Monday, April 2, 2012

Who's a writer and who isn't.

"I don't think many screenwriters can write. They pass as writers"
                                       - Elmore Leonard

Before you make any judgement on that, I'll tell you a little bit about Elmore Leonard. He's 86 and still writing and has written a stack of novels as well as screenplays. He's written movies for Quentin Tarantino and Clint Eastwood and many others. He also wrote Get Shorty, which became a Travolta movie.

He's also had a lot of his novels made into movies, and currently has 2 novels one of which has finished filming and another ready to go. And a series, Justified, about a U.S. Marshall has entered it's second season.

Leonard lives in Detroit and keeps in contact with the series writers, who reportedly wear wristbands with the letters WWED -- "What would Elmore do?"

Now, getting back to writing and who can and who can't.

As some of you know I wrote my first novel in 2011. Well, sort of a novel. After all it was based on the screenplay, Emperor of Mars, so in some eyes it wasn't really a novel. One thing I discovered after writing it is the prestige a novel seems to attract.

A screenplay is a screenplay, but a novel - it's much bigger. After all anyone can write a screenplay, there are literally hundreds of books on screenwriting. Count the number that tell you how to write a novel.

When I embarked on the novelization of my screenplay, it was after several people encouraged me to, and since I had time on my hands, I figured I might as well. That's when I found out the differences between a screenplay and a novel.

Screenplays are basically shorthand, there are no real rules as to how to write them, there is a format but software covers that. But there are other things; for one, screenplays are in present tense, novels are (for the most part) in past tense.

In a screenplay I would write "he walks to the door". In a novel it would be "he walked to the door." Simple. Yet I had to check and recheck every page for those tenses.

Another advantage I had, and a huge advantage was that my story was already written and all I had to do is "flesh it out". But that's where I also discovered something.

You can tell more story in a novel. This is what I mean;

Remember the tenses? In a screenplay I write "he walks to the door" and in a novel "he walked to the door." What's the difference?

In a novel I can add stuff like "and as he walked he remembered the first time he saw her, it was a day like today and he still can feel the way he did...

 See what I mean? I can add what goes on in his head. I can't really do that in a screenplay, I can try and hope the actor gets it, but ultimately the actor has to show that somehow and even then it's never as complete as a novel.

The actor has maybe a minute or two to convey the character's life, the novel can take 5 pages or even more.

And even though some writers will dispute this, it is easier to write a screenplay because of that reason, and also because the screenplay really isn't finished until the movie is made. A novel is finished when the writer finishes it. A screenplay can go thru many re-writes and not necessarily by the original writer before it is finished.

And don't get me wrong, writing a good screenplay is hard. But writing a novel is harder. But not always. A lot of novel writers, for example, never quite get screenplays, people like Fitzgerald and Faulkner and many other famous novelists never really figured out screenplays.

And many screenwriters never figured out novels.

And man sitcomy writers never figured out either. But that's mostly because sitcoms are a series of jokes; setup and payoff. Plots are basically non-existent.

(Thurs: Why some screenwriters can's write without being hired & other stories)