Here’s a writing exercise that I absolutely don’t recommend, but could be helpful if, you know, you have time on your hands.
Over the last month or so, I’ve been working on converting one of my unpublished manuscripts into a screenplay, both as a means of providing an alternate path to some form of publication (given shrinking opportunities in publishing, with the impacts of COVID-19 set to narrow such even further), and as an exercise to see whether I could do it, and what might come from actually sitting down and writing something in an alternate format.
I’m not entirely new to screenwriting – my first novel, Rohypnol, was optioned for a film version, and I worked on the screenplay with the production team from Seed Productions. But still, I’m no expert, and given the format-specific considerations of screenwriting, it’s a very different challenge, one which makes you look at your work in a new way, focusing on visuals and dialogue, without the capacity to explore each character’s emotional responses in-depth.
That different angle has helped me improve much of the dialogue in the novel manuscript. Once you’re writing down what you want people to say, you think about the exchanges in a different mindset, and it made me re-examine each of the spoken terms and responses in the story, and has made them feel much more natural and realistic.
But additionally, it helped me come up with an entirely new ending to my novel, which better summarizes the key themes and concepts, and feels much more satisfying as a whole.
I’ve never been great at endings. It’s very difficult to come up with something that feels complete, that feels like it’s pulled all the threads of the story back in and solidified the world into a new, different reality, incorporating the lessons learned. It generally takes me a while to think and re-think how the ending will look – and when I put the original ending of this story down in screenplay form, it didn’t feel satisfying. If I were watching the film version, I think it would have felt incomplete, like it was a bit too abrupt.
So I changed it in the screenplay, and I’m now working on changing it in the novel as well. Which, of course, then also means re-examining every part of the manuscript, ensuring that every story element, every chapter, every scene, all moves towards that final goal. For the most part, I know that it does, but it’s another month of work to check through, section-by-section, in order to ensure that everything’s in its right place.
So, as a writing exercise, it’s been very beneficial. But it’s also a significant exercise to undertake. As a lesson, it may well be worth considering how your particularly dialogue-heavy sections would work in screenplay mode, and how you would feel if you handed them to professional actors as something you wanted them to read out.
Would it make sense? Would it flow well, and feel real – and would it convey the emotion you’re looking to express, if they had no other cues, no other indicators other than the words on the page?
Of course, everyone visualizes their story differently, but for me, it definitely made me see at least some elements in a different light.
Hopefully, that leads to better outcomes for both versions of the story.