author, creative writing, writers, writing

4 ways screenwriting provides you with novel writing skills

Over the last few weeks at uni I’ve been studying script writing, with particular focus on screenplays. It’s a lot of fun, and very different from novel writing. Yet at the same time, there’s a lot of skills that can be applied and strengthen your novel writing ability. I’ve discussed before how writing short stories and poetry can help too, if you’re interested!

Show, don’t tell
We all now how vital it is to show not tell. Your readers don’t want to be spoon fed dull info. They want to see it in their mind, to imagine it. In screen writing, you don’t have the luxury of portraying a character’s inner thoughts (unless you’re using voice overs, and these need to be appropriate for the nature of your show), you can’t describe what people feel or how they behave. It all has to be done visually. Being forced to think this way can transfer into novel writing, to ensure you focus on body language, the way people talk, their choice of words, and the way they move to show the reader what’s going on.

Setting the scene
When writing screenplays you have to note the camera shots needed to set the scene and transition. This forces you to imagine the scene clearly, and choose what needs to be focused on and what’s relevant. You can use this in novel writing to describe your settings, without going overboard on irrelevant details and while ensuring you focus on things that really matter.

Character balance
Whether writing for television or cinema, characters are what make a story. And it is all about balance. You don’t want too many, leaving people confused and struggling to keep up with multiple storylines. But you don’t want too few either, leaving it sparse of interactions and people to root for. You have to consider the way characters interact and the tensions between them, the conflict. This is all directly appropriate when novel writing too.

Dramatic tension
On the screen, it’s vital each scene provides enough intrigue and tension to drive the story forward and keep the viewers watching. This means using mystery, the reveal of secrets, drama and actions to add to the experience. It means ending each scene in a way that leaves viewers wanting more. The same goes for writing. If you write a scene just for ‘filler’, leaving no progression of the story and no lasting impact, your readers may give up and not read on.

Have you written scripts before? What are your thoughts on the process? Drop thoughts in the comments below.

Until then,
Keep writing,

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18 thoughts on “4 ways screenwriting provides you with novel writing skills”

  1. Meelie, good post. When I think of screenwriting, I think of the tough decision in “The Godfather” to start the movie at the wedding rather than as it was initially planned with a lead-up to how the Godfather came to power. Fortunately, all that footage of Robert DeNiro as the rising Don was used in the second movie. The movie would have worn us out if they started at the beginning. Keith

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As to show don’t tell, I scanned the internet for descriptions of camera shots. Many of the techniques can give readers unique perspectives in a novel.


  3. BBC Writersroom is opening for submissions. I didn’t put a script in last year, but I will this year. I don’t expect to get anything produced, but secretly hope I will in the same way I hope I win the lottery, while not buying a ticket. I’ve been long-listed twice, which means out of an average of 12 000 I sneak into the 100 selected in the first sweep.
    Jed Mercurio, a former doctor, whose fictional forays into medicine is a former fiction writer who writes screenplays.
    Irvine Welsh insists it’s the only way to make serious cash.
    For the rest of us, who live in the real world and make less money than it takes to buy a packet of stamps, screenwriting is all about beats.
    The ability to crank dramatic tension up, just before the ad breaks (11 to 15 minutes) and bring the story back (Emmerdale or Coronation Street are good examples).
    Most stories have two storylines running concurrently.
    A larger storyline, storyboarded by a team of scriptwriters, that needs to be hit every episode.
    In other words, the plot is known.
    The who, what, when offers no surprise, but it should to the viewer, in the same way fiction writers should surprise their readers and keep them turning to the next page.
    When you know your setting (crucial for novel writing) and your characters (never say ‘dittto’) then you’re good to go. Learning by doing. It’s as old as Greek apothegms.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m a novel writer working simultaneously with a screenwriter. I help with setting scenes and dialogue. Which has helped me in writing. Also I’ve cut out narrative that doesn’t advance the story. Editing screenwriter has been the best education for me. 📚🎶 Christine

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I admit to ignorance of what a screenplay looks like. However, a key difference between filmed and written fiction is that in the former you have actors doing the showing by actions, expressions, and spoken words. In writing for readers, on the other hand, the writer is in effect creating a script for a movie to be made in the reader’s mind. I’ve read posts advising writers to avoid detailed descriptions of facial gymnastics and eyes doing things like rolling and crawling. “Stage direction,” in which writers try to “show” by minutely verbalizing character movements (crossing a room, sitting, picking up a phone, etc.) is also discouraged.
    On the other hand, your point about the writer imagining a scene in detail is a good one. Then there’s the matter of assembling words that a reader can use to construct that scene for themselves. Emphasis on the visual translated into written words. (Maybe this is why I find first-drafting, which consists of this process, so exhausting). 😀

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