I'm taking part in the blog tour today for Stacy Kramer and Valerie Thomas's new book 'From What I Remember' which was published in the UK by Electric Monkey on January 7th 2013.
I'm very pleased to welcome the authors themselves to the blog for a special guest post.
SCREENWRITING VERSUS BOOK WRITING – WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES?
Both of us worked in the film industry for many years as development executives and producers, and then as screenwriters. Stacy worked as a Studio Executive in Los Angeles, at Paramount Pictures, Sony and Twentieth Century Fox, working on a variety of movies, from dramas to comedies (THE ADAMS FAMILY, REGARDING HENRY, JUICE, THE LAST SEDUCTION among others). She went on to produce (JAWBREAKER, IGBY GOES DOWN) and then, finally, to write (LIZZIE McGUIRE, LESS THAN PERFECT, LABOR PAINS). Stacy still writes for film and television. Valerie spent 12 years running development for the director Jonathan Demme (SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, PHILADELPHIA, ADAPTATION) She helped decide what material the company wanted to pursue - whether it was books and plays they wanted to adapt to film, or screenplays that came through the door – and she spent a lot of time working with screenplay writers, helping them crack material open and forge the best possible story. She then went on to write a screenplay for Twentieth Century Fox.
A lot of people ask us what the differences are between writing for film and writing novels. In many ways, writing screenplays and writing novels require the exact same skills as they are both, fundamentally, forms of storytelling and thus rely on great characters, rich themes, and imaginative plotlines. Both require a tremendous amount of work and the discipline to sit down and write every day. But working in film and writing screenplays has given us a few tools that we may not otherwise have had.
One of the biggest lessons we learned while working with other screenwriters, helping them develop their scripts, is that you have to write more drafts than you can possibly imagine before your writing really sings. In the case of PHILADELPHIA, for example, Valerie remembers that by the time they went into production on the film, the screenwriter had written fifty-four drafts of the screenplay. He then retired from the business…just kidding. And even though occasionally that meant he took a few steps back before going forward, in the end, the screenplay continued to get better and better, more honed, tighter, more focused on its central themes. There are still times now as writers when we reflexively reject notes, thinking our work is done, but in the back of our minds we know that going back in, unpacking and rebuilding the story, will make it better. When we look back on the process of writing the two books we’ve now completed, we see that there was a seminal moment for each book when someone – our agent, our editor, a trusted reader – suggested we rewrite significant portions of the book, and at first we balked. But then we settled down, got to work, and did what was asked of us. And in each case, the novel took a big step forward. When this happens now, as it always will, we try to remember the dark days of working on films, when the script wasn’t working, and we pressed the screenwriter to try again, and again, and again…
Unlike books, screenplays rely almost entirely on dialogue – the action sequences are often described in less detail on the page than what shows up on the screen as the director has a huge hand in creating them – so we feel very comfortable writing lengthy dialogue scenes in our novels. Movies also tend to have more involved plots that move at a quick pace than many books, and both of the books we’ve published so far have involved complex plots that clip along at a pretty fast speed. Lastly, working in movies taught us to emphasize the visual aspects of a story at all times, so even though that is far less necessary in novel writing, it is something that has migrated to our books. We cannot help but see each scene in our minds, and try to bring that picture to life on the page.
In the end, screenwriting is far more formal and rigid than novel writing. You rely on dialogue for a lot of the storytelling, and you can’t get inside someone’s head very easily, as you can with a novel. So, in many ways, it’s a more disciplined, less loose writing experience. For that very reason we love writing novels – you can go in practically any direction, you can change voices, you can let your story fly off cliffs if you want to, provided you figure out how to make it work.