Staccato: Script vs Novel – by Deborah J Ledford

As I mentioned in a previous article to the series Staccato: Inception, the novel actually began as a screenplay. Staccato was the third script I wrote back in the ‘90s. After the visual of the hands hovering over a piano keyboard, clasped in handcuffs captured my attention (a rendition of what is now the cover of the book), I knew I had the basis for a great sub-plot. Motion picture scripts are ideal for my way of writing—captivating visuals, intriguing characters and most of all, dialogue, dialogue, dialogue.

Those of you versed in screenplays know that you cannot go into too much detail, especially how the characters react to situations because this is the actors job, and even the mention of “ticks” or body language is not to be implemented within the pages of the script. Your job as the screenwriter is to merely provide the locations, vaguely set up the characters, and give them lines of dialogue to propel the action.

Novels are another beast and the major reason I switched to writing novels. Composing full-length prose allow you the freedom to create the characters and scenes as they come to you. It is important to completely flesh out locations, especially setting the scene at the top for the reader so they can put themselves there. The way you the writer indicates body language is also acceptable and necessary to make the characters come to life.

Hidden clues are also much easier to show. For example, the mere foreshadow of a clothes hamper which will later contain a bloody shirt can prove to be a captivating visual. Images are more lasting and hard-hitting when used with finesse as well. If you thoroughly give the reader mouth-dropping images, they will remember your book, and look forward to your next.

Most of all, it is a must for the novelist to convey realistic, lasting characters. Characters the reader can connect to, those with heroic capabilities, as well as human flaws, rife with ticks, fears and foibles. The screenwriter must rely on performers, directors and editors to convey these elements.

The novelist has more “power,” if you will, to present the complete picture that comes to them, an ideal representation of their original concept.

I plan to re-write the original screenplay for my second novel in the Steven Hawk/Inola Walela series, Ice on Fire, but not before this manuscript is available in printed format—the fleshed-out, full blown, complete version of the “Movie in my mind.”

Deborah J Ledford is the author of the debut suspense thriller novel Staccato, now available from Second Wind Publishing, Amazon, Kindle, and independent book stores.

8 Comments

Filed under books, fiction, writing

8 responses to “Staccato: Script vs Novel – by Deborah J Ledford

  1. Sherrie Hansen

    Interesting piece! Thanks for the unique perspective.

  2. How funny that you started out in screenplays and went to novels so you could more fully develop the setting and characters — I am looking forward to doing the reverse! I won’t be writing a screenplay, but I will be writing a graphic novel, I need to give a vague idea of setting and character, but the artist fleshes them out. All I have to do is come up with a story and dialogue, dialogue, dialogue. Should be fun.

    Best of luck with Staccato! I enjoyed it tremendously, and I’m looking forward to Ice on Fire.

    • Thanks Pat. I look forward to hearing what you come up with for your graphic novel. How exciting that will be! You’re great with writing dialogue, so this will format will be no problem for you.

  3. I found my start in screenwriting was a great class in discipline since scripts need to be so stark and focused. How many of us have read books where an author gets so wrapped up in over-explaining or over-describing? With a screenplay you just can’t get away with it. I still think 80% of scripts now are too long.
    As a writer of screenplays I loved the process being the only time I would ever see the movie as I fully envisioned it. Once you sell it you have to divorce yourself completely from it or forever be frustrated or disappointed at how different someone else’s interpretation is.
    I sold one script and a stack of notes came back that changed it so radically that I backed out and told them hire someone else to rewrite it. They paid me for the initial sale so the title was theirs but I wasn’t going to eviscerate a movie I really liked. It wasn’t heroic, this was an indie film and the money wasn’t much but I felt good that I stood my ground and wouldn’t let myself go through the process of what felt like doing plastic surgery on my baby. The film never got made (wonder why?) so I never had to suffer through the horror of seeing it bastardized on screen.
    A lot of what you speak of, Deborah, dropping clues, little visual details, can come later if a writer is lucky enough to be involved in the constant rewrites and adaptations that happen during shooting.
    I have read scripts that are dense with prose. Taxi Driver for example. It reads almost like a novel. Not sure if you could get away with that now. In a post-Tarantino world dialogue is king. Sometimes it works, sometimes not.
    They are two very different disciplines. Screenplays are defined by structure and efficiency and novels by details and inner insights that are not possible in a script. Someday I hope to get back to more screenwriting. I split with my agent several years ago. But in this town you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a dozen “writers”. I have 16 scripts on the old shelf. Sometimes that makes me feel accomplished and often it makes me feel like a failure. The film I wrote and directed is at least tangible proof that I’m not just a poser. Any day now I’ll have a novel with my name on it (in a place of honor next to JB Kohl) and no one can take that away from me.
    Sorry this became about me. Basically I agree with Deborah’s assessment of the differences in the two tasks. I do think for any novelist thinking of trying a script it is a good exercise in restraint and forced structure. A good workout. And after you’ve written a novel, a script goes so quickly you’ll be amazed. All double spaced and indented. You feel so accomplished so soon! 120 pages? No problem! That’s about 60 in a novel.

  4. Yeah, too bad it doesn’t pay the bills!

  5. christinehusom

    That’s a great perspective, Deborah. I love dialogue too and way back, I wrote plays–for fun mostly, but I did make my siblings, cousins and friends be in the small productions I would stage. The good old days!

  6. crescendoesque

    I am currently writing a novel, and have been told that it reads too much like a screenplay.

    This is helpful – I think what I did was leave out too much description. And I also have done: action, dialogue, action, dialogue. It’s snappy, but a little too snappy for a novel.

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