June 7, 2020

3 Ways in which novels and screenplays are similar


Michael Ferris, a former Hollywood Lit Manager, now helps writers get their foot in the door. He has a great post, “7 Ways Writing a Screenplay Is Different than Writing a Novel.”

In the middle of his presentation, Ferris elucidates helpful points for fiction writers. He says,

On the physical pages of the script, you never want the page weighted down with heavy action lines or with heavy dialogue, as this “slows down” the read. This is the biggest culprit to distinguishing between an aspiring writer and a professional one. An industry vet can tell in the first couple pages whether “you’ve got it” or not – and it usually has to do with how your script PHYSICALLY looks on the page.

Like literary agents do with fiction, producers need to be adept at sifting out all the unskilled or unpolished scripts quickly in order to get the other parts of their work completed. “In fact,” Ferris says,  “many times industry players will just flip through a script to see how it looks visually to see whether it’s worth their time to read.”

A very similar thing happens in fiction. Read Noah Lukeman’s The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile (Touchstone, 2000) or The Plot Thickens: Eight Ways to Bring Fiction to Life (St. Martin’s, 2003). What fluff, per Ferris needs to be cut?

1. Anything we can’t HEAR or SEE on screen

2. Cut anything we don’t need to know to move the story forward

3. Cut anything about your characters or their actions that doesn’t add depth, layers, or insight into their state of mind. I don’t care if they take a drag on a cigarette. I do care if they take a drag on a cigarette in order to impress someone/blend in/etc.

Fiction writers should take this advice into their next self-editing session. Yes, characters can have thoughts, but not too many. And for the readers’ sakes, keep internal dialog to a minimum; let actions show us what the character must be thinking or experiencing. Stop crapping up the action or inter-action with back story or explanations.

Read the entire post. Michael Ferris is a superb instructor.

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