

CHANCE: What...?

The lad glances around frantically.

CHANCE (CONT'D): Where did you go? Wha...

Brow furrowed in confusion, he stands there for several moments.

Now, what emotions seemed lacking or shallow would be taken care of in the cinematography, acting, lighting, and music. Don't worry about that.

And I realize that Chance is talking to a goatherd and not a guy with a donkey. That happens in screenwriting, too. No biggie.

But screenwriting can take a few lines of telling from a novel and turn it into a whole set of scenes. Cool, huh?

On second thought, then, maybe Mr. Gerke was likening novel writing to screenwriting. After all, there is absolutely no telling possible in screenwriting. I wonder if all novelists should write a screenplay or two to help them show instead of tell?

As I'm planning on talking more about screenwriting and moviemaking here on the blog, I thought this would be a nice introduction to screenwriting. In case that passage of screenplay above left you scratching your head, don't worry! I'll be back soon with a post about the basics of screenwriting.

Ciao, folks.


~Miss Raquel said...

I am borrowing this book from a friend and...
L.O.V.E. it!!!!!!! It's JUST what I needed to help me with my novel!!! :)

Glad you seem to be enjoying it too ;) Let me know what you think of each chapter and stuff!

*hugs* to ya, girlfriend!

Amaranthine said...

Wow. I can't wait for that post, Abby. I know nothing about screenwriting. Where did you learn?

The Director said...

@Miss Raquel
I'll email you :)

Books. And watching ALOT of bonus features. And reading more books on screenwriting. And then writing some :)
The post is coming, I promise!!!