From a Q & A with screenwriter, now novelist, David Fuller, about his debut novel Sweetsmoke:
Q: What differences struck you between writing a novel and writing screenplays?Read the complete Q & A.
A: Screenplays must be simple and fast in order to fit into a two hour period of time. Streamlined storytelling. Sit down with a DVD of your favorite movie and outline it on paper, writing down each scene as it comes along. Make note of the time that major plot points happen. You will find a simple story structure with characters that quickly identify themselves. Much of what makes movies seem complex is the work of intelligent actors and the visuals that propel the story along. Novels allow you to get inside the minds of the characters, to take the time to know them and understand why they do what they do. In a novel, the style of the writing is also a factor in the pleasure of the storytelling.
In my screenplay for “Necessary Roughness,” the main character runs the family farm, but yearns for his lost years as he did not get to play football after his father died. In the opening scene, he puts together a football “scarecrow” built with a hinge. He throws footballs at it when he’s alone, dreaming of the past. These quick brushstrokes reveal his yearning, and the viewer understands who he is without fully knowing why. It is quick and effective, but it is not deep.
Sweetsmoke opens with Cassius watching a fight between two ten yearolds, one white and one black, and he remembers an almost identical moment from his past when he was humiliated by the white planter’s son. The aftermath of the moment in his own childhood made him understand for the first time in his life that he was powerless, the property of another human being. By dwelling inside his head, the reader learns what will happen to the young black slave, also understanding that this is what happened to Cassius twenty years before. To portray that much information in a film would take a significant amount of time and need to be done in a more straightforward way. It would almost certainly be cut out of the film. Cassius’s difficult relationship with the planter’s son, Jacob Howard, would need to be explained in an altogether different way.
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