Good screenplay format is the VERY LEAST expected of a screenwriter.
Yup, it’s true … Writing craft doesn’t mean what you think it does. Too many spec screenwriters OBSESS on format, thinking that equals good craft. NOPE!!! Seriously wish this was the least we need. Eek.
So by all means study screenplay format and “reader proof” your script … If your script looks professional, this might get you through the door. That’s the good news.
The bad news? You ARE NOT going to stay there if your concept, characters and story ain’t up to scratch. Hashtag facts!
It’s different for novelists though, right?
Yes … and no.
It’s true that authors don’t have as many format ‘rules’ to follow. As long as your manuscript is in a readable font and double-spaced, no one is going to freak out too much.
But again, ‘good’ writing craft is not about whether it looks like crap on the page or not. In fact, what constitutes ‘good’ novel writing craft and screenplay craft are THE SAME.
Yes I said it!
Good novel writing and good screenwriting are made up of the SAME COMPONENTS.
What?? It’s not really that surprising when you break it down. It’s all storytelling. This is why books translate to the screen and back again (and beyond, to video games, web series and other transmedia!).
How Screenplays And Novels Differ
Yet I hear all the time about how novel writing and screenwriting are ‘totally different’. Usually, this will be from writers who have no experience of writing BOTH novels and scripts. (Sometimes a writer will have attempted the other medium, freaked out, then given up).
However, whenever I am in the company of other novel-writing screenwriters (or screenwriting novelists!), I’ve discovered they feel these are the only the real differences …
- Screenplays have more traditions / conventions / rules (ie. formatting)
- Novels are waaaaaay longer (the average novel is approximately 80K words; the average screenplay feature in comparison is approximately 20K)
- Screenplays ‘what you see is what you get’; novels are more psychological
- Novels can make use of the five senses, whereas scripts tend to have to rely on sight and sound
- Screenplays are ‘blueprints’ and collaborative, whereas novels tend to be more ‘sole writer’
So yeah, five differences … that aren’t really that big. I would tend to agree with the above, too.
How screenplays and novels are THE SAME
This is the thing. If screenplays and novels are both storytelling, then the components are the same at grass roots level. But what does this mean?
B2W thought about what goes into ‘good’ writing and whittled it down to just three components. I call these components ‘The Holy Trinity’ …
I believe these three elements are The Foundations of Writing Craft, which is why I created the FREE online course based on them … For both screenwriters AND novelists!
Remember, B2W doesn’t believe good storytelling is about formulas. There’s no ‘rules’ to writing, you can do whatever you want.
That ‘Holy Trinity’ can be tweaked and changed and moulded to tell whatever kind of story you want. I do whatever I want all the time (and if publishers or producers don’t like it?? They can go F themselves!!!).
So, for a truly great piece of writing, here’s the least you need …
- A road-tested concept that is not half-baked
- Characters with discernible role functions that have strong motivations
- A meaty plot with a great sense of escalation, metaphorical or literal.
Remember, formatting or looking fancy on a page is the very least you can do as a writer. The above is what will swing it for you.
Oh and don’t forget your free online course on writing craft if you haven’t signed up already! Enjoy.