Article by Danek S. Kaus

One of my screenwriting Twitter followers asked me the question: Which is harder-turning a book into a screenplay or turning a screenplay into a book? Without any hesitation, I responded that it’ s much more difficult to turn a book into a movie.

For one thing, you have much less space to tell your story when screenwriting. A novel can run 80,000 – 100,000 words and more, taking up hundreds of pages. A screenplay must, with very few exceptions, run 90 – 120 pages, with lots of white space on the pages. Average word count is somewhere around 20,000 – 25,000 words.

The reason for the strict page count when screenwriting is that the rule of thumb when making a movie is that one screenplay page equals one minute of screen time. It doesn’t always work out that way but you still need to watch your page count.

So you can see the problem from the outset. Books have much more room to develop their themes, stories and characters. They can spend a lot of time describing a scene or a character, and delve deeply into their backstory. Although it is important to be aware of page count because of production costs and marketing, novels have less exacting word counts.

Novels are much more flexible. They allow the writer to spend time on what interests them most. Novels also allow authors to have fun with the language, to show off their poetic flair, if so inclined. For many people, including me, part of the joy of reading a novel is the writing style of some of my favorite authors.

A novel can reveal to us what a character is thinking. In screenwriting, you can only write what can be seen and heard on the screen. Sure, there are voice overs, but most directors and producers prefer not to have them unless absolutely necessary.

Screenwriting must be minimalist. Character descriptions tend to be very general, in order to allow for more casting options. Also, movie dialogue must be much shorter. Every sentence and every word must move the story forward in some way.

Novels can have multiple subplots. Most films only have one or two, if any. There’s simply not enough time for them to develop in about 90 minutes.

Another reason that screenwriting is so much more difficult is that the audience only has a brief moment to absorb all they can form each scene. When people read a book, they can go back a few pages if something is not clear. You can’t do that in a movie theater.

In books, words tell the story. In movies, images, along with dialogue, tell the story, but images are preeminent.

On the other hand, for the reasons listed above, and others, turning a screenplay into a novel is a much easier process. The writer can use all those ideas, characters and subplots they had to discard because of space and time limitations. They can have fun with the language and more easily reveal the thoughts, emotions and motivations of their characters. If your novel is a few thousand words above what your editor asked for, you can probably get away with it. But if a screenplay is too short or too long, it gets tossed without even being considered.

One difficulty that a screenwriter may have when turning a screenplay into a book is that they now have to be more specific with details of locations and the visual appearance of their characters. So, although writing a novel is not easy, it is easier that writing a screenplay.

Danek S. Kaus is a produced screenwriter of an award-winning feature film. He has two movies in development and three more of his scripts have been optioned. Visit his screenwriting site for more article on screenwriting. You can also request his Free Ebook screenwriting for authors










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