Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Writing Styles--Screenwriting Versus Prose

Here’s a confession. Before my first book, Lifetime Loser, was written I worked on the screenplay. Huh?

That’s right. My approach was opposite from the traditional "writer goes to Hollywood" story. I wrote the screenplay first. I had a wild story with outrageous characters floating around in my head. When I relayed it to a good friend, he said, “That would make a great movie!” The comment forever stuck in my mind.

Two years later, after a golf trip I said, “Today’s the day.”

He said, “For what?”

“Today’s the day I’m going to start that movie.”

That night I went home, joined an online screenwriting club and attempted to learn an art that is so much different than writing prose. It was suggested that I get Final Draft, a screenwriting program, which is a leader in the screenwriting industry. Done. Now what?

I stumbled . . . obviously. Learning the program and commands and format was an eye-opener. But, several months later, what I thought was a masterpiece was completed. The next step was to have it critiqued. That was followed by enough red ink to make two Sharpies proud.

It was time to go back to the drawing board. Two more rewrites followed. My reviewer agreed that I had a compelling story and characters, but my screenwriting left a lot to be desired. I’m sure it did. That style of writing is different than anything a person who sits down to write a novel can imagine.

My next step was to hook up with a professional screenwriter. We discussed everything under the sun and spent a great deal of time on character arcs and themes. We had a major chore before us. The story had approximately ninety characters and lasted fifteen years. It was a nightmare.

We persevered. My rewrites numbered ten. It got better, but was certainly not up to “Hollywood” standards. That adventure took the better part of two more years. What next? I’m stuck in the Midwest and safely tucked away from industry contacts. “How do I generate interest in this screenplay and sell this thing?”

“The book.”

“I don’t want to write a book.”

“You asked.”

After chewing on that for three months I finally admitted to myself that I wasn’t doing anything else at the time and I did have quite a story to tell. There was a big need to fill in the blanks that were cut out of the “movie.” The screenplay provided a wonderful outline for my first novel.

What did I learn? Writing prose, although difficult, is much different and a whole lot easier for me. They both are tedious yet worlds apart in styles. One tells the story with words. The other tells the story through pictures. But they are the same in that both create visuals.

Eight months later the sense of accomplishment was unmatched after finishing Lifetime Loser, the book. My first novel was complete. I was hooked. In succeeding years, four additional novels were born. My writing has improved. My character base has grown to over two hundred. The setting has expanded.

What’s left on this journey? It might be time to take a short break. Marketing for five books is very time consuming and involves a great deal of effort. The online and eBook world has exploded. Coming up with a story, complete with plots and subplots and characters, taxes the mind.

But I’ll reveal a little secret that has been tucked away in my mind. I did revisit my screenplay, which has spent some time buried in a lot of files on my computer. It might be time to go back to work on that unique form of expression.

Can I tackle that challenge? You bet. Can I fix it to the standards that a screenplay requires? That remains to be determined. However my desire to take Lifetime Loser to the big screen was how this endeavor started. That’s a dream that I’d like to bring to fruition.

Will that happen? Who knows? It might. As any writer can tell you with the familiar cliché, “Keep writing.”

James Ross
Author of Lifetime Loser, Finish Line, Tuey's Course, Opur's Blade, and Pabby's Score
Publisher Websites: and


Cheryl said...

What a great story. It left me wanting more. Perhaps a movie. Keep writing!

Janet Vanderhoof said...

I found this post to be very interesting. I didn't realize that the screenplay uses pictures to tell the story and the novel tells by words. I wonder do you think you are more auditory or kinesthetic than visual?

Gerry Wendel said...

I say take on the challenge! You've already cut your teeth on it. There's likely lots to learn, but isn't life a learning process? Have fun!

Unknown said...

We feel your pain! We went from playwriting to screenwriting and it's been a tough road! Sometimes we have to eat extra cheese just to get through a writing session. But damn it, we will finish this thing. And also start the others that are stacking up to be written. Good luck to you!

Anonymous said...

Good for you! I tried to tackle screen writing, and while my father enjoys it, it is not for me. :)

Cidermaker said...

I went from short story writing to screenwriting & have found that my experience of screenwriting has had a very positive influence on my story writing. In particular it has tightened up my use of dialogue; no more rambling, straight to the point. I have even produced well-received stories that are almost entirely dialogue.I suspect, however, that it's effects on novel writing would be rather different.