We’re in the homestretch of National Novel Writing Month. We’re down to our last few tips, too. Today’s tip is a really good one and it’s from Alia Yunis, author of the amazing novel The Night Counter, a clever retelling of the Scheherazade story. As you’ll see when you get to the tip below, Alia has also spent a lot of time working in the film industry, and she’s currently a freelance journalist and a professor of film and television. I had the great fortune to meet Alia at Squaw Valley Writers Conference last summer. Alia is a great person to spend a weekend with! (Let me give a little shout out for Squaw, if you’re looking for a writer’s conference to hone your skills. Check it out.)
“What came first—the novel or the screenplay? In world history and in most agent deals, the book came first. Not a trick question. The trick is for the writer of the novel to appreciate the screenplay while he or she is writing her book. I spent years toiling in LA in the screenwriting trade, as a writer and as a script analyst. There are days when I wish for the sake of my soul and sanity I had run away in half the time it took me to make the decision to leave. But when I sit at my computer writing, I am grateful to the screenplays I wrote and the hundreds and hundreds of scripts I read and movies I watched.
“Freedom of speech does not apply to screenwriting, at least when it comes to structure. Your three act structure, plot points, turning points, back stories, narrative description, and dialogue falls within a limited set of pages—or on screen running minutes. So when I find my novel just wandering along without a plot, without stakes and turning points, I take a break and watch a good movie. It gives my eyes a rest, but it also gives me a chance to map out my story. I outline the script of the film I’m watching, and that gets me thinking about plot in my own novel, and then I’m ready to go again. Indeed, screenwriting doesn’t allow for the freedom and creativity that novel writing does, but for the novelist struggling with too much freedom, taking a break to watch a movie can help give your freedom purpose.”