Monday, July 17, 2017

Why Screenwriting Helps to Improve Prose

By: Karen Albright Lin

I just finished teaching an on-line course about screenwriting. I’d like to share some tidbits on the subject here. Because more people watch movies than read books, scripts are an important venue for storytelling. Equally important, learning the art of screenwriting is helpful in writing your novels. The toughest part for most people is the considerably shorter amount of time we have to tell our stories. Only about two hours!  Other than writing a tight story, the two most obvious skills one can learn by exploring this different method of telling entertaining tales are crisp dialogue and pithy description.


Early drafts are typically replete with on-the-nose dialogue.  They lack subtly and subtext.  Let's imagine what a scene from the first draft of Jaws might have looked like: 

Quint (the crusty old fisherman): You don’t need all that equipment. You look stupid.
Hooper (the scientist carrying lots of equipment): This stuff is important and special.
Quint: The shark is going to kill you. 

See how obvious that dialogue was – generic and bland.  Now watch how the final script took the same information and gave it the zip of real life characters:

Direction (Descriptions of actions and setting - only things that can be seen and heard):
This action is written in present tense. 

It conveys the bare minimum.  In a novel, one has time to describe a teen’s room—which band’s posters are on the wall, the bed sloppily made with a Hello Kitty comforter, jewelry hanging off a mirror, etc.  Sure, it colors the moment and makes us feel we're there.  But with screenplays we shouldn’t step on the director’s image of what the room looks like.  We don’t paint the picture we have in our minds, the director does. So the direction may simply be introduced as A Typical Teen Room.

If a necklace with a precious gem will play an important role in the story like the one in Titanic, you should have a close up of it.  If not, don’t even mention it.

It is tempting to do more than this since we have tremendous imaginations, but let the director construct it. This is one reason why a screenwriter must go into screenwriting/film aware than it is a collaborative process.

About the Author: Karen Albright Lin is a freelance editor for best-selling, traditionally and self-published authors. Her clients have hit #1 to #9 in their Amazon categories and stayed there for months. She’s a multi-award winning writer, ghostwriter, produced screenwriter, and multi-published author of essays, poetry and short stories. She’s a regular columnist for newsletters and well-visited blogs. She’s a paid columnist for BTS Book and Book Trailer Reviews. She presents workshops at conferences, retreats and on cruise lines. 

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