Why A Screenplay Is Different To Other Literary Forms


Many screenwriters don’t appreciate the differences between literary formats. Newer writers often feel that they are interchangeable and being proficient in one literary form automatically qualifies them to transition into screenwriting.

Screenplays tend to be more functional documents which are interpreted and experienced by a movie’s cast and crew in different ways.

How is a screenplay different?

Movie scripts have more structural and formatting differences than simply page counts and margins.

A screenplay is a highly stylized, intermediary document that is a precursor to a film. It is not a completed novel, novella, short story, poem, play or other final literary form.

The whole purpose and process of screenwriting are different too.

Film scripts are primarily a visual medium, plays a verbal one and novels a prosaic one.

Movies are designed to be enjoyed mainly by what we SEE, not by what we read. It is therefore essential that film scripts create a filmic experience rather than a literary one.

Although a movie script is a self contained document, it is blueprint for an audio visual product. Screenplays are generally designed not to be read by audiences outside the film industry.

Screenplays are also contained by budgetary parameters. They generally contain fewer locales, time periods and characters than novels, especially when a page from a film script may cost upwards of $1 million to produce.

Length is another distinct feature of movie scripts. They generally clock in at around 100 pages. Poems can be 1 page long, short stories several pages and, novels, upwards of several hundred pages long.

Story scope is a lot more defined in film scripts. Films can generally only cope with one main character with one main goal, one antagonist and one resolution.

Novels tend to occupy more story real estate and can afford to introduce more characters and meander across multiple story lines. Escalation of stakes may not necessarily feature in novels since they can cover more plot than a single film.

Structure is also a lot tighter in screenwriting. They require a distinct beginning middle and end. There is an implied passage of time, plot and character growth. Novels and short stories contain less rigid versions of these structures. Poems do not. They can describe feelings, places, people and be more static in nature. Consequently, they have a more interpretive nature than film scripts.

Formats also vary. White space on the page is more important in screenplays than novels.

Word choices are also more economic and targeted in film scripts. Eloquent word choices, extended, flowing prose and extended monologues describing the main character’s feelings are appropriate in a novel, but not in a film script.

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