Having just taught my second workshop in as many months on how to make expository more exciting, I’ve come to the conclusion that authors who write books, as opposed to screenplays, don’t realize how good they have it.
In writing a screenplay, writers only get to include two things—what can be seen or heard onscreen.
Screenwriters can write what a beach looks like, but they can’t mention
how the sea spray feels, or the odor of sun-warmed kelp, or that the
taste of salt on her lips reminds a character of summer vacations
sailing on Lake Michigan. They can’t have a character reminisce or feel nauseated or hungry unless the character says exactly what they are feeling or
thinking out loud—which often feels too “on the nose” or clunky.
Screenwriters can describe a character’s clothes and hairstyle, and how they walk
or sit or gesture, and of course, they have dialogue to fall back on, in
case it's needed to explain something particular or convoluted.
Screenwriters only go into character’s heads to the extent of trying to figure out what a character will do (what action they’ll take) to reveal what they are thinking or how they are feeling. Writing a script means being unable to write what characters are thinking or feeling, unless you want to write narration, which is considered dated and very much out of style (of course, some screenwriter does it right every now and then, but narration is almost universally viewed as something to avoid in screenwriting).
Now, just because you can go into character’s heads, don’t get carried away and start “head-hopping” from character to character in your book. Why not? Check out this post on the evils of head-hopping from Jami Gold.
And yes, you novelists and creative nonfiction authors can write "stage directions" in your books as well as screenwriters can, but remember not to go overboard with them—like explaining, in great detail, exactly how a character turned on a bedside lamp, down to which hand he used to twist the switch. Here's a timely post about stage directions from Nat Russo.
Bottom Line: Compared with writing scripts, writing
a book is so freeing. You are not confined by such tough strictures,
so celebrate your freedom and explore the sounds and scents and tastes of
your scenes. Let your characters touch, smell, and taste—have fun exploring the world through all their
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