From Page to Screen: Reading Value in Screenplays

studiousI wanted to do something a little different today and talk about expanding your literary horizons.

I was a Creative Writing major in college, and so had to pick a focus along with my other peers. It was fiction, non-fiction, or poetry, so naturally my peers and I would gravitate toward those reading materials.

But of all the electives I had to take, I had the most fun and insight in my screenwriting classes. No other method taught me how to do so much with so little, and today I pass on this advice to you.

Screenwriting in a Nutshell

When writing, it’s very tempting to create lofty descriptions of things and settings. You have a limitless amount of space to explain what you see. With screenwriting there is no such luxury. I enjoyed the challenge of it, to try and convey an entire story in 30 to 120 pages. This page count would largely depend on what medium you were thinking of — half-hour comedy, a full-hour drama, or a two hour film. The challenges that come with it are:

  • How do you convey character?
  • How do you describe the world?
  • What are your three acts?
  • Every line of dialogue must mean something.

So, why read screenplays?

Taking these courses and learning the craft was very fun, and it opened my eyes to reading screenplays with a literary eye. As I stated above, it’s all about the art of conveying so much with so little. Each page is one minute of screentime, so every line of dialogue and description is crucial. You can learn so much from other screenwriters and apply it to your own writing; in a world of “show, don’t tell” it’s about the most perfect medium you can find that can convey that.

Now, there are several websites out there that have screenplay drafts of recent movies, but you should take them with a grain of salt. They may be free to read, but they are often early, early drafts with scenes that never even made it into the movie. I just looked up “Interstellar” and the very first scene of the draft I found was completely different from the movie.

But then there are others like “1408” that don’t deviate too much from the original draft. I had to read this script for class and then watch the film, but let me tell you that reading the script at night in my dorm room was a very bad idea. “1408” is a horror film starring John Cusack, and it was one of the creepiest screenplays I had the joy of reading.


For all you writers out there, I hope that you will add a screenplay or two to your reading list this year. You can bet that they’ll be short, quick reads, and you can pay attention to the amount of detail that a good screenwriter can fit onto such little page space. Apply this skill to your own writing and you’ll find yourself becoming an expert at conveying a lot with very little, thus creating a faster, more immersive experience for your readers.



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