The Journey of Writing a Screenplay

My novel, PROVECTUS, Survival of the Fittest, was “born” on October 4, 2016.

As someone who has always loved movies and TV, it was only natural that the next step in my author’s journey would be writing a screenplay. Those who have read my novel tell me, “This would make a great movie!” And you know what? I agree! It’s certainly a movie that I myself would like to see, if that’s any indication.

So as fitting with my personality, I immediately bought a bunch of books on writing screenplays (including How NOT to Write a Screenplay, by Denny Martin Flinn and The Screenwriter’s Bible, by David Trotter). I spent weeks re-watching my favorite movies, this time with a copy of the screenplay on my lap. What a blast!

Then I set about transcribing my novel to screenplay format. Whew! What a chore. It took me longer than I thought it would. Longer than it probably should have. And now I have to edit it with ruthless abandon. Still, I consider it a good sign that I enjoyed reading it once again (I can’t even guess how many times I’ve had to read my manuscript over the years).

When you write a novel, you include all kinds of stuff that you don’t generally want in a screenplay.

For example, internal thoughts (unless you’re doing a narrated type of thing). You also don’t want a lot of description of the scenery, or what people are wearing, or what they’re doing when they’re talking (much of that is left to the director and/or the actors) unless it’s relevant to the story.

So keeping that in mind, I’ll tell you that my novel is approximately 80,000 words. The paperback version of the book is 372 pages.

My screenplay (admittedly just a draft) is 240 pages. Screenplays should be 100-120 pages long. Especially debuts. If you’re Aaron Sorkin, you can write a 300 page screenplay and the director will work with you on cutting it down (“The American President” screenplay’s extras turned into West Wing material). Needless to say, I am not Aaron Sorkin.

So the questions I’m asking myself are:

  • How do I convey so many important internal thoughts without the stereotypical info dump dialogue (e.g., “Well Joe, as you know, Mary can’t have children since that horrible accident at the clown rodeo last summer.”) or having a guy talk to his cat all the time?
  • Which scenes can I cut? Are there scenes which may have filled out a novel nicely, but are not really necessary to convey the story in movie format?
  • Is there any content that can’t be SEEN by a camera that should be re-written or removed? (E.g., “Joe was an avid reader.” How do we know this? Is he surrounded by dogeared books and sits reading one as we watch? Are there days’ worth of fast food containers strewn about the room?)

I loved writing my novel, but I really think I’ve found my passion in screenwriting. I’m not a verbose person. I’m not one of those writers that spew out 300,000 words and have to “kill my darlings.” No. For me, it was an effort to come up with a full-length novel (I don’t know what he’s wearing! Who cares what he’s doing while he’s talking? Do we really need to know what the restaurant they’re eating in looks like?)

It is down-right liberating to write a screenplay and let the director and actors worry about things that were a struggle for me to describe. With screenplays I get to focus on the MEAT of the story.

Yes, I have to give context, but with a screenplay it’s what happened, when, and to whom.

BAM. Done.

Love it.

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