Award-winning romance author Suzanne Brockmann examines the difference between writing novels and screenplays.
When I write a book like Do or Die, I’m really writing the novelization of the action-packed movie that plays in my head.
I started my career as a screenwriter, and even when I changed my focus to novels, I incorporated the same cut-to the-chase techniques I’d used when writing screenplays.
But there are two big differences between writing movies and writing books.
In a movie, the story is told visually, using action and reaction. The only insight viewers have into what the characters are thinking is through dialog or the rare voice over.
When I write a book, however, I use introspection to let readers see what’s going on inside my characters’ heads. I use “deep point of view” to share thoughts, opinions, and perceptions -- and to bring a deeper and more direct sense of intimacy to the characters and their stories. In my novels, I’m not just letting my readers watch my characters, but rather see the world through their eyes.
The other difference lies in the production of books versus movies. With a novel, I do revisions, I respond to copy edits, I proofread, I approve the cover art and blurb, and then I wait for the book’s release. I do all or most of those things while wearing pajamas, alone in my office! When the release date finally arrives, I have a finished, published book, ready for readers to buy or borrow, to read and enjoy.
It’s quite a different process when I write a movie.
A while ago, I co-wrote a screenplay called The Perfect Wedding with my husband, Ed Gaffney, and our son, Jason. We made dozens of revisions, we polished, we perfected, and when we were “finished,” we loved our little script so much that we decided to produce it ourselves, as a low-budget indie feature.
But we discovered that even though we’d typed “The End” on the last page, our screenplay wasn’t anywhere close to done. At least not in the same way that a novel is.
We found that nearly everyone who signed on to make The Perfect Wedding had suggestions about how to change our “finished” script to best tell our story. But see, it wasn’t just our story anymore. It became all of ours. A movie can’t get made without a director who brings his own vision to the project. And actors enhance the script with their interpretations of the characters. Our cast included the amazing Kristine Sutherland (Buffy’s mom on Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and James Rebhorn (Independence Day, and Carrie’s dad on Homeland), and they and the other actors helped bring our story to life in ways we-the-writers could only imagine.
Our forty-plus member crew, including our director of photography, art director, and set designer all suggested changes or added their unique skills and talents in ways that improved the words we’d written.
And in post-production, our movie was even more drastically revised and shaped by our film editor and polished by the musician who composed the soundtrack. Only then, after months of creating, did we -- all of us, together -- have a finished product.
Unlike a novel, “finishing” writing a screenplay is only the first step in very different storytelling journey. Screenwriters do not, by any means, get their stories told in movie form without a very literal busload of creative help. We can’t do it alone in our office, in our PJs. But, for me, putting on pants and collaborating with a team of creative people is part of the fun.
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