Altering the Format of Your Novel

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Oct 08 2009

I know that most agents don’t represent scripts for movies or TV, but how about if someone wanted to use script format as their novel’s written format? For example, there are some novels that are written in diary or letter format. Could you use script format for a novel as well and make it sellable? Or would agents not want to represent a novel in that format.

Of course you have to know that there’s no answer to this question. It’s all going to depend on the execution. I think using some stylistic techniques from scriptwriting might be interesting in a novel, but in the end it is still going to need to read like a novel and not like a script. Scripts are difficult things to read for those who do not read them regularly. Unlike a novel, a script tells you what’s going on and what characters are doing, and while I’m not saying you can’t do that in a novel there is a reason scripts are novelized when a movie is made and not just published as is. Readers of novels like to become one with the story and feel the characters’ movements and actions and not be told they are moving or acting.

All I can say is that if you think you have a unique idea for creating a different novel go ahead and give it a shot. If you’ve written a script and want to have it published as a novel without going through the effort of novelizing it, I wouldn’t bother. I strongly believe that wouldn’t work.


18 responses to “Altering the Format of Your Novel”

  1. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Check out chapter 15 of Ulysses. That's the kind of novel most agents are looking for, right?

  2. Avatar Andrew says:

    Anon 8:20

    That the part with the vampires and the continual angst over teenage romances right?….hehe

    Word verification – proasm: The bit about a spasm that feels oddly good.

  3. Avatar Aimee States says:

    It might be cool to have a protagonist going through a total cluster&%$& of an existence, and then show how he writes it into a screenplay, bit by bit? Definitely comedy/tragedy. But no, I couldn't read an entire book as screenplay.

  4. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Isn't MONSTER by Walter Dean Myers written partially in screenplay format? Won awards, too. I suggest that whoever asked this question have a look.

  5. Avatar Judi says:

    Slightly different, it wasn't a whole novel, but Richard Russo-his newest book-pulled it off geniusly. Mostly because his MC ( a former screenwriter) uses the script format in a scene to twist what really happened and what was really said btwn him and his wife. And then he comments how of course it didn't happen like that because life and novels are not like scripts.

  6. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Although I can appreciate the idea of using different formats w/in a book ie., the journal, the blog, poetry, pictures, etc., the screenplay format seems like the least effective form to chose.

    Jessica hints at this in her explanation of what a screenplay is and I'll elaborate on that: nothing more, nothing less, it's an architectural rendering of a story. Every element in a script ie., INT. (tells you the scene is interior or inside – the location manager will need to know this, the light people, etc. ) to costume notes, to everything that is relevant to each department.

    I suspect the question conceives of a screenplay more along the lines of what an audience sees in a theater ie., the actor, the lines, all that.

    Bottom line: screenplays, even a very good one (they can have voice actually) still must fulfill very basic requirements for various movie making departments. There isn't much one can do with the screenplay format: its inherently inelastic (if that's a word) and resistant to creative impulses. I mean, would you want you builder to get "creative" with architectural blueprints for your home? No.

  7. Avatar Vivi Anna says:

    I was at a screenwriting conference in LA a few years ago, and one of the guest speakers David O Russell (director/writer) and he did his whole speech reading from a script, a script of his life. It was brilliant and funny.

    I say dare to be different, if you can pull it off why not?

  8. Avatar Jean says:

    Stephen King's Storm of the Century was written as a screenplay.

    I read it years ago and then used the book to compare with the movie. It was interesting to see but I'd not want to read all my books like that.

  9. Avatar Melissa says:

    Actually, a well-written script is very minimal on what the characters are doing. There's just enough to understand the scene. Telling too much is a sign of a novice screenwriter — or one who wrote novels first! Rule of thumb: Don't do the directing for the director, nor the acting for the actors. You're giving them a guide, and it's up to them to interpret it. If you want more control, write a novel. 🙂

  10. Avatar Julie Dao says:

    I think it would be an interesting format, but I'd have to read it to be really convinced. I feel as though scripts should be for the screen only because they're the bare skeleton of a story that's fleshed out by the director and the actors. It might be too bland for a novel.

  11. I think it sounds like an interesting format, if it's done really well. I agree that screenplays are hard to read for those not used to their specific format. But done right, I do think it could be good.

  12. Perfect answer, Jessica.

    It would take real genius to pull it off, but it might be fascinating.

    I remember reading a R.M. Koster's novel, The Dissertation, and being utterly intrigued. The novel takes place in the extensive footnotes of a passable, actual disseration.

  13. Avatar Anonymous says:

    As someone who has been paid to write screenplays and is now writing novels, I think this idea is really weak. So many people think that writing screenplays is easier because there are fewer words and they've seen so many movies, that they can just "see" the story in their head.

    But in fact it's a separate art in itself. It is not a shortcut to a novel.

    Don't get tricky with yourself, said one who has done this too many times. Just write a good novel.

  14. Avatar holly says:

    i really dont think it would work either. i dnt really understand the whole concept of doing that to make the novel better but i mean i really dont think it would work out well

  15. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Don't alter the format of the manuscript to try to save it.

    Either make it a better manuscript by doing what everyone else does: rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. Or start a new one. This sounds too much like an excuse.

  16. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Don't alter the format of the manuscript to try to save it.

    Either make it a better manuscript by doing what everyone else does: rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. Or start a new one. This sounds too much like an excuse.

  17. Avatar Mira says:

    I like your answer here, Jessica.

    This format, in particular, strikes me as a hard one to pull off. It's hard on the reader to have constant breaks in the reading trance. Also, the reader here would have to do alot of work visualizing things that are usually described…But if an author could do it – it could be really fun.

  18. Avatar therese says:

    Having spent a whole college quarter attempting to turn a novel into a screenplay – my recommendation is – don't try it. Two different mediums. Two different ways of presenting a story. Two different audiences.

    Again – TOO different mediums.

    Please focus on the story then present it in the right medium to reach the audience most interested in the story.