A Script Is Not Literature

Read this tip to make your life smarter, better, faster and wiser. LifeTips is the place to go when you need to know about Screenwriting Basics and other Screenplay topics.

A Script Is Not Literature

Novels and stories allow for liberties of pacing not possible in cinema. Scripts have to keep moving. The best screen stories unfold with a sense of rhythm and swing through action, sound, and pictures. Every word on the page should contribute to the images and flow of the story. If the words themselves stand out too much, the reader becomes conscious of the writer, and the fictional world is broken.
The key to writing a good script is economy. The Traveling Wilburys had a line in one of their songs: She wrote a long letter on a short piece of paper. To me, that sums up screenwriting beautifully. It isn't about the beauty of language, it's about telling a rich story within a limited frame. In striving for brevity, screenwriters drop pronouns and commas and don't always use full sentences. Yet their stories should still have the stuff of literature—the emotion, the drama, the experience—without striving to be literature. A screenplay can be beautifully written, even poetic, but its beauty lies in a tightly structured story and a perfectly delivered emotional experience, not from the language itself. Poetry is reached in an ideal image rendered by a single word, not through lush descriptions.
Writing a good script is hard. It takes the same blood, sweat, and toil as writing anything else—and then some. Yet it's true that you need specific sensibilities to write a script. A novelist may balk at the limitations of the script format, but a good screenwriter will find the tight framework challenging and even liberating. Novelists don't necessarily make good screenwriters and vice versa, though a study of both forms could prove useful to all writers. I suggest you compare a novel with the screenplay of its movie adaptation. You may be amazed at how supremely different they are, even though they represent the same basic material.



Nobody has commented on this tip yet. Be the first.


URL: (optional)


Not finding the advice and tips you need on this Screenplay Tip Site? Request a Tip Now!

Guru Spotlight
Alexis Niki
Buy My Book