Books Versus Film

From Hollywood to YA

Writing books vs. writing for film

Stacy Kramer is a former Hollywood producer, a current Hollywood screenwriter, a close friend of your humble webmaster (a screenwriter himself) and co-author of the hilarious middle grade novel Karma Bites, published by Sandpiper, a division of Houghton Mifflin.

Read Stacy's thoughts on YA literature and the differences between writing for publication and writing for the screen.

The first question people ask us when they discover we're writing novels is why? Why not just stick with screenplays? Why bother when the publishing world is a mess? Why not stick with what we know? Why change formats when it's so hard to succeed?

There are a multitude of reasons for this, but one of the key issues is that writing books offers a freedom and respect that working in film rarely does.

In the book industry, the writer is still king. There are many, many obstacles along the road to getting published - writing the book, finding an agent, selling the book - but the book belongs to the writer, not the production company or the producer or the director. Yes, editors will request changes, but the writer is always asked to contribute to those changes, rather than blindly instructed to carry them out, unquestioned.

Novelists always do their own writing, they're not fired and rewritten by a battery of other writers. And, once you sell your book to a publisher, most likely it will find its way into the hands (and, hopefully, hearts) of readers, rather than sit on an executive's shelf, collecting dust for years to come, no longer owned or controlled by the screenwriter.

While writing screenplays can be incredibly satisfying, exciting and inspiring, it can also be very frustrating to not have control over your work. Movies are, ultimately, the domain of producers and directors. Novels are the province of writers.

There is also incredible freedom in the book form itself.

Screenplays must hew to a very specific format, built around scenes, powered by action and dialogue. It's difficult to jump around in time, or toggle between different points of view, the way one can easily do in a book. Certain things must happen in film at very specific intervals in the story. There is a clear formula in place and deviation is not encouraged. In addition, there are only certain kinds of stories that one can tell based on the targeted demographics of the medium.

It is increasingly difficult to get a film made that jumps these lines and soars off in a direction of its own.

The book world is also limited by the marketplace. But YA literature, in particular, embraces imagination and passion and experimentation. It's what teens crave and it's one of the reasons the YA world is thriving, unlike the rest of publishing. In the YA world, it's possible to connect with your audience in a visceral and immediate way through blogs, Twitter, and Facebook.

It's extremely hard to do that in film, where one is entirely removed from the audience. We've found the YA world to be a welcoming, enthusiastic community. Unfortunately, Hollywood isn't quite like that. A writer is only as good as their opening weekend. And so, we choose novels. As long as they keep choosing us.

Karma Bites at Amazon.

Visit the Karma Bites site!

Learn more about story structure in books and film.

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