Among the many wise things that Winston Churchill said, one that applies to us writers is:  If you want me to speak for two minutes, it will take me three weeks of preparation. If you want me to speak for thirty minutes, it will take me a week to prepare. If you want me to speak for an hour, I am ready now.  Mark Twain also has a version of this mathematical calculation, but you get the point.

In my previous blog, I told how readers of my scripts could tell that they were adapted from novels rather than beginning as scripts. Which is true. I’ve found that the key to adaptation is not to start with the novel but with its outline. See if the flow works from a script standpoint, perfect the outline, and only then start writing. And then be guided by one set of rules for what components have to be in your script. Then throw out anything that doesn’t support your chosen rules/format. So the rule for scripts:  start small and build up.

It’s a different set of rules for novel writing, at least the way I’ve learned. There, at least for the first draft, more is better. Then use a different set of rules (I like Elmore Leonard’s Guide to Writing):

  1. Never open a book with weather.
  2. Avoid prologues.  (I love prologues; every one of my novels opens with one)
  3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
  4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.
  5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
  6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
  7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
  10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

The other thing I do is revisit old short stories I’ve written and try to edit them down to as spare a writing as possible. I also enter short-fiction contests, where you have a certain limit (say, 400 words) to complete a narrative arc. So, summing up the two blogs:  in screenwriting, start with bare bones and build up. With novels, write boldly and freely with the first draft, but then take both a scalpel and a hatchet to it in subsequent drafts.