Should I Write a Novel or a Screenplay?

Note: No, this is not my map. It’s actually a map from The Lord of the Rings. My map looks like I laid a sheet of paper on the floor, taped pens to the legs of a chicken, and then chopped its head off.

It’s late. My head hurts from creating worlds and filling them with history, people, and places for the past 6 hours. The only food I’ve consumed all day is a large iced coffee and a Double-Double Animal-Style with Animal Fries from In-N-Out. I may have left Waffle House behind in Tennessee, but holy hell did I gain one kick-ass joint in California!

… at least I have the diet of a writer.

Recently I’ve been plagued with the question:

IS MY STORY A NOVEL OR A SCREENPLAY?

I wrote the teaser for a new screenplay a while ago. It didn’t follow any act structure.  It was just ten pages of kick-ass action and cool characters. It ended with the hero receiving a letter that would spur them onto the rest of their journey. I’ve sat on that little teaser for over a year now, despite some positive reviews from my peers.

The other day, after getting bored with the two other screenplays I’ve been trying to beat out (don’t be me, finish your fucking scripts before moving onto a new one), I finally came back to that little teaser.  I opened up Word and just started to write.  It turned out that after a few hours I had written a fairly detailed backstory to the world my hero lived in. After that, I got inspired to draw a map of what I thought the land might look like.  In doing so, I had to create and name roads, villages, cities, a castle, a giant wall, a mountain range, and forests. Soon, I had a detailed map of my hero’s world, a ton of places for him to explore, and a pretty general history of the past few hundred years. In all, it was only about five pages of single-spaced backstory — but I loved it!

From all of this came a flood of crazy ideas that I would love to see and write about in this newly created world.  So, I began making a huge list of things and ideas that don’t make sense right now but would be cool moments or visuals.  Stuff like: “rows of hanging corpses” and “a girl running through the woods” – just random shit like that.  After a little while, I figured out I was having a lot of fun doing all of this!

From there I started beating out my story.  When I got lost, I just looked at my map and my cool character list, and thought to myself, “How can I get my character to that place, and who can I have him meet along the way? He needs a love interest, right?” BANG!!  Another plot point down.

So today while I’m going through everything I’ve written down, a thought hits me, “I could start a fucking novel with all this material.” But here’s the problem:  I don’t know shit about writing a novel.  I know how to write a screenplay. I’ve been studying how to write a screenplay for the past two years.  But for some reason, the idea of writing a novel scares the crap out of me! I love reading fiction, so you would think I’d at least have an idea of how to write a book, but I don’t.  So what do I do?

I technically could form a screenplay around this story.  But there is so much detail I would like to explore in my hero’s world. And so I think that’s the answer to this question. If your story is best told in 90 minutes in a visual medium. Guess what. It’s a movie! If your story has a shit ton of characters and a highly complicated backstory… it’s probably not a movie. ( But it might be a TV show…)

There is also this article by John August that might help you out.

Any writers out there been through/going through this internal struggle?

3 Replies to “Should I Write a Novel or a Screenplay?”

  1. Sounds familiar. I’ve been working on my screenplay now for years-almost embarrassed to say how many- but I have been taking a lot of instruction and come up with short bursts now and then. Glad to see you and hope your thoughts and blog can help. Cheers!

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