I’ve been asked several times how different it is to write a screenplay to writing a story in novel format, and how do I know, when inspiration hits, if it’s going to be a script or a story. The same could be asked about a screenplay’s format: Will it be a feature film, web series, short? In my opinion, there is no predetermined formula for knowing these things. I usually just know, however there is some thinking behind it all.
In the past many years, I’ve written short stories, many of which I put aside for a time when I would know how I wanted to publish them. I’m also in the process of writing a fantasy novel series in 5 installments. (Update: It’s going to be 8 books now, and Book one is about to undergo professional editing, now that I’ve completed the self-editing and found a line/content editor.) And as you well know, I’ve written screenplays too. Some of which have been only short random comedy skits, others have been professional commercial videos for clients, and others more serious films. I have many scripts waiting to be produced actually and many stories waiting to be published. What made each idea become one or the other?
First let’s look at how different it is to write one from the other. So analyzing this crudely: You have one that has brief present tense descriptions with dialogue and ideas of camera shots, written in the objective omniscient form with usually the third person point of view; and then you have the other a series of pages and pages of description with dialogue into the descriptive format, written in either the first person point of view, third person, subjective omniscient or objective omniscient, and some authors have even successfully pulled off head hopping. Saying it like that, however, reduces both and takes away from what they truly are: written pieces of art. When I’m writing a story, I can go into detail with the descriptions of characters, location and especially, their emotions, what each character is thinking and feeling. You can really delve into the minds of the heroes, their past, their hopes for the future, what they are smelling and seeing, whether you’re writing as an observer, or whether you’re writing in the first or third person in the point of view of one specific character. In Fiction and Fan-Fiction writing, there truly is much you can do in that regards. Whereas in a screenplay, you don’t describe, there is very little description, most of it is simply pointers and put there by choice by the screenplay writer, and most often not at all. With a screenplay, you concentrate on actual dialogue. You can’t skip a conversation and say “and then he went into the details of his traffic misadventure.” No, you’re writing what he’s saying about his time stuck in traffic. But what I like about screenplays is that you’re not limited by words. You don’t have to choose the best wording to describe something because you will be showing it. The audience will have a visual aide, so to speak. They may not know how the characters feel but they will see what the characters see. That for me is part of the main differences between the two.
Do I prefer writing one from the other? Not at all. I enjoy writing and reading/watching both. Most of my inspiration comes at the oddest moments. Sometimes in a dream. When it’s a dream, it’s a screenplay usually, because I see it. I am watching the final product of what I will be writing and eventually producing. It is not a prediction, it is simply inspiration coming to me in a visual form. And I KNOW when I’ve had those dreams. I wake up, blink a few times, and say to myself “yep, that’s a screenplay”. Then I analyse my idea, the content in the story, I start writing it usually first before deciding the title or what type of screenplay it will be. Usually writing takes me to that destination, the genre, title and style of the film destination, either during the process or at the end when I look at the pages I’ve written. Same thing with a story, after 300 pages, you’ve inevitably written a novel. Most recently, I awoke after a screenplay dream and before writing it, I asked myself, film or web series? Then I stopped thinking about it to clear my mind, but at the end of the day I knew it would be a web series of four seasons. (Update: Yeah, that web series, well, it grew tentacles. I have an outline and some rough drafts of a few scenes, but it’s not a web series anymore, it turned into an RPG video game. I have no idea how i’m going to manage producing that, but I’ll worry about finding game developers when I’ve completed my outline for the main story.) Other times ideas come to me when I’m doing chores, for some strange reason when I’m vacuuming, or in the shower, and somehow I always know if it’s a story or screenplay. It hits, I concentrate on it a bit and my instincts just tell me.
Most often I will ask myself: “How would this idea be best presented?” or “How do I want to present this idea?” Do I want to describe it and go into full detail? Or do I want to show it visually? And that’s perhaps the “advice” I would give anyone who is hit with inspiration to write. Simply, in your mind, take a look at your idea, compare both screenplay and story, how each would translate this idea, see what would work best and most importantly how YOU would feel presenting it a certain way. Do your words seem to flow best in describing the characters and scenes? Or are you seeing it unfold in your mind in a more visual manner? And which way do you feel it can be best presented? You will have your answer. If you think too hard, you lose track of it and that’s okay too. You can come back to it later. The answer for me is always the one that fills me with the most inspiration. Ideas develop, they may transform. But one thing that’s always constant: Inspiration flows and can’t I put my pen down.