Sunday, September 18, 2011

Novelising a script

by Suw on September 18, 2011

I was talking to a friend about my upcoming writing projects, one of which includes novelising Tag, the screenplay I wrote seven years ago. I got to thinking about some of the pitfalls of a taking a script as a basis of a novel. I have already had one stab at writing the novel version of Tag, three or four years ago, but wasn’t quite in the right mental space for it.

But starting to think about it again, I had a flash of understanding: What is shown in a script can only too easily be told in its novelisation. Authors alway say “Show, don’t tell”, but what is showing in one medium may mutate into telling in another.

A script is a starting point, a sketch, which a whole host of other people turn into a fully-fledged story. A script just has to say “An English soldier crouches in a WWI trench, up to his ankles in fetid water”; the scene itself is realised by the set designer, the costumer designer, the actor, the lighting designer, the director of photography, the sound designer… All these people, and more, affect how this single line comes across on screen.

In a novelisation, the very worst thing one could do would be to simply write, “An English soldier crouches in a WWI trench, up to his ankles in fetid water” and then move on to the next line. What is sufficient in a script may need significant unpacking in a novel. What does the soldier feel? What can he smell? How does the water feel seeping into his boots? Can he hear the enemy nearby? Or his comrades, recently wounded, screaming in agony?

This might all sound blindingly obvious, but I think it’s an easy pit to fall into. It’s also a thought that I suspect will make novelising Tag a lot easier when I finally get round to it.

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