Screenwriting Tips From Novelists
A surprising number of famous novelists have also worked as screenwriters.
It’s understandable that many writers would choose to express themselves in both ways. After all, the fundamentals are similar. Tell a story. Create engaging characters. Touch people emotionally. Although the formats may be different, screenwriting and novel writing have a lot in common.
Personally, I always find it fascinating to learn from creative people who practice more than one form of art. Often, insights from one area can be applied to another. Novelists can offer unique perspectives on screenwriting.
Today, I’d like to share four ideas from legendary writers who produced work for both the page and the screen. Their writing advice is useful for novelists and screenwriters alike.
1) Practice Dialogue Like Agatha Christie
When it comes to writers who are synonymous with a genre, Agatha Christie and mystery tales spring to mind.
Although she will always be BEST known for her memorable detective fiction, Christie has some invaluable advice to benefit screenwriters of any genre, based on her theatre work but also her long-lost radio and television plays.
One practice that Christie credited with improving the quality of her work was going for long walks and speaking dialogue out loud.
Why did she bother to do this, and why should you?
Simply put, there is nothing more distracting for a viewer than hearing dialogue that sounds unnatural. Often, rookie writers end up with characters that speak in unbelievable, stilted tones. This causes the viewer to take their focus away from the story, breaking the suspension of disbelief.
By speaking dialogue out loud, Christie was able to ensure it sounded believable – like something real people would actually say.
But why did she walk? Walking has been shown to boost our creativity and keep our ideas flowing. Exercise is essential for the creative mind to function at its best.
Next time you’re struggling to come up with convincing dialogue for your screenplay, why not take a stroll and talk out loud? If it was good enough for Agatha Christie, it’s good enough for us mere mortals!
2) Be ‘Creatively Lazy’ Like Gillian Flynn
Gillian Flynn is known for her thrilling novels depicting sociopathic people in extraordinary circumstances. Gone Girl is her most famous work. As well as producing the book version of Gone Girl, Flynn was taken on to write its adaptation screenplay.
So how can you draw upon the advice of Gillian Flynn to improve your own writing?
One concept Flynn has shared is the importance of creative downtime. She stated that many of her best ideas popped out of nowhere while she played video games!
Obviously, you need to avoid taking this advice too far. Endless video gaming isn’t a substitute for focused screenwriting practice!
However, don’t feel guilty about taking an occasional break. You might just have a screenwriting epiphany in the middle of it.
3) Focus On Art Like Brett Easton Ellis
Brett Easton Ellis is well-known for his controversial novels, with American Psycho being his most famous work.
While many people are familiar with his fiction, fewer are aware that Ellis has also turned his hand to screenwriting.
Ellis has been keen to point out that he isn’t in Hollywood to make money, even though he feels that’s the perception people have of him.
Instead, Ellis is keen to stress that he is there to tell stories that he sees as being suitable only for the screen, not the pages of a book.
So what lesson can you learn from this? Try and think about the aspects of your own work that make it suitable for the screen. Get excited about its artistic merits, not its moneymaking potential.
If your story seems like it would work equally well on the page or the stage, try again. To take Ellis’ advice to heart, you need to make sure your work and its intended medium are a perfect match for each other.
4) Follow Your Own Path Like Michael Crichton
Michael Crichton was one of those unique people who seemed to succeed at whatever he tried.
As well as studying at Harvard, and succeeding in the medical world, Crichton wrote beloved novels and legendary movies.
Crichton was able to capture the imagination of his audience like few other screenwriters. He also had the gift of making his outlandish ideas feel somehow scientifically possible – even if they weren’t.
So what piece of advice can we take from Michael Crichton and use to serve our own screenwriting dreams?
Crichton stated that throughout your life, people will tell you things. However, 95% of the time, those things will be wrong.
So how can we apply this?
At its heart, Crichton’s message is that we need to follow our own path. To chase our own dreams. To write in our own way.
Even if our screenplays fall flat, it’s better that they are truly our own. By failing, we learn and improve. By compromising our own ideas to please others, we end up serving no one at all.
Screenwriting Tips From Novelists – Final Thoughts
So which of these ideas will you put into practice in your own work?
Whether practical advice on helping your dialogue ring true, or motivational guidance to follow your own path, these four novelists turned screenwriters have something to help each and every one of us.
Do you know of any more useful advice from writers who have successfully crossed the literature and screenplay divide?
If so, feel free to let me know in the comments. I’m always on the look out for unique perspectives, and would love to hear any you know of!
BIO: Chandler Bolt is the host of the Self Publishing School podcast & the author of 6 bestselling books including his most recent book titled “Published.”. He’s also the founder & CEO of Self-Publishing School, the #1 online resource for writing your first book.