Katherine MK Mitchell: “What Can Novelists and Screenwriters Learn from Each Other?”

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What Can Novelists and Screenwriters Learn from Each Other?

The rules of writing the novel and the screenplay are drastically different but in the end the results have to be the same – satisfied customers.

So what can novelists and screenwriters learn from each other?

The screenwriter must learn how to use the camera as a character, not speaking but all-seeing. The novelist must learn to put on paper everything that the camera would see. Simple, yes? You have to know when to hold it, know when to fold it—and that is where the differences come in.

They both must organize the piece into a neat package with beginning, middle and end. The novelist also must incorporate the all-seeing eye of the camera into the narrative and keep it fluid. This long form has to include all the sights, sounds, settings, and props for the reader to see and sense. The ebb and flow of the rhythm is necessary to keep the reader engaged.

The screenwriter’s biggest challenges are the element of time and writing space. The length of a movie, a TV show, a documentary, a commercial, an infomercial, must be within time restraints. Commercial breaks, intermissions and other standard pauses must be in a specific place at a specific moment in the end-product. The learning is excruciating. It is also exciting, intricate and often enthralling.

A screenwriter generally does not have the patience to use the novel form and a novelist generally does not know how to divorce himself from his beloved but visually unnecessary descriptive narrative.

In the end, however, both must know how to maneuver the camera—whether it’s literal or figurative—and master the art of showing the audience everything they need to know in the richest and most sensory way possible.


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