Welcome back Nancy West, who asks what screenwriting can teach novelists.
Telling Stories: Screenwriters’ Secrets
I don’t have the foggiest notion how to write a screenplay. But I noticed that many screenwriters become successful novelists.
What can writers of movie scripts possibly teach us? They have two hours of screen time which gives them barely enough minutes to devise a meaningful plot, much less tantalizing characters and lyrical prose. Exactly. Every screen shot has to have purpose, meaning and move the story forward. And novelists write stories.
When Christopher Vogler heard Joseph Campbell speak about his book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, he realized Campbell was articulating life principles embedded in all memorable stories and myths.
The Writer’s Journey became the design tool for all storytellers: playwrights, screenwriters and novelists. Vogler consults on hundreds of screenplays while they’re in the developmental stage. His book has been called “the screenwriters’ Bible.”
Alexandra Sokoloff wrote Stealing Hollywood, Screenwriting Tricks for Authors. She worked as a screenwriter for ten years, sold original scripts and wrote novel adaptations for major Hollywood studios before writing novels. Her stories have won Thriller and Bram Stoker awards and an Anthony nomination. In Stealing Hollywood, she builds on her experience and the knowledge of other scriptwriting gurus, including Christopher Vogler. She uses a three-act, eight-sequence structure geared for novelists and refers to familiar films to illustrate her points. Her index card method helps writers devise a visual chart of their storyline as they create the novel. She teaches writing workshops and college courses to film students on story structure. High school and college teachers use her book as a writing text and a textbook for film and story analysis.
Jill Chamberlain, screenwriting instructor and screenplay consultant, points to the central unifying system at work behind great screenplays in The Nutshell Technique: Crack the Secret of Successful Screenwriting. She says getting from a good idea to a story that works requires using eight elements and, most importantly, understanding the interdependence between these elements. Like the other authors, she refers to Aristotle’s basic three-act structure and uses familiar movies to illustrate her points. Writers can use the Nutshell Technique to “get straight to the guts of their story and make sure it works before they even start a screenplay or treatment [or novel.]”
With these short descriptions, it’s impossible to do justice to how valuable these books are for novelists. Each book builds on the others, but a writer who reads and absorbs any of them will be rewarded with new understanding of how to tell a story. It’s nice to know what we’re trying to do before we begin.
Have you used these or other screenwriting books to help you write stories? What did you learn?
Nancy G. West was a business major who discovered that writing mysteries is more fun than accounting. She wrote the biography of an artist, a poem featured on NPR, and a suspense novel. Her Aggie Mundeen Mysteries have each won or been nominated for an award.
Aggie faces her most recent and greatest challenge in The Plunge, a short novel of suspense. She and SAPD Detective Sam go to a lakeside cottage for a relaxing weekend, only to be caught up in crime and an epic flood that washes away clues and threatens their survival. The Plunge, the first Aggie Mundeen Lake Mystery, is a spin-off from the first series and propels Aggie in a new direction.
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