Every writer needs to decide whether to present their story in narrative form (short story or novel) or as a script for a play or movie. Many movies start life as novels, or even short stories, but they need expert adaptation. Here are some pro’s and con’s of each genre.
- Is Your Story Visual, and Fast-Paced?
Certain elements apply more obviously to drama, e.g. visual impact, fast-paced plot and action. If you want to reveal the personality of your characters through their inner world, a novel is more effective.
- Can Your Story Be Mostly Expressed Through Dialogue?
A drama script is limited to what the characters say and do. Think about what you would lose if you chose to tell your story this way: is it worth sacrificing background description, and your characters’ thoughts and feelings, in order to present your idea in a dramatic way?
- Structure of the Plot
Can you tell your story in a series of scenes between characters, leading up to an exciting climax? Many movie scripts follow a similar pattern to folk tales or classical Greek drama. You need structure for a novel too, but drama gives you less scope to develop each scene, and no room to build bridges from scene to scene with passages of description or explanation.
Can you write dialogue that is concise and meaningful, where every word counts? Can you reveal character solely through speech? Few modern dramas rely on physical action alone: you need to make dialogue the main action, a cruel riposte being the equivalent of a literal stab in the back.
In novel terms we refer to ‘page-turners’; in drama, we talk of ‘keeping the audience on the edge of their seats.’ Either way, an exciting plot full of unexpected twists and turns is needed.
- Constraints of Each Genre
Compared to other genres, a novel is relatively unlimited. If a hundred thousand words is not enough to tell your story, you can write a trilogy. Or even a whole series, like Harry Potter. Your novel can take readers anywhere in time and space, limited only by your own imagination.
A play or movie lasts three hours or so at most. A theatre has a stage or arena, and a movie has a set or location – there are limits to what can be presented. There are budget and time constraints: huge casts and exotic locations are very expensive. Radio plays are restricted to what you can hear. Learn the rules of the genre that you plan to write in, and avoid elementary mistakes.
- Presenting your Script
Whether you write for theatre, radio or film, your script must conform to the industry standard. Producers can tell at once whether your script looks amateur or professional by the way you set it out.
- Personal Preference
Your writing is more likely to succeed if you follow your own passion. If you are a lifelong novel reader then write a novel; if you love the theatre or film, write a script. Chances are you will have absorbed the rules of your favourite genre unconsciously through the years, and be able to apply them more successfully to your own work.
If you decide to present your idea in narrative form, rather than drama, which should you write: novel or short story? Take a look at my companion article, “Short Story or Novel? Choosing Which to Write,” to help you decide. Good luck!