Brad Abraham is a long-time screenwriter who’s also a novelist. Here, he shares five lessons from screenwriting he’s applied to novel-writing:
1. Structuring a story: “At it’s most basic, a screenplay is basically a set of instructions to production departments…All these directions are affixed to a story’s structure. What happens to whom and when. Act One is your setup. Act Two, the complication. Act Three is your payoff….A screenplay lives and dies by its structure. A solid one allows you to take flights of fancy, to divert, to experience the world; a weak one will leave you as lost as your audience…. “ To most of us this comes down to figure it out who is your hero and what is their journey?
2. Solving problems: Screenwriting, observes Brad, is a constant series of problem-solving events, often handled under intense deadline pressure. In film and TV, there’s no time to slowly sort problems out: You have to come up with a solution quickly; it might not be the perfect one or even the one that’s ultimately used, but it keeps things moving. “…it’s not so much about your first great idea as it is your tenth or twentieth….used to writing from the trenches, I was knocking down problems almost as soon as they popped up, finding solutions and implementing them…”
3. How to handle criticism: In the film/TV industry, you need a tough hide to survive, notes Brad. This ability to absorb and respond to criticism served him well in his novel writing. “Years of screenwriting had conditioned me to taking my editor’s notes (and copy editors and line editors), reading them and implementing them….a good idea is a good idea; all that matters is what ends up in the finished work work. The biz also taught me that the biggest obstacle to your work is your own ego, and that if you can separate that ego from the work, you can look at it more critically, and make those hard decisions…”
4. Valuing your friends: In both screenwriting and novel writing, it’s important to surround yourself with people who will give you honest feedback, but also support you and stand up for you. Getting both a film and a book out is a collaborative effort.
5. Finding the joy: “A producer I’ve worked with for many years always asks when I’m delivering a script whether I ‘found the joy.’ Meaning: “Was this fun? Did you enjoy the process? Despite all the notes and drafts and arguments…did you hit that sweet spot where you felt some degree of happiness while working?….Finding the joy is crucial in writing because without it, what are you writing for?….If you’ve truly found the joy in writing, it’ll get you through your worst by showing you how you are at your very best.”
Pay attention to structure, be a creative problem solver, and find the joy in your work — great touchstones for us all as we write on!
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