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screenwriting resources/books for novelists?

(13 Posts)
TheCladdagh Sun 29-May-16 12:56:31

Hi everyone,

How nice to see this bit of the board livening up a bit.

At a thing I was at recently, an agent did a very good off the cuff spiel on how some experience in screenwriting, or at least reading stuff on screen writing techniques, had really helped one of her authors who struggled with pace or structure (in novels).

Could anyone suggest any screenwriting resources available online and/or screenwriting books which might help this debut novelist fine tune pace and structure?

I am about to finish the first draft of a novel which I've written straight through, and want to think about those kinds of things as I revise. By nature, I tend to be a languorous kind of writer with a too-slow pace and not enough forward propulsion, which possibly isn't helped by the fact that a significant chunk of the action is set in the pasts of the main characters to show how they have arrived at the situation of the 'now' of the plot, so there can't be a straightforward push ahead with the 'what happens next' of the present timeline.

Also, has anyone else done this? Or is anyone also a screenwriter and novelist and uses the former to inform the latter?


MissBattleaxe Sun 29-May-16 19:07:14

That's a good idea. I can see how writing screenplays can shine a light on pacing. There are some good ones on Amazon, but I have no experience of screenwriting so can't tell you the best one personally. If it was me, I'd start with Screen Writing For Dummies and then expand on that.

Oh, and I agree about how nice it is to see this board getting busier. It's my favourite MN board!

GetAHaircutCarl Mon 30-May-16 13:53:15

I'm a novelist who has latterly become a script writer.

I think I write both in a very similar way, in that I chop my story up into scenes, usually short, sharp ones that drive the plot forward.

My two favourite resources are Story by Robert McKee and The Definitive Guide to Screen Writing by Syd Field.

I think it's very useful to have a basic check list of points/milestones in a plot and an idea of when they should be happening. You don't need to become slavish about it, but simply alive to them.

TheCladdagh Mon 30-May-16 14:24:24

Thanks so much, Get. I did have a vague memory that there was someone who had been recently talking about screenplays on here, but didn't remember who it was. (Am I right in thinking that you in a past incarnation used a username associated with industrial processes? Obviously don't say if you were deliberately dissociating from previous identities.) I'll order both of those via ILL.

Are you saying that, long before you wrote a screenplay, you were naturally a screenplayish sort of novelist in terms of being plotty, forward-pushing and short-scened? That in fact screenwriting hasn't fundamentally altered the way you come at things?

I think I'm someone who may really benefit from the discipline of it.

GetAHaircutCarl Mon 30-May-16 14:36:31

Yup that was me.

I regularly name change but folks spot me. I just do it to avoid the stalkers grin.

Yes, I think my novelistic approach is very screenplayish, in that I tend to follow a very traditional three act story arc. I find this the most satisfying way to telling a story IYSWIM.

When I bought Story and TDGTS, I could see that the story arcs discussed were in evidence in my writing already; the set up, the inciting incident etc.

Also, as I say, I very much write in scenes. Each one must be as economical as possible and must take the story forward. Yes, it can also give us back story, or visual texture or internal dialogue or explore themes but its primary function is to move along the arc. If it doesn't do that, it hasn't earned its keep.

Working in this way will keep flagging pace in check.

GetAHaircutCarl Mon 30-May-16 14:40:10

Also another thing I do, which helps is that each scene, however short, must have a beginning a middle and an end in its own right, or three beats in screen writing speak.

TheCladdagh Mon 30-May-16 14:43:54

I think it's as much the 'prolific, multiply-published, making an actual living' thing as something very identifiable in your posting style. grin

Thanks, have ordered both those books. I could definitely use a kick up the backside in terms of scenes having to earn their keep in terms of story arc as well as 'exploring who Character X is, really' and 'giving some backstory on the relationship of Y and Z'. I need more rapids and less meander...

GetAHaircutCarl Mon 30-May-16 14:57:55

For my first few novels I deployed a system that most screen writers use (I didn't know it at the time) which is the card system.

Basically, I used one 'card' (it was actually a piece of A4) per scene.

On that card I wrote various things. Where the scene took place, including one interesting detail. Who had the POV. What that character wanted at the top of the scene. What stopped them getting it. Where that left them.

At its most basic that was what each scene had to do.

Now each scene could do more than that (and the best scenes do of course) but never at the expense of the above.

TheCladdagh Mon 30-May-16 17:53:18

I started off doing cards, too, but I think the point of them, as you've just outlined, was largely lost on me, because they would be headed things like 'At X location' or 'Y and Z's relationship', rather than the kinds of things you've listed. It led to an incredibly ponderous, slow-moving novel. I'm now writing much more 'lightly' in terms of trying to find the salient detail that skewers a character, rather than descriptive paragraphs, and with far more focus on action. At its best, obviously, what a character does tells you who s/he is without further ado, and I'm working on that.

I have too often had the bad habit of either cutting off a scene too soon, leaving an arty 'dot dot dot' pseudo-ending, which I think stemmed from not knowing my characters well enough, or (which I think is worse for my writing, though some established literary novelists manage to carry it off) writing beyond the scene's natural end, and following everyone home to hot milk and bed after the battle/showdown/betrayalgrin.

GetAHaircutCarl Tue 31-May-16 09:18:58

I think it's fine for the first draft to contain a lot of detail, if it helps you see the scene. A vomit draft, right?

But obviously, a lot of that needs editing out.

My rule of thumb (and I'm not saying you or anyone should do what I suggest, I'm merely offering another view) is not to describe things that we all know. Trust thy readership. Try to find ways to encapsulate the scene and character economically.

Indeed, for screen writing this is essential. And I've seen some fabulous examples.

Find the killer detail. Those things that set the place/person apart. That small observation that instantly grounds the reader. Let that small observation say a lot. Let it encompass character, back story, theme, subtext. Let it earn its keep.

GetAHaircutCarl Tue 31-May-16 09:21:12

Out of interest, my first drafts are always the opposite. Too little detail.

I get lots of comments like 'yes, but where is this happening,' or 'great action scene but what is she thinking'.

It's rare for me not to add another 4-8k of words on the second draft.

MissBattleaxe Tue 31-May-16 09:24:44

There is some fantastic advice on here! I'm taking notes.

TheCladdagh Tue 31-May-16 09:51:09

I get lots of comments like 'yes, but where is this happening,' or 'great action scene but what is she thinking'.

Laughing immoderately here, because we are clearly the complete flipside of one another as writers. I am far more likely to get 'That's a really good insight into X's motivation, but she appears to have ground to a halt in the middle of the street for a long period to remember this, and I'm worried she's going to be run over'. Or, on one occasion 'This character has been dying for too long' grin

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