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The Craft of Screenwriting: What is a Screenplay?

Before we begin learning how to write a screenplay we must explore what a screenplay is and what a screenplay is not.

A little background information:
On average, one page of a screenplay is equal to one minute of movie screen time. The average movie drama is two hours long or a 120 page screenplay. A horror or comedy movie is usually around ninety minutes or 90 pages of a screenplay. An action / adventure film will sometimes be longer. For our purposes, we will say that the average screenplay is 90 to 120 pages long.

With that information in mind, let’s look at what a screenplay is not.

Many novels are adapted to the Silver Screen, so isn’t it an easy step from novel to screen? No, it is quite hard to translate a novel into a compelling film. A screenplay is not a novel. If we were to go by page count alone, even a short novel is over twice the size of a screenplay. But how else is a novel different from a screenplay?
Old books with magnifying glass
When you write a novel you have the freedom to write long passages of description, pages of flowing dialogue and chapters upon chapters of the character’s inner thoughts. You do not have those luxuries when writing a screenplay. Description must be concise. Internal monologues do no work as well in movies as in novels. In a movies you show how a character is feeling and what they may be thinking.

Screenwriting is a visual medium. You are creating scenes that will be transformed to the movie screen. Writers hear the old adage: ”Show Don’t Tell” many times, no matter what they write, but it is never more important than in screenwriting. The screenwriter creates scenes for the silver screen, not the mind’s eye.

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