Photograph copyright: DAVID McMAHON
I was delighted to hear from US blogger Mushy, a gifted chronicler, that he has a project up his sleeve. Mushy's been told that what he intended to be a book would actually be better as a screenplay. That’s a perfect question to deal with today.
Is my book really better suited to a screenplay?
Let’s start at the very beginning - it's an approach that worked for Julie Andrews, so it should work for us as well. First of all, I’m inclined to say, ``Get a second opinion’’. That’s not to discount the advice; rather to reinforce it. You wouldn’t rush into surgery (which is kinda funny, because Mushy recently had shoulder surgery) without a second opinion, so let’s take the same approach here. Don’t abandon the notion of the book until you know definitively that it can only work as a screenplay.
My honest advice is to keep going simultaneously on two parallel paths, each linked by continuing creativity and the need to finish the entire manuscript. Path #1 would be to start getting in touch with literary agents (see the post A Monopoly On Query letters for details of how best to do this) and Path #2 would be to investigate the ground rules for writing screenplays at the same time. Even if a literary agent is interested in your manuscript for a book, it doesn’t prevent you from making your own judgement about its potential worth as a screenplay. Hence the idea of parallel progression.
The biggest distinction between a novel and a screenplay is that the latter is a totally visual and aural medium. Instead of taking readers on a written-word journey, you take the story to a theatre audience instead. Instead of reading, they will watch and listen to your plot. In essence, that is the major difference. It is a different discipline, but that’s not to say a novelist cannot write a screenplay. That said, a novelist would have to completely modify the approach to turn a story into a screenplay. (Remind me to tell you the story of Thomas Keneally and the film Schindler's List.)
There is something else to take into account. From my (perhaps limited) knowledge of Hollywood and the entertainment industry, you have to deal with agents who are keen to establish the critical element of genre. Is your plot is full of suspense, is it a thriller? If it’s full of go-get-'em elements, is it an action adventure? If it has a lot of humour, is it a comedy? Once you work out which genre you’re aiming at, you’ll find it easier to develop a screenplay.
I’ve also tracked down a few very informative sites for you. Have a look at Screenwriting.Info for some very handy hints. There is further information at BBC World Service, with concise advice from successful screenwriters Shane Connaughton and Robert McKee on how to write an effective screenplay.
For further information go to HowToWriteAScreenplay.net, while I’m told there is valuable advice in Denny Martin Flinn’s book How Not To Write A Screenplay.