Film Courage: Novel structure versus screenplay structure? How are they different? How are they the same?
Jennifer Brody: I think that there is a lot of similarities between them. When I teach writing I tend to actually reference screenplay structure.
The difference would be that screenplays are much more rigid in terms of the First Act which is usually the first 30 pages or so, the Second Act, Midpoint and then how long a script can be. It is much more rigid in terms of the way they’re structured. Where with the book you have more leeway. The word count can vary. The page count can vary. And then, exactly when you are hitting these big moments can also vary.
Novels can also get away with being more episodic. Which is to say one thing happens, one thing happens, one thing happens, it’s not always building. Whereas in a film you can’t really do that. Or if you do, I think you are a lot of times in trouble because it’s not really building into something that’s a climax. With most films you are looking at 90 minutes, 2 hours really at the most. I know some films go longer but usually it doesn’t work out well. I think you just have a lot more leeway. But that said I really believe that books benefit from having a lot of the same things in place.
Instead of in the First act moment, I would call it the Big Thing That Happens Right Away or the Inciting Incident of a book. That would really be the end of a first act in a screenplay. We use a little bit of a different terminology in terms of what I would call it.
But like I said, I think with novels you can be a little more flexible. I tend to think that having the same things, climax, moral choice of the character, and then after the climax, resolution…I mean those things are all the same for the most part. Stories are told a certain way for a reason.
Question for the Viewers: Do you use the same structure when writing novels as you do with screenplays?
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