Novelist vs. Screenwriter

9908245_s[1]The other day as I watched Bridges of Madison County for the….uh, maybe…100th time?  Is there a Bridges Club like the one someone began for the movie Dirty Dancing?  Anyway, I kept repeating to myself:  “You’ve seen this, how many times?  Just, go and begin working on your next blog piece.”  But, I couldn’t tear myself away.  Ah, the romance keeps ’em coming back every time, doesn’t it?  Then, just as Robert (Clint) took Francesca (Meryl) in his arms for that forever romantic, and passionate dance scene – you know, the one done to the song, I See Your Face Before Me, sung by Johnny Hartman – this question came to me.  Novelist or Screenwriter?  I don’t know why. Sometimes, I think the brain really can exist outside the body.

But, getting back to the question, I think a part of the answer lies in whether you are a lover of words.  Yes?  Think about it – as a screenwriter one cannot discuss the design in the floor tile that takes the character back to a time when he or she remembers first coming across the pattern on a carousel, while preparing to say good-bye to their mother who is ready to leave the strained relationship with the child. Or something to that effect.  That, of course will be handled in another sense, maybe in back story as the film people take you on a ride back in time.  Am I right?

As a novelist, the writer has the job of director.  When I began to write and inhaled how-to material like a wood-chipper, I came across a chapter on that subject.  In choosing viewpoints for a story, the writer should consider themselves the camera person who doesn’t only perceive visual images, but sensory perceptions as well; emotions, and thoughts.  Shifting the camera gives you first, second, third or an omniscient narrator.  Now, as a screenwriter you give up that ability.  Personally, I haven’t found any excitement in “Fade In.”  Now, as a novelist, in describing that carousel scene, it sends descriptive nouns and adjectives rolling through my brain as if they were on a marquee.  At all times, I perceive words as having the appearance and color of that fabulous dress or suit in the window of your favorite clothier.  As book people, we can grab the frills, tapestries, and colors that match or compliment each other.  As a screenwriter, you’re limited.  This person, also has the ability to take a piece and make it unrecognizable.  But, believe me this can also be done by a publisher.

Taking this all a step further, over time, there have been a number of myths flying about on these two categories. Some more ridiculous than the next.  Here are just a few that I’ve heard:

  • People on the west coast want to write screenplays;
  • East coasters like to write novels;
  • Extroverts want to write screenplays, since they have the need for the spotlight;
  • Only philosophical people write novels;
  • Introverts write novels.

Ridiculous, right?  Who comes up with this stuff?  To me that’s the same as saying anyone who writes a book, will make one million dollars.  That would put them in the section with the person who envies what you do, but cannot spend one minute of their own time being productive.  There is a lot of talk on these two topics, and I guess one is just as difficult in its own right.  For me however, I am a lover of words – I love explaining scenery, food, and even problems, poetically.  When all is said and done, it is without doubt, a personal thing.  But, I think, being objective there are just as many reasons to like either or, of these jobs.  What do you think?


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11 thoughts on “Novelist vs. Screenwriter

  1. Yeah, I can’t include as much thought diversity into the screenplay. If I want my screen character to reminisce about the floor tile descriptively, then I have to be ready for the mood and atmosphere the philosophical aspect may bring, and be prepared to carry that through. Some aspects of my story might conflict with the mood and flow on screen that would work just fine for prose.

    I think the movie “A Trip to Bountiful” did a fantastic job of tracing Carrie’s stream of consciousness as she returns to her home. And I gobble up Kathleen’s delightful tangents in “You’ve Got Mail.” I bring up those two movies to say there are philosophical undercurrents in some movies that I relate to even better watching than I would reading the bare thought. So I guess it depends on what I want to say and finding the best way to say it.

    • Marilla: Thanks for stopping by. I can’t tell you how many times I have began watching “You’ve Got Mail,” and I never seem to get to the end – something always pulls me away. But, I do remember Kathleen’s tangents. Now, you have me thinking about the wonderful job they did with “Under The Tuscan Sun,” and what a great movie that was. I think most of the people I know though, and/or interact with enjoy writing novels, and being descriptive. !end

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  4. Happy New Years Veronica,

    Nice post, very enlightening on how different people view screenwriters and novelists. I’m also a lover of words, and I think the creativity of a writer can draw you to either, whether it’s screenwriting or authoring, it’s still writing!

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