Screenwriting Vs. Writing Young Adult Novels
Before we wrote our novel trilogy, Lex and I were writing screenplays together, and I’ve found the two experiences very different. Back when we wrote screenplays, we mostly wrote in the same room, which we don’t do for novels, and we’d spend most of our writing time talking about what should happen, rather than writing. Screenplays are all structure. There are only so many words on a screenplay page, a little bit of screen direction and a lot of dialog. Novels are different in that you have to tell the reader every detail.
Anything the reader will see, hear, taste, touch, smell or hear in a novel you have to tell them. I found that just to get through a scene in a novel I had to know so many more details and I had to understand what was going on much more clearly. In screenwriting, it doesn’t take nearly as long to get something written, and you can get away with suggesting a situation or a setting or a motivation and trusting that all the different skilled artists and craftsmen who are making the movie will handle the details of how it’s brought to life. Also you don’t have to deal with the details of what is going on inside the character, only what they do and say.
And that’s kind of a nice thing because it allows you to focus on structure almost exclusively and learn a lot about storytelling. It’s so easy comparatively to rewrite or replace a scene than a whole chapter. You can try many more things story-wise because it’s so fast to make changes.
Screenplays are all about speed. For whatever reason people can’t stand to sit still and watch a movie for much more than two hours without getting fidgety, so every moment of those two hours counts, and you don’t have the space to waste a word. You want to enter every scene as late as you can and get out as early as you can. Anything you put in a scene has to serve a purpose. It isn’t about exploring the details of a world and the inside of a characters mind, the medium doesn’t demand you know all those details. It demands structure.
Novels on the other hand are slow. They don’t have that restriction of two hours. You’re going to spend more time than two hours finishing a book. You’ll probably read it over time, not all in one sitting, so structure isn’t as important. It’s still important, but you might not need as much of it and the plot and pace don’t have to be operating like a well oiled machine for the thing to work.
But novels do take forever. Progress tends to be slow, and the finish line always seems impossibly far away. You have to sustain enthusiasm for an idea for much longer and that can be exhausting. At the end of the day I’m more proud to finish a book, for all the work it takes, than I ever was to finish a screenplay. And that’s because it’s actually finished, it’s complete. A screenplay is a blueprint for a story to be carried out in another medium, by a bunch of other artists. A novel is a finished work, and it’s all yours.
About the Author
Thomas Voorhies received a BFA in Illustration from the Rhode Island School of Design. He co-writes the Quarantine trilogy with his writing partner Lex Hrabe. Thomas currently lives in Los Angeles, where he paces around in a loft downtown, writing, painting, watching movies, and listening to comedy. He spends the rest of his time silently watching people or joking around.
About Quarantine #3: The Burnouts
Lord of the Flies in a 21st century high school setting. Welcome to Quarantine #3: The Burnouts, where readers of The Maze Runner,Gone, and Divergent go when they’re ready for more dark, compelling, survival stories.
In the third and final Quarantine book, David and Will are alive…but on the outside of McKinley High. Lucy is the last of the trinity left inside, where Hilary will exact a deadly revenge before taking over McKinley and bringing one final reign of terror to the school before the doors open for good. But the outside world is just as dangerous for carriers of the virus.
Add this book to your collection: Quarantine #3: The Burnouts, by Lex Thomas
You may also enjoy reading this article by Lex of Lex Thomas: The Art Of Writing An Epic Hero