Years ago at a book signing, a fan asked a respected mystery author to compare the challenges of writing a novel to that of writing a screenplay. At the mention of the word "screenplay" the author’s face went sour.
For him, there was NO comparison. While novels were full of complexity and style, a screenplay was merely "an outline."
I shrunk in my seat.
You see, one of my favorite courses in college had been Screenwriting. From it, I not only leaned proper screenplay formatting, but I also took away a nuts-and-bolts understanding of story structure and an economy of language that still influences my writing today. Valuable skills in my book.
Yet here was this author, a man I admired, telling me the craft was second rate.
He wasn’t alone in his sentiments. Months later, I attended another reading where another famous author was asked essentially the same question. His answer was almost identical. Novel writing is real writing. Screenwriting is outlining.
While I would’ve never said so out loud, that line of thinking strikes me as narrow-minded, perhaps even insecure.
Screenwriting is not a lesser form of literature. In fact, it presents many challenges the novelist doesn’t face. As Richard Walter puts it in his book Screenwriting: The Art, Craft, and Business of Film and Television Writing…
"The limitations of sight and sound require that a screenwriter never write what a character "thinks," "realizes," "recalls," or "remembers"… This requirement to present such information visually is one reason that the screenplay, contrary to popular misconception, represents a more demanding form of writing than the novel."
More demanding than a novel? Maybe not. But the challenges of writing a screenplay–a good screenplay–shouldn’t be understated.
Of course, all this is just one man’s opinion.
What do you think Murderati readers? (I’m looking at you Alex!)
Is a screenplay easier to write than a finely crafted novel? Of course the politically correct answer would be that they’re different art forms with different demands. But is there anyone out there willing to go on a ledge and side with one over the other? What makes a screenplay easier to write? What makes a novel easier?