I have a special treat for you today, a guest post by Scott Keen, author of Scar of the Downers. I have included information about his novel at the bottom of the post so you can learn more about the work.
How Writing Screenplays Teach Novelists Discipline
By Scott Keen
A few years ago, I went to a writer’s conference where one of the speakers said that he advised his students to learn scriptwriting before novel writing. I think that his reasoning for this is because in script writing you have to focus on the bare bones of a story. In it, you find its skeletal structure. I would add to that reasoning this: You also have to show the action rather than tell your audience about it. Screenplays are completely visual. I think in some ways, novelists can have a tendency to have less action and more exposition, both of which are the death knell of a good screenplay.
In a typical screenplay, you start with the basic three-act structure (of course there are exceptions to this. Some would say most Hollywood scripts follow a four or five-act structure.) I would challenge you to watch a movie and see if you can point out some of the following structural points:
- The Inciting Incident
- The First Act Climax
- The Complication
- The Turning Point
- The Second Act Climax
- The Resolution
Knowing the structure of the screenplay is the framing of the house. If you want to build a house, you have to know how to frame it. There’s nothing worse than reading a book and realize that there’s no story to it. It’s a series of events with no discernible direction or connection with one another. While some people may like that type of story, I find it rather hard to get through.
There is more rigidity in screenplay writing, which can be both good and bad. It’s bad if you want to tell a bigger story than you can fit in a typical length movie. In a screenplay, any description only tells what you want the audience to see. In some ways you can paint a more vivid, detailed, and wider picture in a novel. Think of the depth of the world in the Lord of the Rings books that you could never get in the movies. On the other hand, doesn’t everyone want to see that scene with Gandalf coming down the hill at the end of The Two Towers? That’s why the director is considered the artistic force behind a movie. He or she gives flesh to what the writer wrote.
After all, that is the sole purpose of a screenplay: to be made into a movie. The purpose of a novel is to be read – the author is the director, using words to paint a picture. You have to take that into consideration when you have a story that you want to tell. If you have a story with the grandeur and breadth of Star Wars and you have no connections in Hollywood, it’s a better idea to write that as a novel. You have a much better chance of it getting noticed. I can write about far off planets or about the neighbor next door. The words alone can take you wherever you want to go. I’m not bound by money or technology. It is the reader’s imagination that provides the visuals, and with that, there’s a sense of freedom.
So, learning to write a screenplay can be a good discipline for a novelist. In my opinion, having a strong plot and telling a story well is paramount to character, style, voice, etc. Writing a screenplay will force you to focus on that aspect of storytelling.
As the director Sam Mendes once said, “I think movies are a director’s medium in the end. Theater is the actor’s medium.” I would add that novels are a writer’s medium. And that is why I, as a writer, am so drawn to it.
About the Author:
Scott Keen grew up in Black River, NY, the youngest of three children. While in law school, he realized he didn’t want to be a lawyer. So he did the practical thing–he became a writer. Now, many years later with an MFA in script and screenwriting, he is married with four daughters, two of whom he homeschools. He blogs at www.scottkeenbooks.com.
About Scar of the Downers:
Two foreigners ride through the Northern Reaches on a secret mission. An unknown cloaked figure wanders the streets of the dark city of Ungstah. What they want no one can be sure, but it all centers around a Downer named Crik.
Crik, too scared to seek freedom, spends his days working in his master’s store, avoiding the spirit-eating Ash Kings while scavenging food for himself and his best friend, Jak. Until he steals from the wrong person. When Jak is sold to satisfy the debt, Crik burns down his master’s house and is sentenced to death.
To survive, Crik and his friends must leave behind their life of slavery to do what no other Downer has ever done before–escape from the city of Ungstah.
I would like to thank Scott for sharing his experience with us, and for agreeing to be a guest on the blog. I’m sure he would be thrilled to answer any questions you have.
Thanks for stopping by.