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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Media Format: Novel vs Film

   
Author Topic: Media Format: Novel vs Film
legolasgalactica
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I have many concerns that create a very effective series of road-blocks for my writing project.
The first problem I had (aside from the usual writing difficulties) while trying to write out my story is that the idea ‘came’ to me as a film—in movie format. So, in sketching it out, the structure of the storyline is one of a film rather than a novel—and initially, I didn’t really think about the differences. So my dilemma is this:

Do I continue with the movie format even though I know less than nothing about the back side of the film industry (i.e. what and how much producers/directors want or expect, how and to whom I’d submit it, how to maintain control of the story, where to find the money, etc.)? All I know is that it’s probably a much larger and more difficult task than I am prepared to handle.

Or do I change the format and much of the storyline to fit a novel structure as that seems like an easier realm to deal with as a complete novice? While I realize that each media format has advantages and weaknesses for telling a story, mine is definitely geared toward the strengths of showing over telling. There are important portions and aspects I just can’t fathom being able to include if it has to be spelled out for the reader.

There is a 3rd option that seems hopeful, but I’m not sure as to how wise a move it would be. That is to compromise and create an illustrated novel or perhaps even an electronic hybrid. That way I can show the reader things that are not necessarily spelled out in the text or at least things not visible or directly related to the characters in the story—such as future fulfillment of a prophecy only just being proclaimed…

It’d be nice but unlikely to hear from Card himself since he has vast amounts of experience in every aspect of my project. My story is an enlarged and partially fictionalized retelling of a story from the scriptures that is very sparsely detailed in the account.

Any advice regarding which option seems best or help understanding more writing for the film industry or illustrated books would be helpful. If you see any other options that could help me, that would be great too.

My other concerns about ethics in writing, co-authoring, and quoting real people, speeches or events in a work of historical-fiction will be posted as separate topics.
Thank you.

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Robert Nowall
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There's no reason you can't write it all out as a script, or play, and then "novelize" it in prose. Whatever works.

Just keep in mind that something that works in a script might not work in a novel---and vice versa.

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extrinsic
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Visual media do many of the descriptive modes of writing through showing graphically aural and visual sensations cinematically. They show characters' facial expressions and gestures and such that express emotional attitude. They show in general external world stimuli. Visual media's primary shortcoming is expressing thoughts, internal stimuli, causing and reacting to external stimuli. That is written word's strength, expressing internal stimuli.

Film achieves close narrative distance through visual and aural spectacle. Vivid visuals and strong and clear aural sensations entice and excite audiences, particularly explosions and blood and gore, also awe and wonder sensations like crackling, burning bushes and illuminated foreshortened clips like the sermon on the mount where a shaft of light coming through clouds lights the speaker in golden and silvery hues.

Written word, on the other hand, must artfully describe visual, aural, and other sensations sufficiently, clearly, and strongly that a moving portrait develops in readers' imaginations.

The six senses in terms of creative expression are visual, aural, tactile, olfactory, gustatory, and emotional. Film expresses emotional sensation through external mediums, like sights and sounds, looks and talks. But film is limited to what can be filmed and aurally recorded. So cinematic devices express thoughts, like voiceovers, the notorious "reaction shot" clips, and the shallow thoughts that audiovisual media can portray. Written word doesn't have those limitations, rather, it's limited to the ability of the writer to convey an artful moving portrait.

Written word manages close narrative distance through staying in individual character's perspectives, in the moment, place, and situation (setting) of a character's struggles. Where film perspective moves around as circumstances require, from a character's eye, to his forehead, to his shoulder, to a spy-eye on the wall, from a visible character's perspective, to an invisible bystander's perspective, to no one at all's perspective. Viewers in effect become the camera.

The mediums are distinguishable and divisibly different. One audience may not be able to access the written word medium but may find the audiovisual medium eminently accessible and evocative. Consider the film The Book of Eli. No book yet, but the film is visually stimulating and accessible. Eli's and other central characters' thoughts are expressed aurally and visually.

[ June 20, 2013, 04:42 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Brendan
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I'm not sure I understand what you mean by this question - particularly the point that "the structure of the storyline is one of a film rather than a novel". Do you mean you have a series of images in your head, like a comic strip or story board, and want to know how best to convert this into something that people can see or read? This is a question of format (structure is used for a different concept). In other words, should you use a novel/short story format, a film-script format or a graphic novel (comic) format?

The answer to this is - whatever best suits your skills and interests in developing such skills. But don't underestimate the skill required for successful publication in any of these formats, nor overestimate the likelihood of becoming published in any format, (unless you do it yourself, and then you need to add the business and marketing skills).

Think of format as a question about the fundamental building blocks of a story/construction, e.g. whether to use lego, match sticks, spagetti or magnetic ballbearings. Structure is a question about how to fit these building blocks together in a way that won't fall down or look completely different to what you want. The building block will impact what can be done to the structure, but there are also structural elements that will be needed irrespective of the chosen building blocks.

So your question could equally be about what are the strengths and weaknesses of the formats and how these for impact on the story structures, in order to make an informed choice on format. For any guidance on this, we probably need to know more about why you think it best suits one or other format.

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legolasgalactica
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Thanks for the help in understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each.

Brendan, thanks for the clarifying question (I am foriegn to the technical terms in writing). But it seems I mean both format and structure.

By structure I mean that an important element in my story is that i want to show things while people speak. Namely, on several occasions a prophet is telling of things to come and I want to keep the words of prophecy in their simple form, but while he is speaking, i want the reader not the speaker's audience to see the future fulfillment much more fully than the words imply. I don't know how to accomplish this textually. There is another occasion where the creation of the world is being explained: "In the beginning, etc..." but while I want the words to be simple and basic, i want the reader to experience the wonder of the events being described. There are many such examples where I'm running into this problem. And I'm not sure I want to relinquish the power, the reader experience, and overall effect this provides. Hence my dilemma.

[ June 21, 2013, 04:01 AM: Message edited by: legolasgalactica ]

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Pyre Dynasty
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Fear isn't a good motivator for things like this. If you are turning it into a novel because you fear the film industry then your novel is an escape hatch not a work of art. If this wants to be, needs to be, a film then write your script. Then worry about marketing it after you have something to sell.

A graphic novel format could work just as well. I've seen plenty of people find success just from posting a page at a time on the internet. The issue there is the art. If you can't do it yourself I don't know how to go about finding an artist to work on it.

If you do go with a novel format, think about your point of view character and what they are seeing. If you are writing it from the prophet's pov then it is possible to show their "inner eye" viewing the events. More importantly it will be possible to show how he feels about them. The domain of the novel is thought.

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extrinsic
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"Format" and "structure" 's meanings overlap in general usage. For writing, they are worlds apart. Structure is the set of organizing principles that shape a composition. In the cases of fiction and creative nonfiction, that is dramatic structure, or plot as structure has been known since the early sixteenth century.

Format, on the other hand, is less generally used in describing creative writing. Format may refer to the medium, in many cases, like book, short composition, film, radio, print, digital, oral performance. Where plot is a creative device calculated to persuade, format is a method of transmission.

Plot challenges many writers. Plot is much more than a plan of organization: chronological, escalating detail, order of discovery, most exhilarating circumstances to least, its opposite; abating, order and manner of preparation, etc. Plot is the emotional structure of a narrative, beginning with a complication, a want or problem wanting satisfaction.

Format too challenges writers. Format is more than the medium; it is the medium most likely to appeal to as large an audience as possible. Lately, of course, film has predominated in that regard. Similarly, short stories may appeal to one audience segment and novels to another.

One creative writing area in particular where plot and format overlap is voice, the narrative voice most likely to suit a narrative's intent and meaning. Voice formating derives from function and appeal. Is the function to lecture? Then a narrator's voice may predominate, like for a family vacation slideshow. Is the purpose to appeal to audiences? Then character voices may predominate, like as if the action unfolds as it happens in close narrative distance to the characters and not a writer's writing station lectern.

A sweeping scrutiny of literature's opus reveals that narrator voice predominated from antiquity forward to comparatively recent times. Scriptures, ancient Greek dramatic poetry, ancient poetry in general, folktales, fairy tales, fables, kinder and house märchen, the gamut of early literature largely told the dramatic action through narrator voice. Stage plays were somewhat of an exception, being audio and visual pageantries imitating unfolding action, and having character voices at times at the forefront of the drama.

The functions of literature changed when censorship relaxed, starting in the late Renaissance era from Des Cartes and Martin Luther's challenging and questioning predeterminism's presupposed notions of patriarchal propriety. Contemporary to and with the beginning emergence of the modern novel and short story formats. Most censorship evaporated mid nineteenth century, and all but disappeared in the West during the middle twentieth century. A dark time in the fledgling cinema industry reinstituted censorship between the World Wars. Censorhip has since effectively expired for all but a few socially evil areas like child sexual exploitation and real homicide.

On the surface, the function of literature has become entertainment. The informing, cautioning, correcting, controlling messages underlying literature have become subtextual, almost invisible. through foregrounding emotional appeal and dramatic structure.

Backtracking to dramatic structure and dramatic complication, emotional appeal requires a tangible dramatic complication, a want or problem wanting satisfaction audiences can relate to concretely and emotionally.

Lert's take Saul of Tarsus as a central character. In order to create an appealing narrative, he must be portrayed as having a personal want or problem of sufficient magnitude to span a format size, short story or novel, for example. Longer sweep of time and place; greater magnitude. Smaller sweep, lesser magnitude. So what does Saul want? To extinguish the fledgling and problematic Christian faith. That's not personal. Why does he personally want to destroy Christianity? Answer that question, and I think the Saul to Paul narrative's core structure will unfold. But as a best practice, portrayed in Saul's voice: his thoughts, actions and reactions, emotions, and sensations he experiences in the moment and place of their occurrences.

The progymnasmata, rhetorical excercises from ancient Greece, begins with the Fable exercise. The rubric is simple, take a fable and recompose its indirect discourse to direct discourse. Scriptures, folktales, etc., are almost entirely, if not purely, indirect discourse.

[ June 21, 2013, 03:18 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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legolasgalactica
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Okay, great advice so far. If i decide to stick with the movie format, how do i know if I'm writing what's needed to produce a useable product? Any thoughts on where to go to find examples of a movie screenplay (is that what it's called?)? My only exposure to anything in this area is a Shakespeare play we had to read in high school. Is writing for a play basically the same as writing for a movie? So, like dialogue and narration interspersed with explainations/instructions and detailed descriptions of what is to.be shown?
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extrinsic
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Screenplay and stage play scripts' formatting vary slightly from each other. The content is mostly the same, though. The beats and abbreviations used in either don't perfectly match up; one example, CU, for close-up, cannot happen in a stage play. Instead, lighting effects serve; spotlighting a focal actor functions for a close-up.

Any of the Shakespeare plays are available at Project Gutenberg, including all stage directions, beats, scene descriptions, and actor action and speaking byline captions. Arthur Miller's 1949 stage play Death of a Salesman is a strong example of a modern play script. However, it is still under copyright and so it isn't available free online. Many libraries circulate book formats from general stacks though. Other play scripts are also available, for example, from online booksellers Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

For formatting guides to screenplay and stage play scripts, search using keywords "script formatting." Many scriptwriting guides, software applications, freeware and vendor ware, are available online. Also search for script abbreviations and such.

A "beat" in script writing vernacular is an action stage direction usually formatted as a parenthetical with parentheses brackets, sometimes square brackets, braces, or less-than and greater than caret brackets. (Exuent Romeo); exit Romeo, for example. (Enter Juliet stage right rear from arched doorway).

Stage plays typically left justify all content, no indents, double line spacing; however, screenplay scripts center justify dialogue lines and beats, double line spaced, but paragraph format, left justified, with first line indents for scene descriptions.

One appreciable difference between scripts and prose is the actors act their parts with some direction from a director but mostly from their repertoire of acting methods, so the method of expression isn't given in a script. Artful prose, though, expresses all of that and more. Consider a stage or screenplay a product of the set of crew persons' skills in whatever their expertise is. Director, scene painter, location scout, sound person, camera person, makeup, wardrobe, curtain handler, key grip, best boy, caterer, etc. A prose witer is all of them and more.

[ June 22, 2013, 01:03 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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wetwilly
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A "beat" in script writing is actually a short dramatic pause. For example:

FIONA: You are the one who stole my necklace!

(Beat)

JAQUES: My my, aren't we feeling accusatory today.


In my experience (I have written a couple plays that have been performed, and a couple novels, although none have been published yet), the biggest difference between the two is the ability to "tell." In a play script, all you have is "show." You can't get inside a character's head directly; you're ONLY means of communicating anything to the audience is what they can see and hear. In other words, anything you want the audience to know about your character, you have to show them through the character's external characteristics/actions. In a novel, obviously, you can tell a character's thoughts to the reader. You can say, "Jaques was scared." In a play you are forced to show instead of tell, let the audience see Jaques acting scared and connect the dots for themselves. That's why I've actually learned a lot about writing novels from the play scripts I've written. It's a great exercise as a writer, especially if you have the chance to have your play actually be performed.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by wetwilly:
A "beat" in script writing is actually a short dramatic pause. For example:

FIONA: You are the one who stole my necklace!

(Beat)

JAQUES: My my, aren't we feeling accusatory today.

Proscriptively, prescriptively, yes. However, playwrights being creative writers, discretionarily, descriptively, broadly, "beat" also means any dramatic speaking pause or silence in dialogue signaled by an action, gesture, or motion direction not concurrent with speaking or another aural sensation, like a telephone ring. As well, several other similar meanings for playwrights, screenplay writers, prose writers, and poets.
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wetwilly
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Functionally the same, I guess. Just trying to get terms straight. I just thought of a question related to this, but in the interest of not hijacking the thread, I'm off to start my own.
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