Why Novel Writers Have Trouble with their First Screenplay

Your first screenplay, no matter who you are, is the hardest one to finish. Novel writers tend to struggle particularly hard for some reason. There is no exact science to the creative pursuits, but there are rules to scriptwriting that can trip up new writers. Here are some of the concepts novel writers have the greatest difficulties with.


One of the biggest hurdles to overcome is formatting your scripts. Scripts rely on the fewest possible words, extremely specific directions, and language that effectively moves the scene forward. It’s crucial that the writing remain in present tense, and that you use formatting to help designate what’s going on. Simple concepts, like centering character names, help distinguish dialogue from action.

Visual Writing

Novel writers visualize through extended description. They have the tendency to want to elongate moments and let readers immerse themselves in the moment. Screen writers must limit action to what is sensory. Only write what the audience can see or hear. Leave everything else up for interpretation. Remember that many people will be working on the ideas your script present, so there are multiple levels of interpretation besides what the director and actor think. Leave the extended descriptions of sets and costumes to the designers, unless you have specific instructions for that character.

Notes on Monologues

Plays and novels both have a tendency to let characters monologue. Watch any film hailed as “well written” and you’ll often encounter punchy dialogue that lasts only a few lines. Economy of language has never been more important than in screen writing.


Charles Matthau is the director behind the Elmore Leonard adaptation “Freaky Deaky.” The Charles Matthau Company produces for both television and film. For more information about upcoming projects, visit the Matthau Company.