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4 Important Differences between Scriptwriting and Novel Writing

by Yvette McKenzie
Posted: September 09, 2015

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On the surface, a novel and a screenplay are two very similar creatures; in order to succeed, they both need a strong storyline and convincing dialogue. But despite their similarities, turning a great novel into an equally great screenplay is easier said than done.

When deciding whether or not scriptwriting might be right for you, it’s important to understand how it differs from other forms of creative writing, so here are a few of the most important differences between scriptwriting and novel writing.

1. Structure and length

When writing a novel you have 300 pages or more to set the stage for your story and develop the plot. Paragraphs can also be as long or short as you deem necessary. With scriptwriting, however, your entire story needs to fit on about 100 pages or less, so you need to be as succinct as possible. To do this, descriptions and dialogue must be kept to just two or three lines per paragraph; your sentences must be short and to-the-point, and every word needs to count.

2. Dialogue

With a novel it’s possible to develop characters more fully by describing them and their inner thoughts. When writing a script, however, one of the only ways you can develop your characters, aside from describing their actions, is through their dialogue.

With this in mind, the dialogue needs to set characters apart or they’ll all end up sounding like exactly the same person. If you want a character to appear entitled and self-absorbed, for instance, you need to be able to make that clear with what they say and the way they say it, without adding any descriptions that viewers wouldn’t be able to hear or see on screen.

3. Writing style

With a screenplay, it’s important to intersperse dialogue with actions, and actions with dialogue in order to create a visual piece of writing. Long speeches and large chunks of dialogue between two or more characters might work in a novel, but when writing for the screen, you need to break chunks of dialogue up with actions in order to keep it snappy.

4. Essentials vs. details

If you want your script to be read by industry professionals, it needs to be as short and to the point as possible, and in order to accomplish this, you need to work out what the essentials are and cut away any fluff. In a novel, including detailed descriptions helps to paint a picture and can make for better reading, but in a screenplay, anything that won’t be seen or heard on screen and doesn’t move the story forward or add insights into a character’s state of mind should be left out.

These four points are just the tip of the iceberg, of course, so if you’re interested in learning more about the ins and outs of writing for the screen or stage, why not have a chat with one of our career advisors to find out more about how a Certificate in Professional Scriptwriting can help you develop your skills and prepare for a career in showbiz?



Yvette has over a decade of professional experience at some of Australia’s largest media corporations, including Southern Cross Austereo and the Macquarie Media Network. With a degree in Communications (majoring in Journalism), she covers stories on education, new knowledge technologies and independent learning.

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