Do you ever feel like you’ve forgotten how to write? Like, it’s been so long away from the keyboard (or pen and paper for the old school) that you think everything you write is simply straight-up crap? Well, maybe not straight-up crap, that’s a bit harsher than reality; It’s something greater than writer’s rust, but less than dog poop, you know?
That’s how I feel. I feel that my writing skills have long been neglected and now are less than what they were a decade ago. I think I’ve known this for a while, even when I transitioned into writing screenplays rather than novels. Writing a novel is a challenge, a greater challenge for me than a screenplay.
The endurance required to complete a novel is phenomenal, so my hat is off to those who have completed one…even a finished draft of one.
A good novel has to be descriptive, painting a picture with words, but without going on and on about something the reader doesn’t give two shits about. Pardon the language. When I write I think in scenes. For example, I see people in a military airport hangar waiting for their loved ones to arrive from the approaching C-5 galaxy taxiing down the runway.
Now, a novelist sees the patriotic bunting decorating the interior of the hangar, the music from the band and the sounds of the army choir singing. The people in the hangar are primarily women and children waiting anxiously for the husbands and fathers to step off the plane so they can run into their arms.
A novelist must ensure that the story has the proper rhythm, and even a flow to the writing itself. They can’t simply write “The army band is playing in the hangar and choir is singing.”
However, the screenwriter can write it that simply.
So, it’s so much easier to write a screenplay then, right? Well, hold your horses for a minute there. If you’re a novel writer imagine trying to convey everything you see in a 2-hour movie in just 120 pages. You think cutting and editing a novel is difficult, try taking your novel (or any novel) and knocking it down to 120 pages and still tell the story.
Screenplays lack descriptors in detail, and the dialogue requirements go way beyond what is required in a novel. In a novel the author is allowed to tell the reader about a character. “John, who sat in the back of the class in his leather jacket, was a bully since he was 8 years old and in the third grade.”
In a screenplay you don’t get to write that. You get to write “JOHN sits in the back of the classroom wearing a black leather jacket.”
Since it is important that John was a bully since he was 8 that information must be conveyed in dialogue. In this example, the information can be easily conveyed by having another boy help John’s next victim up after a fight and saying “Don’t be embarrassed. He’s been beating people up since the third grade. I know, because I was his first victim.”
Another tricky problem with writing a screenplay is character development. In the above example, John is wearing a black leather jacket because it is important to establish the visual effect while introducing the character. (You can tell the character is introduced for the first time because his name is in all caps). After establishing the character you no longer describe his clothing unless it is absolutely necessary to furthering the story. If John is suddenly wearing a pink polo shirt and slacks because he’s dating Muffy, that would be important. However, if he’s just walking around campus, let the costume dept. and director dictate what he wears.
So, what’s the point of this article (or whatever we want to call this piece of prose) I’m not sure. Perhaps in a convoluted way it’s to say that I have experience writing both and can appreciate the challenges of each. I’m also considering a foray back into the novel writing arena and feel my skills are substandard, worse than they were before. So, if you start to read the tidbits that I post, whether they be short stories, chapters or something in between bear in mind that I’m still learning and re-learning. I’m still sharpening my sword and putting myself out there. Every story I write is a piece of me. The villain, the hero, the victim are all pieces of me….exaggerated. Certainly, I identify more with one person over the other, but they are still all me.
I hope you enjoy my stories and I wish all of you every success with yours. If you’d like to know more about screenplays just give me a shout.
Peace be the journey.
I’m at this place of “writer’s rust” myself. It was odd reading about someone going through the same thing because, so often, we feel alone with our suffering!