Over the years working as a TV writer/producer, a tidal wave of stories was building up inside me that had nothing to do with my work. So, I turned to eBook and print formats.
Was I arrogant to think that the shift from screen to page would be easy? I assumed that a story was a story whether it appeared on TV or the printed page. Didn’t my experience and awards show I knew how to tell a story?
Maybe I wasn’t arrogant, just naïve. I didn’t realize what I didn’t know. There is a huge difference between telling a story on the page vs. a TV or movie screen. I had to adjust.
Now that my first murder mystery is published, I can share what I’ve learned so far:
The structure is different. Stories on the screen tend to focus on a small window in time. Actions and reactions are fueled by an event or a place. Think of the action-packed movie that is still a good adventure, “Die Hard”HH – all the action happens in a couple of hours. The same is true with the new crop of “Star Trek” movies and most of your favorite TV shows. Like anything else, there is an exception to this general rule and an excellent example is “Downton Abbey.” The action shifts from the upstairs family characters to the downstairs servants to the war location and so on creating mini stories held together by the characters and the Big House. But the exception proves the rule, the time in each case is basically the same.
The story presented on the page (electronic or paper) can take the reader through weeks, months, even years. Lengthy flashbacks or detailed backstory can appear at any time with a three-star break or a change in font.
This major difference makes the writer look at the story differently. When TIME is a controlling factor, I think it’s easier to make decisions about the story: Does this event move the story along? Does this extensive dialogue slow down the action? Does this bit of backstory clarify the story or character relationships or does it bog down the flow? All these questions are important even if you’re not doing a thriller.
When writing for the page, the writer has much more freedom… to expand the story or destroy it!
It might be easier to write for the page since you can include anything you want without the restraints of time, for example. It’s also easier to create a morass that might drown you. Sometimes, boundaries are helpful. With almost complete freedom, it’s up to the writer to impose good strategies and make tough decisions.
But that’s not all I’ve learned so far. I’ll share some other nuggets in another post next week..
Let me know if you’ve had an experience writing for both the screen and page. I’d love to compare notes!