After submitting Stolen Valor as a script – I learned a lot about what was missing
The Irony is that I started my Writing Career as a Screenwriter
The last two weeks have taught me a lot about the differences between a novel and a screenplay. Of course, like most actors, I know much about what makes a good screenplay. Read the “Save the Cat” series if you are unsure. What I learned was how different the approach is between writing a novel and writing a screenplay. let me start from the beginning.
When I wrote Stolen Valor in 2019 I knew it would be the pilot novel in a crime thriller series of books. I had to consider a great many things when I wrote it. Among those was ensuring that my story didn’t peak too soon and that my characters, particularly my protagonist didn’t arc too much for fear of painting myself into a corner in future stories. My efforts were painstaking in ensuring I preserved both of those future resources. When I wrote the screenplay for the book I made critical errors that I presumed would be avoidable if only I stayed true to the story line and the flow of the plot.
Believe it or not, creating a screenplay from a novel is a lot more than just removing verbose exposition and converting everything to first person present. How did I learn of my mistakes? With great humility I will tell you.
Screenplay Reviewers are a Valuable Resource and an Ego Killer
I submitted my new screenplay to one of the bigger screenplay showcases available. Most of the screenplays that are “discovered” were discovered on this site. You pay to display your screenplay and the odds are high that industry pros will see it there. To ensure that the screenplay has the greatest chance of being opened and read, it is recommended that you get a couple of reviews from staff reviewers. That also costs a bit of money. I purchased my position on the site and paid for a review. This is what they said about my script:
“There are definitely elements of the script that have tremendous potential within this current draft. The stunt sequence, especially within Act 3, would create dazzling visuals that would translate quite well to a cinematic medium. Brand is a very complicated hero, yet his relationship with Christina helps to expose his vulnerabilities in a way that endears him to the audience. These two characters have fantastic chemistry on the page and their scenes are nothing short of electric. They also help to inject humanity into the story., which will ultimately allow the story to resonate with a large audience. The settings of Texas and Mexico would provide a wonderful opportunity for a talented cinematographer to capture images that reflect the darker moods and tones of the script.”
As you can imagine, I was delighted to read such welcome praise from an industry professional. The second page of the evaluation brought me back to earth with a much needed thud.
“The exposition is quite verbose at times…This is all superfluous detail that is irrelevant to the narrative and only serves to slow down the momentum of the script. It also doesn’t allow for proper character development. Future drafts need to create a better balance between dialogue and exposition to allow the script to move at a faster and more engaging pace. There are too many minor characters that tend to overwhelm the narrative and make it difficult to create linearity within the story. Future drafts also need to shorten the length of this draft.”
To some, this last bit might feel a bit pointed. However, I expected a certain amount of the criticism I received. I wanted to see how much guidance the reviewer might allow the author to contribute to the production of the film. My answer was clear – not much. As for the characters and their development; I was not prepared for that criticism. I presumed the dialogue and the character development pace of the book would suffice. I feel a bit naiive now that I compare my story to others I have read based upon other books. In the movie, The Bourne Supremacy, Jason Bourne’s girlfriend is killed as they cross a bridge. This creates an inciting incident which drives the story line. In the book series, the girlfriend doesn’t die. She appears in subsequent novels.
She was killed in the movie because it was unlikely that the entire series would be made into movie form. When we read a series, the minor characters return at times because in a series we spend a lot of time in the life of the main character, not just a moment during which he faces what is featured in an hour and a half film.
When the reviewer mentioned that there are too many minor characters that tend to overwhelm the narrative, it told me that the reviewer, like the movie audience, did not and would not place importance on the secondary cast of characters that add texture to a novel or a series of novels.
I took the Criticisms as an Opportunity for Growth
It isn’t an easy decision for a writer to air negative observations and critical comments about his or her work. I shared this story with you for two reasons. The first was to keep my readers informed of what I am doing and where I am with my next book so you might pick up the latest Craig Rainey book at your neighborhood bookstore or from an online retailer. The second reason is to maintain a transparent view of my journey from which perhaps an up and coming talented writer may avoid these pitfalls and get that great new novel out there so we can all enjoy it.
I have been busily rewriting the script for a few days now. I am happy to report that I like the new, faster moving, more cliff hanging movie rendition of Stolen Valor better than the first. I am so grateful to the reviewer for winning me over with his or her kind praise and I am equally grateful that he or she provided valuable insight on what I needed to do to improve my work.
The Moral of the Story
This is a moral that I often espouse to my friends and family. The moral of this story represents the wisest advice I know to follow, not just in writing but in life. I realize that everything I know I have learned from someone else. I don’t have a single original thought in my head. I approach life every day with the belief that I will learn something from someone today.
Moral: Always be a student of life and those things that interest you. The person who refuses to learn will suffer the agonies of the ignorant.