From novels to scripts…

Some of you may know that I am studying with the Open University when not writing books.

I started the course after finishing my senior journalism qualifications because I was keen for a new challenge. This can be tough going, but I’m glad I took it on.

My degree so far has involved reading texts, plays and other course materials set by the university. This year however, my course is much more practical, and involves writing for film, radio and television.

Even though I opted into this, it was a decision made with trepidation. I was looking over the course description, knowing it was the right thing to do, while feeling that tiny spark of  ‘Uh oh….. I have no bloody idea what I’m doing’ anxiety.

As writing books is my usual vehicle for creativity, I’m finding this part of my course particularly challenging. When it comes to novels I can write and write for hours. It’s something I’m familiar with, and I feel relatively comfortable doing it as long as I’m all set with the plot and characters.

But script writing, in whatever medium, has been particularly difficult but in the most positive way. The scripts have to be set out a certain format. There are different rules and conventions here, which for me as a writer of long stories was initially like having my wings clipped. I wasn’t very happy about it. How, how, how was I going express all this stuff with just a few lines of dialogue?

Everything changes in script writing. For radio you have to tell a story primarily through sound and dialogue, with none of the long paragraphs dripping in visual imagery that I delight in writing. For film, you have to think of the kinds of shots to use to tell your story, and a long text of thousands of words can be cut significantly to make a scene of just seconds or minutes.

I’ve even had a go at putting a section of my debut novel This is a Love Story into a film script format (I cannot tell you how much I would like to develop this further…). I can’t say it was easy, but a brilliant way to open my mind as a writer to various ways something can be expressed.

Anyway, clearly I’m feeling super inspired by this. It’s great to be introduced to new ways of story telling. The Open University is a brilliant way to study that I would recommend to anyone.

I’m a big fan of TV comedy/sitcoms, from The Mighty Boosh to Girls and Spaced. I’m watching everything from a different viewpoint, picking it apart, and really thinking about how it was created and why everything is done as it is. It’s an exciting thing to learn new methods, even if I am just at the tip of the iceberg of a highly-skilled way of working.

I’d like to hear from fellow writers of novels. Have you written books or long stories and tried turning your work into a script or excerpt for the radio? How have you found it?

My studies are far from being a series of educational hoops I have to jump through in order to achieve an end result. They have turned into something that I hope will influence and inspire future projects and ideas.


1 thought on “From novels to scripts…

  1. I totally understand this. I’ve written a number of screenplays, as well as short stories and poetry. I’ve never written a novel, but I do love to read. And working in theatre, I spend a huge amount of time with plays and scripts. It’s difficult! The thing I always have to remind myself is that it’s the difference between showing and telling. In a novel, you have the time to spell it out, and the audience will be with you. They follow the exposition. That doesn’t work in film or theatre quite as well. The exposition has to be shown in images. The time isn’t there. What in a book may take several pages, in a film or a play may only have a few seconds. So the question becomes: how do you get an idea across with only a few select images? After all, they say a picture speaks a thousand words…

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