Haven’t you ever dreamed of having your novel made into a movie?? Almost every aspiring writer imagines their story on the big screen. In reality, however, the whole thing looks rather lousy. But what you as a novelist can learn from screenwriters is what Julia K tells you today. Stone in this guest article.
By Julia K. Stone
Successful screenwriters – without film
In addition to novels, I started dabbling in screenwriting a few years ago. I’m currently working with a producer to develop a TV comedy. You can learn some helpful lessons about writing stories from screenwriters. I made a video about this for NaNoWriMo once, too:
I love scripts, but if you write novels, chances are your book will get published – as difficult as it may seem to some who are unpublished – much greater!
I know many authors who sell screenplays, even received a prestigious award for them, but whose films never get made. Steven Spielberg – great if he’s interested in your script – hoards masses of good scripts in his company and only a fraction are ever realized. I remember how Lauren Oliver*, an author I hold in high esteem, sold the film rights to the Delirium triology, even the pilot with Emma Roberts was expensively shot, but no TV station bought it. So the project was dead.
As an author, you can publish your book yourself in case of doubt. It is not uncommon for a sold screenplay to get bogged down in a drawer.
I hope you feel better now!
Film is just another medium for storytelling. But through exposure to film, screenwriting, and seminars (I have z.B. I took online seminars at UCLA because I couldn’t be there, even the famous Film School now offers elaborate programs online) I learned about a very structured approach to the plot. And that’s very helpful, especially when you’re starting out.
The framework of the story in screenplays is often much more bare – wonderful for looking at and analyzing the structure more closely.
Since filmmaking is expensive, producers want to make sure the story works. If a screenplay doesn’t work on paper, even the best director, the most expensive equipment and the most famous actor won’t help: the story flops. However, with the scripts of expensive novel-based Hollywood productions, this also leads to an infinite number of screenwriters being sent over the manuscript. This can destroy the book and ends up with the original author not even being mentioned at the end – an eternal argument in Hollywood about movie credits – but that’s just in passing here.
I know people who don’t watch movies when there are more than two screenwriters on the poster, because they know what kind of tug and pull has been done to the script.
We all know this: We were so looking forward to the new movie with "XZ" (insert star here), but the movie was boring and left us emotionally cold.
Influence on novels
At the same time, movies and television have a tremendous influence on today’s novels. Ten years ago z. B. an American setting was not welcome by publishers. I have just signed two contracts with American settings (both New York, New York, New York)!) signed, which was explicitly requested. The target audience, in my case readers of young adult novels with a central love story, are used to American settings – after all the most successful series on TV are American. These readers are also used to the story structure and come to the book with certain expectations. So what can you specifically learn from screenwriters?
(at least in the structure of your novel)
Novelists often take a much more relaxed approach to story structure and composition. With screenplays, structure is absolutely paramount. It can lead to those terribly generic stories where you know the course of the whole movie after ten minutes. Done well, the structure leads to emotionally gripping, perennial favorites like Star Wars, When Harry met Sally or You’ve got Mail, Gladiator or Avatar.
Hollywood knows that we tell stories to people who have heard, read or seen other stories before and therefore have certain expectations. It’s no coincidence that the movie posters look alike. The audience should know what genre they are being served. If I buy a book with pink hearts, I don’t want to be told about a brutal mass murder either. That’s fine too. Partly we meet the expectations of the audience, but still we have to surprise him, so as not to fall into cliche.
This can be seen masterfully in Game of Thrones, for example. The author has written many films and knows exactly what the expectations are – and breaks them. But he does it so well that he doesn’t lose his readers, but fascinates them. In the movie – clearly because the producers had a say here – many scenes were made more audience-appropriate because they didn’t seem reasonable.
There are wonderful books on screenplay structure that also help novelists. To all who are struggling, I would recommend Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat*. He conceptualizes 15 helpful plot points to help the desperate novelist out of a jam, more than the oft-cited 3-act "beginning, middle ending" (okay, and now?) that can. Who wants to read something about it and evt. also download the beat sheet in German and adapted for authors can do it here.
Since the running time of a film is given to the minute, the authors can’t allow themselves useless scenes and go into detail. That means they really have to focus on the essentials and the boring scenes fall away. And everybody knows this: You have this one scene that you just think is wonderful. I still have a funeral scene that I think is kind of great, that has been kicked out of every book so far because it just didn’t serve a function. And every scene needs a function. Each scene must bring the action forward. That doesn’t mean you can’t write endless long novels (you may!), but each scene must contribute something to the plot and not just be there "because you always wanted to say that".
Overall, it helps to think in scenes. An average long story in a novel has 40-60 scenes. In this regard, scenes are self-contained little sequences that have their own mini arc of suspense. If a few characters in the story talk about trivia and do something that adds nothing to the plot, we switch over or off.
You can ask yourself the same thing about every scene in your book: What does it contribute to the story as a whole?? In what way does it move the plot forward? Otherwise it flies out.
As another helpful tip, I find the "movie wisdom" that the starting point of the scene should be as late as possible. "Get in late and get out early" is a phrase that screenwriters like to use. By that I mean, getting in the middle of the action and leaving out the boring prelude as much as possible.
Dialogue is of course extremely important in a film. It must sound natural, be exciting, and should not tell the plot. dialogue is not a medium to convey information to the viewer, the film should do that with images. Nobody wants to be lectured morally or otherwise.
You want to learn about the character through dialogue and experience the relationship with the other characters. This should also apply to dialogue in novels. There, too, you should try to tell the story visually and vividly – the dialogue has the same function. Some people say they don’t read books unless there’s dialogue on at least the first few pages.
I love descriptions, but still: too much description, too much explanation is boring. The scene stagnates, the story stagnates. The reader … puts the book aside.
When you work as a screenwriter, you’re never alone. A movie is expensive to produce and the more expensive it gets, the more people talk into you.
Your producer has an opinion, your co-author, the station you’re writing for, and occasionally even the actor who’s supposed to perform the lines later on.
I don’t consider my text sacred, I’m willing to listen carefully if someone makes suggestions. This is also the case with novels, but it’s even more pronounced with screenplays. The big TV series in particular are usually a team effort. There will be together in the Writer’s Room different writers develop the characters, there are different plotliners, dialogers and someone who puts it all together, usually another team. You learn to say goodbye to your darlings on the run again because someone more important than you (probably because they are in charge of the finances) imagines the whole thing differently, which everyone thought was wonderful last week.
You’ll have a much easier time with a proofreader who makes a few annotations! But if you go for it, you can get a lot out of it. Because usually everyone in the room is as obsessed with stories as you are. Of course you should also discuss with your editor. You should refuse things that are repugnant to you after you have weighed them up. But often it can give you a lot to take in, and it’s worth taking in things.
A film is visual. Well, that’s clear. But also your book should Show don’t tell take to heart. You can’t hear that anymore? Neither do I, actually. But Show don’t tell Is more than using a few adjectives that appeal to the senses. Show don’t tell means to portray the characters in gestures, in actions, and not to let them give you wisdom. A person should also not be described as "she is stingy", we prefer to see how she carefully counts her money. Screenwriters can’t do much explaining, they have to use cleverly used dialogue, small gestures etc. remedy. Novelists should do the same. You are less limited by your medium, but you shouldn’t take advantage of that.
Even in novels, the most haunting scenes are those that unfold before the reader’s eyes like a movie, drawing the reader into the scenes with all her senses.
I find it helpful to think about camera angles when writing. How "close" are you to your character? Or are you just reporting in wide angle? Even when writing, you can change the settings – making the narrative more varied.
We can learn from film how to get into a scene.
In the movie, there’s what’s called the opening scene, the establishing shot. Here the viewer is shown where we are at. In the film, these are the cuts of Berlin Alexanderplatz and Reichstag and we know we are in Berlin and we also recognize the season. Or we see an office building from the outside and then a meeting taking place inside. But we learn even more about the setting: we are given a state of mind, music that underlies it often helps, we are put in the mood.
Translated for the novelist, this means that the descriptions at the beginning of a scene are colored in. We also want to put the reader in the right place and in the right frame of mind – is the party just lively, the guests’ clothes dazzlingly colorful, the tiramisu melting on the tongue with an explosion of flavor, or is a lady with lipstick on her tooth talking non-stop in a garish voice at the hero – because the party guest has just been dumped by his girlfriend? The descriptions of the environment are always colored by the mood of the perspective.
So, I could go on writing forever, there are of course other aspects entirely. But most of all, I hope I’ve been able to convince you a little that it’s worth watching movies quite systematically and learning from their structure.
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Julia K. Stein (jkstein.de) writes young adult novels like the Rainbow Time Diology or Winter magic in New York And women’s fiction like "you can’t Google love". Your next novel All I Want for Christmas, A love story set in New York during the Christmas season will be published by Ravensburger in October 2018. She also runs a blog for those interested in writing with lots of tips at xojulia.en