The difference between scripts for theatre, film and novels

Continuing on from yesterday’s write up of the Association of Christian Writers day where David Robinson was speaking on performance writing for the stage, film, television and radio…

David led the day very much as an interactive workshop, involving us as he discussed script writing, getting us to act out short parts, and ultimately asking us to write parts for specific characters to combine into a play.

He asked us to think about what is different between scripts for theatre, scripts for film and novels.

Dialogue. We need to understand that directors and actors will both put their own spin on our dialogue. A script may go through several transformations as it passes into other hands. Scripts of course, are mostly about dialogue, but this can tell us something useful about our writing. If you prefer to write dialogue and your stories have almost no description, perhaps you are missing out on a calling to be a script writer… If a play lasts two hours, that is two hours of mostly dialogue. Consider pauses and beats when writing a script. Those words that you felt would take only a few minutes to say might lengthen in the performance of a good actor, or even shorten as urgency is used.

Balance. How much should the script direct what happens on stage? Should the actor walk on from stage left carrying a bowler hat, or just walk on stage… Lighting, set… All can be directed from the script or left for another to decide or perhaps both…

Set and Cast. While a novellist can change scenes all the time and make the cast as diverse as desired, the script writer has far more limitations. Scripts for stage that require too many set changes, or that require props, backdrops that cannot be carried may never be taken on due to cost restrictions and impracticalities. The same goes for cast. If it will cost too much or be impractical to use the number of actors the script requires, it may never be performed. Scripts for Film or TV also have to consider the same limitations, though perhaps at a different level.

Exposition. The audience need to know quickly who is who and any relevant backstory. The novelist can explore backstory in depth, can cut and change or use flashbacks at any stage. A stage play has much tighter limitations. Shakespeare was an expert at using soliloquy to overcome this and give important detail quickly to the audience. Think of the length of a typical scene, maybe 20 minutes, think of the length of the whole show and when intervals need to occur…

The final section will be posted tomorrow…