Screenwriting and Novel writing

Screenplays and novels are both forms of storytelling and yet they are as different as apples and oranges. Both take their readers on a journey into the world of their characters, both make you relate with the protagonist and her dilemmas, both make you cry and laugh at the trials and triumphs of their heroines and both can be an enormously fulfilling experience for the writer.

And yet… there are differences. David Haas, screenwriter and novelist, talks about the three significant ways in which storytelling differs in both forms.

But what I learnt from my experience of dabbling in both is that each has its own strengths. I found that I could use screenwriting techniques to great effect in my novel writing and vice-versa. Here’s how.

* While writing a script I found one of the characters beginning to feel like a ‘cardboard cutout’, spewing dialogues that were at best ho-hum, at worst dumb. So I took time out from my screenplay and did a character development exercise, a la the novel writing way. What is she thinking, feeling, how would she react to a particular situation? I opened up a document and started writing out what the character was feeling at that very point in a way I would in a novel. That gave me a better handle for the character and I began to think of her in a more three-dimensional way.

* While working on the novel, often times I would find too much “internal” monologue happening and not enough action. Time to take a break and do a visualization exercise. What if this were a movie? What would I show? Talking heads don’t work in movies. Action does. So, as an exercise, I would focus just on the action in the scene without verbalizing it. Simple sentences that bring out the action. No descriptions, just action lines. Short, sweet and simple. And voila, the scene started to sizzle.

* If you are primarily a novel writer, try adapting your novel into a screenplay. Since film is a visual medium, you will have to cut out all those scenes where you have the character expressing her feelings. You will need to focus on the ‘essence’ of those internal monologues and perhaps use it to write scenes in the script that are full of subtext. And who knows, your novel could become a movie!

* If you are primarily a screenwriter, try turning one of your scripts into a novel. You could have a bestseller on your hands.

Give it a shot and see if it works for you. Would love to hear from all you writers out there on what techniques work for you.

[Image Courtesy: Evgeni Dinev at]

About Adite

Author & Screenwriter
This entry was posted in A Novel Journey, Screenwriting Adventures and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Screenwriting and Novel writing

  1. scriptlarva says:

    Really liked this post. Have some interesting insights. I am going to try some techniques mentioned here.
    One or two things that I try to do are (they are not related to the novel vs screenplay issue)
    – I write a letter to myself in the initial phase of a project about what is that I am excited about this idea. Usually by the time I do one or two drafts it would be about a year and I would have forgotten where I have started from. And then I read the letter. It is always not necessary to bring the script back to that particular perspective, but it gives you new ideas.
    – I sometimes do an knowledge arc for the audience. Sometimes we outline too much and when we write a script, we know all the future beats so well that we forget what the audience would really feel like at a particular point in the script. Trying to plot out how much does the audience know about the characters or the story at any particular point helps to make the scenes more interesting.


    • Thanks for sharing some of your techniques. You’re so right Writing a letter/note to self about what excited you about the idea is great advice. The constant writing and rewriting tends to make you forget what had orginially excited you about it. Your other point about the audience needing to know about the characters at every stage is something that novel writers do almost instinctively and scriptwriters would benefit from that technique.


  2. Admin - Eleni says:

    Hi Adite:

    I also continue to use screenwriting techniques in my novels. The strong visuals really do make a difference. I also use beat sheets as well to set up the story. I think as creative writers, learning both forms helps us become better storytellers.


  3. secondsaturn says:

    This was very informative. Will use this piece when I teach in class that the basic idea of cinema is to discover movement; not emotion, not ideology, not suspense.. for all of that there is the novel.


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