Writing for Stage & Screen

My technique for writing stage- and screenplays is a bit different from prose because while prose is a solo job, stage and screen work is, at the end of the day, a collaboration. Or it will be if you’re lucky enough to find anyone who wants to produce what you’ve written.

I hear a lot about writers who throw tantrums any time someone wants to change something in a script. I prefer to remain relatively flexible. I’m no carpet—I don’t let people walk on me—but I’m open to suggestions, so long as they’re made in good faith and spirit. I’ve found, to my great luck and benefit, that though there are some real creeps out there, a lot of people want to help. And when you’re all in it together, no one wants to fail. So when “creative differences” arise, it usually has more to do with one person’s vision of the work butting up against another person’s. I try to see both, or all if there are several. And remarkably enough, sometimes other people do have good ideas.

The other thing about writing for stage and screen versus published prose is that when I’m writing prose I try to make sure to fill in all the little details. I have to, in order to make sure the reader can “see” what I’m seeing. I am the only storyteller involved in such an effort, and the readers rely on me to give them the whole picture. But when writing for actors and directors, I like to leave a little wiggle room, places for them to play around and find what will work for them. I’ve noticed they like and appreciate that. My attitude generally is that I give them everything they need to do the job and tell the story while leaving them places to embroider. Or, to use another metaphor, I serve the meat and they select the sauce(s). Though I, as writer, do get a final say on the flavor.

Again, I get some flak for this from other writers who think I should be in complete control of my “vision.” Well, if I want to write and direct and star in it maybe . . . But these are writers who also insert every camera shot and angle into their scripts. And potential directors see that and shudder. Not the way to get your stuff produced.

I’m almost done with the script I’ve been asked to write. Soon I will send it off to the director/producer and the collaboration will begin. He’ll have some ideas and notes. I will take or leave them. We will agree or disagree. It is a complex conversation as opposed to a one-sided lecture. And that is the difference between prose, which is a narration, and stage or film work, which is the result of many dialogues.

One thought on “Writing for Stage & Screen”

  1. I’ve always wished I could write screenplay, but my mind doesn’t seem to work that way. When I write, I “see” the movie in my head, but I can only get it out on the page with all the little details that only work in a novel.

    Can’t imagine collaborating on an adaptation of my work. Then again, my mother is the only person who thinks my books will be movies, so…yeah. One less thing to worry about . 😉

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