script versus prose

I’m beginning to notice the effects of what I’ve learned in my screenwriting MA. It became most noticeable today when I was reviewing an early draft of a short story by a colleague.

I’m much more attuned to looking for character and plot that is exposed via action, not dialogue. Too much telling (and not enough showing) immediately beeps on my radar. I also look for simple evocative details, and I try to notice what is changing in each scene/section.

Prose, of course, can get away with a lot more that a screenplay. There’s fantastic scope to express your characters’ thoughts directly to the reader, and there’s more leeway for description and worldbulding.

Writing a script is all about condensing information via action (as much as possible). It’s a real trick, and one I admire when it is executed well. Sometimes when I’m watching a DVD or a TV show I’ll start gushing to Martin about how well certain information is conveyed to the audience with no dialogue at all. It appears natural and simple to the audience (as it should), but to me it reads as excellent writing and direction.

Learning to write for the screen brings a lot of benefits to a writer. It teaches you to express yourself quickly and economically in each scene, and to be as visual as possible. Dialogue should be natural and expressive without being too direct. I listen a lot more to how people articulate their thoughts to one another now, and I’m always overhearing excellent dialogue.

These techniques can be transposed to prose. It’s about expressing your story clearly, and with emotional depth and truth, to your reader.

I like to think that I’m getting better at conveying information in these ways… but there’s still huge room for improvement.