The lessons of going from story to screenplay

Five things I learned about writing from one chat about translating a short story into a screenplay.

I’ve mentioned before about the possibility of one of my short stories becoming a short film. It is a very short short-story called When it Stops. Here are five things I learned today from the conversation about translating the story into a screenplay.

When it stops

Five things I learned from one conversation

1. You can never ask “why” often enough

I had always assumed that I was pretty good at asking myself “why” while writing. I am sure you know the questions:

  • Why is he doing this?
  • Why did she react like that?
  • Why are they there?

Those sorts of questions need to be covered sufficiently that the story makes sense.

It turns out that there are always more “why” questions to ask.

2. Fridge Logic can always bite you later

In writing, you can get away with fudging a lot of details. It is truly astounding how much work you can make the reader do for you. However, this is not always the best approach. Especially if later, when thinking about it, the villain’s motivation comes unravelled.

There are two levels of logic to stories.

  1. Logic of the moment
  2. Fridge Logic

The logic of the moment is where everything in the scene works well. Fridge Logic is an implication that only hits you while you are getting a beer from the fridge after. If you want to lose a day, here is a TV Tropes entry on the subject.

3. Some things are easier to say than show

Writing has some significant advantages over film. The biggest of these is that all special effects cost the same on paper.

Want the character to have an extra head? No problem just say he has an extra head. No problem, that is until someone wants to film it. Douglas Adams, we are looking at you.

4. Everything you say implies something about the world

In the short story in question, I had some secretive Generals at mission control. That seemed like a nice simple detail at the time. However, start to unpack that and it implies a military and secretive mission.

This really goes back to asking “why”. And, as I said before, you cannot ask “why” often enough.

5. The story started before you started it

The point that you started telling the story is not where things started. Everything that happens in the story happens as a result of things that happened before the story.

I have always been aware of the question “what was the character doing before the scene opened?” but the depth of that question is unending. By pulling back and asking yourself the same question at ever greater scales can help you unpack all sorts of ideas that are inherent in the initial idea.

Conclusions

I’m not sure if it would be wise to write ever scene mindful of those that might try to film it later, but it may b a helpful development exercise to think of your story in different mediums. For example, I have been experimenting with asking myself how chapters might be recorded as a radio show and what background sounds there are.

Whatever else happens with regard to this short story maybe becoming a short film, I have definitely learned a lot as a writer. For that, I will always be grateful.

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