Top 5 Differences Between Screenwriting and Novel Writing with Irena Brignull, Plus Giveaway!
Five Top Differences between Screenwriting and Novel Writing
When I was a kid, I wanted to be a writer. I had two loves – movies and novels. I hardly dared hope I’d get to write either, let alone both. It took me a quite a few years to become a screenwriter and many more to become a novelist. In that time, I read and studied a ton of books. I worked as an assistant to a producer, then as a script executive in a film company where I watched countless movies and read what seemed like endless screenplays, before finally plucking up the courage to write my own work. So I now have experience writing in both mediums and I’ve found there is one major similarity – storytelling. In both screenplays and novels, I’m simply trying to tell the story in the most engaging, most moving, most thought-provoking way I can. Easier said than done, I know.
Now for the differences, of which there are several, but I’m going to suggest the five that immediately come to mind.
If you had a screenplay in one hand and novel in the other, this might be the most obvious difference. Yes, you’d see some dialogue in the novel, but the screenplay would almost entirely be made up of a column of dialogue running down the middle of the page. Movies were once known as ‘the talkies’ and, as a screenwriter, I have to use dialogue to serve many purposes - to reveal character, plot and theme. I have to think about what characters don’t say as well as say, what they wish they’d said, what they regret saying, what they’re trying to say but can’t articulate.
There’s very little description in screenplays. All that dialogue is interspersed with the odd lines of what are essentially stage directions, some more brief than others. I avoid describing what a character is thinking or feeling. If I’m doing my job right, the action and the dialogue should reveal this without the added description. Plus, I figure an actor doesn’t necessarily want to be told what look should be crossing their face at any given moment. When I write my novels, I really relish writing description, particularly when setting a scene. I try and think of myself as the cinematographer/actor/director/ the whole cast and crew, using words to paint the pictures of my story.
Novels can be very introspective. They can get in characters’ heads and lay out their psychology. In a novel, we can listen in on a character’s private thoughts. If written in first person, then the character openly tells you what they’re thinking and feeling. In screenplays, the equivalent of this is voice over which is rarely used and can get tiresome if it is relied upon too heavily. To be honest, even when writing a novel, I am wary of dwelling too long in a character’s internal dialogue, where motivations can be over-explained or spelled out too exactly. After years of writing screenplays, I often like to use what characters do and say (or don’t do or don’t say) to reveal their inner thoughts. Was it Plato who wrote ‘Know Thyself’? I’m not sure people actually do, and too much navel gazing can be tiresome. Done well, however, it can draw you in, adding another dimension, and creating a strong connection between reader and character.
A novel can be as long or short as the novelist desires. It can cover whole lifetimes, sometimes multiple generations, multiple eras in great detail. Think of Middlesex, The Son, Roots, One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Thornbirds. Epic sagas like these have been adapted for the big screen but not without sacrifices to plot and characters. Even with a regular-sized novel, adaptations are usually about cutting – editing a novel down to fit a two hour film whilst striving to retain the heart and spirit of the story. The last two movies I worked on were The Little Prince and The Boxtrolls, the first a slim novella, the second a more sprawling adventure of over 500 pages. Both had to become 100 or so pages of a screenplay. The first drafts took two to three months to write. The first drafts of my novels took three times that.
This is incredibly important in a screenplay. It’s the area I work hardest at – putting the moments in the most effective order, knowing when to cut from one to the next. A good story isn’t enough in a screenplay – it really does have to be carefully structured. Hence the many lectures and very specific guides on how to structure screenplays. In a novel, the structure can be far more fluid. If the novelist chooses, it can meander more from time and place and character, and still build to a satisfying and moving conclusion.
Meet Irena Brignull!
Irena Brignull is a successful screenwriter. Since working on the screenplay of The Boxtrolls, Irena has been writing an adaptation of The Little Prince directed by Mark Osborne and starring Jeff Bridges, Rachel McAdams and Marion Cotillard. Previously, Irena was a Script Executive at the BBC and then Head of Development at Dogstar Films where she was the script editor on Shakespeare in Love, Captain Corelli's Mandolin and Bravo Two Zero to name a few. Irena holds a BA in English Literature from Oxford University.
Meet The Hawkweed Legacy!
From screenwriter Irena Brignull, the stunning sequel to her critically acclaimed YA debut, The Hawkweed Prophecy ("Full of romance, heart and suspense...completely absorb[ing]." -Madeleine Roux) about a young witch forced to choose between love and magic.
Poppy is discovering a purpose for her powers in Africa, but she is haunted by a vision of her own death. Taken in by a boy and his great-grandmother, a healer, they vow to keep her safe-even if that ultimately means holding her captive. But Poppy never stops longing for Leo and, when she feels his magic begin to spark, she will do anything to be reunited with him.
Desperate to regain Poppy's trust and bring her home, Charlock embarks on a plan to reunite Leo with his mother. What Charlock doesn't foresee are the string of consequences that she sets into motion that leave Ember all alone and prey to manipulation, the clan open to attack from other witches, Sorrel vulnerable to Raven's ghost, Betony determined to protect her son from his father's fate, and which leave both Leo and Poppy in terrible danger.
By: Irena Brignull
Release Date: August 15, 2017
One winner will receive a set of the series (The Hawkweed Prophecy & The Hawkweed Legacy) plus a cat charm. (US only).