I’m going to admit something here. Up until recently, I thought screenplays were just directions. Yes, directions, not stories. “How could they be stories?” I subconsciously reasoned. “They’re just directions for the director of the film to turn into a story, but they aren’t actually a story, right?” See, even though I didn’t consciously decide the screenplays weren’t stories, I nevertheless viewed them as such. I simply viewed them, as I’ve said, as directions.
Boy, was I wrong. I finished reading a screenplay recently, and all my misconceptions were blown away. No longer were screenplays just a list of directions–they were stories. And not just incomplete, vague ones either. They were just as much a story as any novel I’d read.
Before I read a screenplay, I distinguished between the movie and the screenplay. I know, I haven’t directed any movies, but I would guess that there is some level of truth to that. The screenplay is portrayed visually in the finished film. There is a difference between the two. But that doesn’t mean that the screenplay is any less a story than the film itself. The screenplay is a story in and of itself–though it is a different format. Different techniques are used, different ways of developing characters and creating tension. That’s all true, but that’s part of the wonder that I experienced while reading this screenplay.
It was a different art form that accomplished the same goal I try to accomplish whenever I write a short story or a novel. That is, to tell a good story. As I read this screenplay, and as I’ve read different screenplays in the following days and weeks, I’ve marveled at the skill of the screenwriter to take the reader on a journey, just as I’ve marveled so many times before at the skill of a novelist doing the same.
The point I’m making is simple: I’m suggesting that you should read some screenplays. I’ve learned from reading them, and I’m sure I’ll continue to learn as I read more of them.
Different art forms have taught me, and continue to teach me, different things. To list just a few of the things I’ve learned from them: poetry has taught me the value of a really good allegory. Paintings have repeatedly shown me how important a well-described scene is. Screenplays have reinforced in me the value of clarity, and the power of dialog.
Art forms other than novels have taught me much of what I employ when I’m writing my novels. And this discovery of screenplays has reminded me of something important–stories are stories. And stories–no matter the format–can teach me important lessons.
My suggestion then, simply, is this. If you have some spare time, read a screenplay or two. You might learn something. I know I certainly did.