Posted On January 23, 2012 by Print This Post

Ed Gaffney: Screenwriting vs. Novel Writing

I first met ED GAFFNEY, briefly, at RWA National in 2009. The next time we met was in 2010, at an Off-Broadway performance of LOOKING FOR BILLY HAINES – a family affair for us both, in different ways. As a mystery buff, I knew Ed was an acclaimed author as well as the husband of Suzanne Brockmann. He is also one of the few authors I know who has tackled playwriting and screenwriting in addition to penning successful novels. I’m eagerly awaiting the day I can see Ed and Suzanne’s latest project, THE PERFECT WEDDING, on the big screen.

Ed Gaffney, Suzanne Brockmann and Jason Gaffney

About a year and a half ago, I took a break from writing legal-thrillers and I co-wrote a screenplay called “The Perfect Wedding” with Suzanne Brockmann (my wife, who is a New York Times bestselling author) and our son, Jason. We liked the result, and we went on to produce the movie. (It’s an ensemble romantic comedy featuring Hollywood veterans James Rebhorn and Kristine Sutherland. It’s in post-production now–we’ll be submitting it to film festivals starting in February or March.)

As the film went through the long journey from idea to completed picture, I got a front row seat to the radical differences between telling a story through novel-writing and telling a story through movie-making. For those authors out there considering pointing their talents (and their keyboards) in the direction of the big screen, here are a few things I’ve learned.

Actor Eric Aragon ("Paul Fowler"), Director Scott Gabriel, Line Producer Matt Dunnam

Lesson One — When you complete the final draft of your screenplay, it is not even close to being finished.

One of the joys I experience as a novelist is reaching the end of the journey with my characters. I really like getting through the climactic moment of the story, tying up the loose ends, and bringing the book to a tight, neat closing. A closing that is very much defined by me typing the words: The End.

And I have never had a reader come to me after reading one of my books and say, “You know what? I think you should change the end of chapter three, and the dialogue in the scene at the diner between the lawyer and the investigator should be tighter.”

It’s not that I write perfect books — it’s just that everyone understands that when the book is out there for sale, it’s done. No changing the end of chapter three. No tightening the dialogue in the diner scene. A reader may or may not like any particular part of the book, but there’s no changing it. It’s published. It’s done.

So I was far from prepared when virtually everyone who read the completed script (I’m talking about everyone — the director, the actors, the investors, my mother-in-law — you name it) acted as if our completed, finished, and very very polished screenplay were just a draft.

Because for the writers, we were done. We’d gone over the screenplay many times, and we’d gotten it just the way we wanted it. We’d written the final scene — we’d written FADE TO BLACK and CREDITS at the bottom of the last page.

And yet, everyone assumed that the script wasn’t finished.

You know what? They were right.

(L to R) Actors Eric Aragon ("Paul Fowler") and Jason T. Gaffney ("Gavin Greene")

The problem is that for book writers, when you’ve gone through revisions and editing, and you finally stand up from the computer for the last time, the writing really is finished. The manuscript goes to the printer, printed books get shipped to the stores, and then (fingers crossed) books get bought by the readers. But when you’re telling a story through the movies, when you stand up from the computer after the last page of the screenplay is written, you’re just getting started. Because what ends up on the screen isn’t necessarily what you wrote on the page. And that’s thanks in large part to something else that I learned about movies….

Lesson Two — Every screenplay has a million co-writers.

There is a very real possibility that dozens of people who work on the movie that you’ve written might end up suggesting or creating something that adds to, or replaces something in your script. The script that was already finished, and that you had deemed just right. And as unnerving as that might sound to a writer, when the right people are on the team, that kind of collaboration can sometimes lead to something very special.

For example, in The Perfect Wedding, a critical moment arises when Richard (played by James Rebhorn) attempts to reassure his wife, Meryl (played by Kristine Sutherland) that despite his recent diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s, no matter what happens, he will never forget her or their children, Paul and Alana. Richard’s dialogue includes the following passage: “They haven’t invented a disease that will make me forget you, or Paul, or Alana, or how much I love all of you. Maybe my body will stop working. Maybe even my mind. But my heart — Alzheimer’s isn’t going to touch my heart.”

No matter what else Suz, Jace and I changed about the script as we went from draft to draft, we always left that section alone. We felt like we’d gotten it just right. The emotion, the language, the content, everything.

And then, our big star, Jim Rebhorn, took me aside and asked me to change it.

I had no idea how to handle the situation. Jim had appeared in over a hundred movies and televisions shows, including blockbusters (Independence Day, Meet the Parents), Oscar nominees and winners (My Cousin Vinny, Cold Mountain, The Talented Mr. Ripley), and Emmy winners (30 Rock, Seinfeld, Homeland). And on top of all of that experience, he was nice, he was smart, and he was really talented. Yet every instinct I had was telling me that the message that Richard was delivering, and the way the language flowed, was going to make this monologue and this scene one of the emotional high points of the movie. I was sure that changing it would weaken the writing, and the scene.

(L to R) Actors Kristine Sutherland ("Meryl Fowler") and James Rebhorn ("Richard Fowler")

But Jim was concerned that Richard’s message to Meryl might mislead people into believing that all Alzheimer’s patients needed to do to counteract any loss of memory was to will themselves into remembering. So he suggested adding some language to make clear that Richard was speaking in an emotional context, not in a clinical one.

And while we certainly did not intend to leave anyone with the impression that Alzheimer’s patients had some control over the loss of their memory, we really didn’t want to tinker with what we’d written.

And then, I got an idea. I suggested that Richard start to say the words that Jim wanted to add, but then get too emotionally caught up to continue. So the new line read, “…Maybe even my mind. But my heart, that’s where … Alzheimer’s isn’t going to touch my heart.”

And you know what? The addition of those two words — “that’s where” — made the scene better. You should see what Jim and Kristine did with that moment. It’s one of my favorites in the movie. And it never would have happened it without Jim’s input.

Lesson Three — You are not in control of your story. (A less delicate way to say it would be: It’s not really your story.)

Imagine this: You’ve written a book, a time travel story, set in Phoenix. The story isn’t dependent on taking place in Phoenix, but that’s what you’ve imagined, and like any good writer, you carefully weave the story into its setting. You think it would make a good movie, and so, as an exercise, you decide to write a screenplay version of the book. You show the screenplay to some people in the film industry, and they’re impressed. One (an agent) decides it’s so good that he wants to try to sell it.

(L to R) actors Apolonia Davalos ("Alana Fowler"), Kristine Sutherland ("Meryl Fowler"), Eric Aragon ("Paul Fowler") and James Rebhorn ("Richard Fowler")

Fast forward a few years. Nothing has come of the screenplay, and you are back to writing books.

Then, one day, you get approached by a producer/director (let’s call him “Mr. Hollywood”) who would like to make your Phoenix time travel book into a movie. And when you show Mr. Hollywood your screenplay, he’s thrilled. He’s even more interested in doing the movie.

And then imagine learning that Mr. Hollywood has met with an investor, and everything is a go, as long as the movie is set in Pittsburgh, and not Phoenix. Because the investor lives in Pittsburgh, and would like to fund a movie that’s set in Pittsburgh.

This really happened to Suz some years ago. And because she wanted to see her book made into a movie, she busted her rear end, researching Pittsburgh and the surrounding area to rewrite the screenplay so that it would believably take place in Western Pennsylvania.

She overhauled the script in a week, in order to have it ready for a big meeting between the investor and Mr. Hollywood.

Talks stalled, and the movie never happened.

(L to R) actors Brendan Griffin ("Kirk Corbett") and Apolonia Davalos ("Alana Fowler")

So what’s the take-away? Unless you write, produce, direct, and star in your own movie, you aren’t in control of the screenplay that you write. Your six-foot tall African-American hero? Now he’s five-foot eight, and he’s from Japan. That beautiful scene in front of the waterfall? Didn’t have the budget — now it’s going to take place in a grocery store parking lot.

And you know that scene with the young girl and the dog? Can’t do it. The actress is allergic.

It’s probably going to drive you crazy.

But if you enjoy sharing the creative process with dozens of others, and if you are lucky enough to be a part of a caring, bright and respectful team, you might find yourself in the middle of an unforgettable and a truly enriching experience.

As long as you’re okay setting the whole thing in Pittsburgh.

I’d write more, but I’ve got to go. Because despite the fact that we wrote the screenplay for The Perfect Wedding nearly two years ago, and despite the fact that we filmed it last year, and despite the fact that we’re less than two months from submitting it to film festivals, I’ve got to help write some more dialogue for the sound edit. Because the screenplay isn’t done yet.

I’m not kidding.

***

Have any of you attempted screenwriting? What difficulties did you encounter that were different from novel writing?

We have a full week – not just our usual Mon-Weds-Fri, but EVERY day! Tomorrow JO ROBERTSON of the Romance Bandits is our Visiting Professor. Hope you’ll join us!

***

Bio:

2009 Edgar Award Nominee ENEMY COMBATANT

Ed Gaffney is an attorney, an EDGAR nominee for his legal thriller Enemy Combatant, the critically acclaimed author of three other novels (Premeditated Murder, Suffering Fools and Diary of a Serial Killer), as well as the co-producer and co-writer of the off-Broadway production Looking for Billy Haines, the writer and director of the independent feature film Jolly, and one of the writer and producers of The Perfect Wedding. He lives in Florida with his wife, New York Times bestselling author, Suzanne Brockmann.

Ed’s website is here: http://edgaffney.com/

LIKE The Perfect Wedding on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ThePerfectWeddingMovie

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Discussion

77 Responses to “Ed Gaffney: Screenwriting vs. Novel Writing”

  1. Hi Ed,

    Thanks so much for sharing your screenwriting experience. The process sounds fascinating and rewarding on so many levels. Are you, Suz and Jason planning on writing another after this one? Where should newbie screenwriters, who don’t have any film industry contacts, start?

    Thanks again!
    Tracey

    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | January 23, 2012, 5:22 am
    • Tracey – Have you ever done the NaNoWriMo screenwriting challenge? I’m intrigued by that but don’t have a clue where to start.

      Posted by Becke Martin Davis | January 23, 2012, 8:42 am
    • Hi Tracey. Funny you should ask about more screenplays from Suz, Jace and me…

      About a week after we wrapped shooting, Suz looked at me and said something like, “You know, we should be ready in case someone really likes The Perfect Wedding and says to us, “What else have you got?” At that time, Suz was in the middle of writing her next novel (Born to Darkness, which comes out this March!), so I knew that she wasn’t going to be able to write anything any time soon. So I got busy.

      The first thing I wrote was inspired by one of the Hollywood veterans that acted in The Perfect Wedding, James Rebhorn. As we were filming the movie, I was repeatedly struck by how effortless his performances were, and how talented Jim was. It made me think about the recent award-winning movies Crazy Heart (starring Jeff Bridges) and The Wrestler (starring Mickey Rourke), both of which I really enjoyed. And I wondered why in the world no one had ever written a story of redemption featuring James Rebhorn. It was so easy for me to see Jim playing a sixties-ish hero struggling to overcome a troubled past. I really lamented the fact that no one had written such a vehicle for him.

      And then I thought, “Wait a minute. I’m a screenwriter…”

      And that’s all it took. The image of Jim as a man beaten down by life, yet rising up against the odds to confront one last challenge was so strong that i wrote “Bad Risk” in a week. I sent it to him, and he’d love to do it. (Now all we need is financing… heh heh heh)

      I’ve written two other screenplays since then — one a hostage drama called “The Watercolors Man,” which I’m still revising, and another (which I’m very excited about) called “Russian Doll.” That’s a thriller which draws on the metaphor of Russian dolls (a small doll nested in a slightly larger doll nested in a still larger doll) in many ways, from the story-within-a-story device, to what we all hide inside ourselves. With Russian Doll, I hope to achieve the same kind of challenging mystery-thriller as Memento and The Usual Suspects. (Aim high, right? )

      And right now, I’m working on a comedy/romantic comedy called “Harry’s New Friend.” It’s about a young man who, at a critical time in his romantic life, finds himself haunted by a ghost. I don’t want to say too much more about that one, since I’m in the middle of it right now.

      As far as co-writing, none of these screenplays were written in the same way as The Perfect Wedding (Suz and Jace had the initial idea, I wrote the first draft, and after that, we all co-wrote and co-revised until it was “finished”), but Suz and Jace read everything I write, and I welcome their input. I suspect strongly that they will have large amounts to say about Harry’s New Friend, and will probably co-write it with me (because they both love romantic comedy so much).

      Since this is my first response, I’m going to stop here and make sure I can handle the mechanics of the site!

      Posted by Ed Gaffney | January 23, 2012, 9:20 am
    • Whew. My first post went through!

      Where should newbie screenwriters start? That’s a big question. Here are a few different first places to start:

      I thought that William Goldman’s book “Adventures in the Screen Trade,” was very informative.

      Get used to the format of screenplays. The program I use is Final Draft (I’m not sure if it’s the only accepted program, but it’s one of them).

      Write, write, and write some more.

      Read screenplays of movies that you love. It’s really interesting to see what is described on the page, when you know exactly that writing was translated to the screen.

      Investigate on-line writing communities for suggestions, feedback, etc.

      And if you feel like you are ready to show your screenplay to someone in the industry, put the word out into your own network to see if a friend of a friend knows someone in the business. Or, you can research Hollywood agents who handle screenwriters, and begin submitting to them.

      But before you submit (to anyone in the industry), make sure your screenplay is as good as you can get it. They see so many scripts, it’s vital to stand out.

      I hope that helps!

      Posted by Ed Gaffney | January 23, 2012, 9:29 am
  2. Hi Ed,

    Writing a movie is a dream of mine. I tend to write tons of dialogue first and go back to fill in description. When you write a screenplay, do you write beginning to end or is it in pieces? Is it harder to blend scenes together?

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | January 23, 2012, 6:54 am
    • Have you taken screenwriting workshops, Mary Jo? I’m intrigued by screenwriting but wouldn’t have a clue how to go about it.

      Posted by Becke Martin Davis | January 23, 2012, 7:08 am
    • Hi Mary Jo!

      When I write, I work beginning to end. Often, I will have a scene (or a sequence of dialogue) in mind that I know will go somewhere in the middle of the movie, and if I fear that I will forget it, I’ll write it down, or make notes. But — at least for the first draft — I don’t write in pieces.

      Once I’m revising, then the writing can get a little segmented. (For example, I may replace one scene with an entirely different scene.) And we even had to write some brand new scenes for The Perfect Wedding in the middle of the shoot. That’s where we encountered the problem you raised regarding transitions. For me, it’s a paradox. On the one hand, knowing what comes before and after the scene you are writing is helpful, since it limits the potentially endless possibilities of how to begin and end a scene. On the other hand, knowing what comes before and after a scene can make you crazy, since it limits you!

      But transitions are vital in screenwriting, and if you can embrace the limitations, and try to use them as opportunities for creativity (instead of seeing them as maddening restrictions on creativity ) you should be okay.

      Posted by Ed Gaffney | January 23, 2012, 9:38 am
  3. Hi Ed – You mentioned “Jolly” in your bio. Is that available (or is it likely to become available) on DVD at some point? I remember there were clips on YouTube at one point, but I’d love to see the whole movie.

    Also, I’m curious what inspired you and Suz to make the transition from novel writing to writing plays and movie screenplays in the first place. Had it always been a dream of yours?

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | January 23, 2012, 7:07 am
    • Hi Becke. Thanks for having me today!

      “Jolly” was our first feature length production, and it is something very close to our hearts. It was low low low budget, though, so if it becomes available, it will be though Suz and me directly. Our energies are entirely directed toward “The Perfect Wedding” right now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if sometime down the road we make DVD copies of “Jolly” available.

      As far as moving from novel writing to movie and play writing, did you know that Suz initially took up writing books so that she could get noticed by Hollywood, because what she really wanted to do back then was write for movies and television? Back before Suz was published, she sent some scripts to Hollywood (we lived on the east coast), in hopes of getting an agent. The responses were positive, but the message was that Suz couldn’t be a tv or movie writer and live out east. Since my job was in New York and since we had two toddlers at the time, moving to California was not possible. (The commute would have been brutal. )

      So Suz decided that she’d turn her talents to books, in hopes of getting published. Her thought was that Hollywood would pay more attention to a published author than just one of many talented people who were hoping to start their careers.

      To her surprise, Suz completely fell in love with writing books, and fifty titles later, here we are!

      Looking for Billy Haines (the play we co-wrote) came about because Suz had an idea for a play, and always wanted to write one. And the movies that we wrote and produced came about in a similar way — it wasn’t so much a conscious decision to transition from book writing to play or movie writing. It was more a matter of following a creative impulse.

      Now that we’ve gone through the experience of writing and producing a play and writing and producing a movie, we have a good idea of what to expect if something draws us in that direction again.

      Posted by Ed Gaffney | January 23, 2012, 9:50 am
  4. Wow I had NO idea all the rewriting involved in screenplays. I’ve been following off on on the progress of the movie and am really excited to see it. Thank you so much for posting this.

    Posted by Shannon | January 23, 2012, 8:15 am
  5. Hi Shannon – Like you, I’ve been following the progress of THE PERFECT WEDDING for quite awhile. I hope we’ll get the opportunity to see it on the big screen before long!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | January 23, 2012, 8:25 am
  6. Morning Ed!

    I’d always heard stories of how the storywriter always “loses” his story, but it sounds like yours got made a bit better! excellent! I’ve taken a screen writing class or two, not that I have aspirations that way, but as a hope they’ll help with story structure. Can’t wait to see your movie!

    carrie
    (ps, i’ll be stealing that nice picture of Eric Aragon and his abs btw – hot!)

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | January 23, 2012, 8:27 am
    • Hi Carrie – That photo is suitable for framing, isn’t it?

      Posted by Becke Martin Davis | January 23, 2012, 8:40 am
    • Thanks, Carrie.

      And here’s a little story about Eric Aragon, his abs, and some of the other surprises he had for us on set.

      When we were auditioning actors for The Perfect Wedding, we tried really hard to get performers who were believable in the roles. We didn’t want just a good-looking guy to play Paul (the character Eric played). We needed someone who was able to handle a role with a lot of range. Paul is a recovering alcoholic, who was a selfish, self-destructive person before he got sober, and who transformed himself into a sweet, caring, funny and romantic person. But he’s also self-conscious, and occasionally anxious. It’s a challenging part.

      And we held auditions in New York (three times), Orlando, Miami. And no one measured up. So when Eric auditioned for us in Sarasota, we were thrilled — he seemed perfect. Then he read a few scenes with Jason, and he was perfect. We had our Paul. (You can’t imagine our relief. To try to make the movie with someone less than ideal for the role would have been a big disappointment.) And on top of all of this, Eric was wonderfully kind, and humble. We couldn’t wait to begin working with him.

      Fast forward to the shoot. We’re about to film a comic scene where Eric’s character (Paul) and Jason’s character (Gavin) are about to be found by Paul’s ex-boyfriend in an innocent but potentially compromising position. The scene requires Paul to be wearing a towel wrapped around his waist, and no shirt.

      When places were called and Eric appeared in just a towel, you could feel a shift in the energy on the set. No one did or said anything inappropriate, but I swear to you I heard several people gasp. The unspoken question, of course, was, “With an upper body like that, why do you ever bother to wear a shirt?”

      And then we started filming. The scene itself had a few slapstick moments, and as I watched through the monitor, I saw another surprise. Not only did Eric have a great body — he was a great physical comedian! In fact, there’s a bit that he improvised that was so good we kept it in the movie. (I don’t want to tell you about it because I don’t want to ruin any surprise.) Anyway, I believe that it’s the funniest thing in the scene, if not the movie.

      I know that there’s a lot to like when you look at pictures of Eric, but I can’t wait until you see him act. I am so proud of him.

      Posted by Ed Gaffney | January 23, 2012, 10:20 am
  7. Ed – Can you tell us a little about the casting process?

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | January 23, 2012, 8:32 am
    • As I mentioned in my story about Eric, we were very picky about the casting of the movie. The Perfect Wedding is a tender, romantic comedy, with funny and touching moments. Nothing blows up, nobody falls out of a window, there are no car chases or gun battles. So we really needed actors who could deliver dialogue believably. Actors who could interact with each other so that we never doubted their on-screen relationships, whatever they were — siblings, best friends, lovers, or parents.

      So we frequently asked two actors to audition at once, to read a scene together. In this way, we hoped to get a sense of what techniques they used to establish rapport, and whether they could deliver the dialogue in a way that would make us believe they were truly speaking to someone they’d known for years.

      Sounds good in theory, right? Well, we learned a few things, especially when we auditioned for the roles of Richard and Meryl (the father and the mother).

      The scene we chose for them was a big one in the movie — it’s the one I referenced in the piece above, where Richard confronts Meryl about her fears, and tries to assure her that he will never forget her.

      We were excited about the scene already, and for our New York auditions, we were even more excited when we saw that several of the men who were going to read for us had appeared in television dramas like Law and Order, and The Sopranos, and NYPD Blue. I was convinced that we’d find our Richard from this experienced pool of actors. I eagerly set up audition schedules so that we paired each actress auditioning for Meryl against an actor auditioning for Richard.

      And then we began the auditions, and we couldn’t find our Richard! It wasn’t that the actors were bad — in fact, some were outstanding. But they were outstanding as mob guys! Or as prosecuting attorneys. There were a few who, no matter what lines they were saying, seemed to be communicating the following: You have the right to remain silent…

      In short, the audition process was, for the most part, terrifying. We had a few moments of glory (for example, Brendan Griffin, who we cast as Kirk in The Perfect Wedding, blew us away from the moment he began to speak). But for the most part, we were worried that we might not be able to find just the right actor for the part.

      To finish the Richard casting story, we got lucky. In several ways. First bit of luck — I got the idea that Kristine Sutherland (the woman who played Buffy’s mom on Buffy the Vampire Slayer) might be great as Meryl, so I contacted her agent. I explained that we didn’t have a big budget, but I thought she might be a good fit for the script.

      Second bit of luck — the agent read the script, and loved it. He passed it on to Kristine.

      Third bit of luck — Kristine loved the script, and signed on. Unbelievable!

      But when when we couldn’t find our Richard, I was very concerned, and called Kristine’s agent back, asking for suggestions. And that’s when we got even more lucky. First, he asked if I was interested in having James Rebhorn in The Perfect Wedding. (To say that I was interested in having James Rebhorn in our movie was like saying I was interested in having oxygen in my lungs.)

      And the punchline to all of this: James loved the script, and joined us. And I promise you that if you see the movie, you will agree with me that we were incredibly lucky to get him, and that at no point does he sound like he’s reading anyone their Miranda rights.

      Posted by Ed Gaffney | January 23, 2012, 11:18 am
  8. Becke, I’m so glad you have Ed Gaffney as a guest today! I met Suz at the NJ-RWA conference, where I gave a workshop on YA’s–she gave a fabulous breakfast speech, and told us all about her adorable hubby, Ed. Everyone was fascinated to hear how two writers live and work side-by-side. Suz and I were sitting at the same table and I was so entranced by her that it wasn’t until after she finished her talk, I realized she hadn’t had a bite to eat! Getting up in a crowded ballroom to speak without coffee makes her a hero in my book!! Can’t wait to see The Perfect Wedding. I love legal thrillers and am looking forward to reading Ed’s books.

    Posted by mary kennedy | January 23, 2012, 8:34 am
  9. Suz is amazing. She was the keynote speaker at the Central Ohio Fiction Writers Conference a few years ago – her foot was in a cast, she was obviously in a lot of pain, and yet she patiently signed books for HOURS. And her workshop was fabulous – I filled a whole notebook. I wish I could have downloaded the whole workshop directly to my brain!

    I think it’s amazing Ed and Suz work so well together and still get along! My husband and I both work from home and even that can be tricky!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | January 23, 2012, 8:39 am
  10. Mary – forgot to thank you for stopping by! I hope I’ll get to attend one of your workshops someday!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | January 23, 2012, 8:39 am
  11. Ed – Amazing post and I couldn’t help thinking that I’m glad it’s you and not me! Wow – what an undertaking and I can’t wait to see the movie. I’ve been avidly following the progress on FB.

    I’ve never dreamed of tackling screen writing but I did take a workshop from Alexandra Sokoloff and read her book, “Screenwriting Tips for Authors”. Chock full of relevant and useful information.

    Thanks for being with us today!

    Robin

    Posted by Robin Covington | January 23, 2012, 9:21 am
    • I’d forgotten Alexandra Sokoloff is a screenwriter as well as an author. Her books are SCARY!

      Posted by Becke Martin/Davis | January 23, 2012, 11:16 am
    • Hi Robin. Thanks so much for hanging with us on Facebook. We are up to over 2,000 likes of The Perfect Wedding’s Facebook page, which is great. The more people that “like” our page, the better our chances at getting a distributor interested in us. (For independent movies like The Perfect Wedding, distributors look hard at whether there is any potential audience for the film. Facebook activity, festival appearances and awards, and general buzz all help.)

      So if anyone is interested (and hasn’t already done so), please check out our page and click “like,” if you like it!

      Thanks!

      Posted by Ed Gaffney | January 23, 2012, 12:58 pm
  12. Hi Ed. Thank you for being here today.

    I use three-act structure when I write my books and I love it. If part of the book is dragging, I immediately go back and see if I’ve put a turning point in the wrong place.

    With so many people involved in the process, do you find it hard to keep the structure of the story intact? I’m curious how closely the structure is followed once you get into production and everyone else gets involved.

    Thank you for a great post!

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | January 23, 2012, 10:22 am
    • Great question, Adrienne.

      When you’ve got a bunch of collaborators coming at the script from all different angles, it’s very important for a production to have someone in the position of making the final call. And that person has to keep story structure (among many other things) in mind when evaluating suggested changes.

      For example, as we edited our third act (the resolution of the Gavin and Paul subplot) we felt a slight pacing problem. Things didn’t seem to be moving just a little slowly.

      We looked at each scene individually, and found some moments that we could trim, which might arguably address the pacing. And if pacing was the only thing that we were addressing, we’d have made the changes.

      But each scene really worked on its own. Trying to extract a line or two here or there might get the movie moving a little quicker, but it also would have harmed the scene. On balance, if we lost the lines, we would have fixed one problem and created another.

      Happy ending to the story — it turns out that there was a section of an early scene in the third act which dragged a bit because the pauses between lines was too long. We tightened those pauses, and suddenly everything flowed better. (We think that because the drag was felt in an early scene, the sense of slowness lingered with viewers. Once we eliminated that problem from the early scene, the sense of slowness was gone.)

      Bottom line — yes, there are a million co-writers, and their suggestions can lead to wonderful moments. But someone has got to be in charge at the end of the day, saying thumbs up or thumbs down. It takes a light hand, because even the suggestions that you turn down are being made in good faith by people that care. Rejection is hard, even on that level. But if no one is in that overseer role, things like story structure could easily get wrecked by “minor” changes which arguably make something else marginally better.

      Posted by Ed Gaffney | January 23, 2012, 1:09 pm
  13. Ed,
    Thanks so much for the great post!

    I love your insights on the differences between screenwriting and novel writing. What would you say are the greatest similarities?

    You know I’m a fan of your writing. So looking forward to this film!

    Posted by Virginia Kantra | January 23, 2012, 10:52 am
    • *waves madly*

      Hi Virginia – How great to see you here! What about you – have you ever considered writing a screenplay? I’d love to see your Selkies on the big screen.

      Speaking of which, I’m excited for your new Dare Island series, but I hope it doesn’t mean we’ve seen the last of your “Sea” series!

      Posted by Becke Martin Davis | January 23, 2012, 1:09 pm
    • Hi Virginia! (By the way, for those who don’t know already, Suz is a H U G E fan of New York Times bestseller (and RITA winner!) Virginia Kantra’s paranormal series Children of the Sea.)

      I’m just saying.

      Anyway, what are the greatest similarities between writing novels and screenplays?

      It’s the good stuff. Character and story. And character!

      I love writing characters. For me, it’s the key to an enjoyable writing (and reading or viewing) experience.

      When we wrote The Perfect Wedding, we focused a lot on the characters. Our philosophy as writers is that if we know all about the characters, including things that will never appear in the book or the movie that we are writing, we’ll be able to construct believable dialogue and believable reactions and scenes between characters.

      We already had a general idea of the story structure — a young man (Roy) is so concerned about facing an ex-lover (Paul) that he asks a friend (Gavin) to accompany him to pretend to be his new boyfriend. And then, Gavin and Paul become attracted to each other, but resist the attraction because they don’t want to hurt Roy.

      Once we got the characters of Roy, Gavin and Paul down, we created interwoven subplots involving other characters. Then we worked out the back stories of those new characters, and then it was just a matter of starting to roll the ball down the hill.

      And what was so delightful as a writer was to talk to the actors about these characters, and hear not only how much they picked up from their reading of the script, but how much they added (not to the script, but to their own understanding of the characters’ backstories).

      For example, when we first spoke to Kristine Sutherland about the role of Meryl, I asked her if she felt like there was enough in the character for her to connect with. She smiled, and said, “Meryl’s a woman who has faced many obstacles, and she always finds a way around them. She wanted children, but obviously she couldn’t have them biologically, so she adopted. When she and Richard were first married, they had no money. But they found a way to have a family, and ultimately succeed financially. And when Paul became an alcoholic, she found a way to keep her family together, and get Paul the help he needed to begin his recovery. Now she’s facing an obstacle she can’t overcome — Richard’s diagnosis. Yes, Ed, there’s enough here so that I can connect with the character.”

      Remember, this was at *the audition*. I was blown away. But the depth that we had put into the Meryl character made writing her dialogue and her reactions pretty easy. We knew her so well, all we had to do was set up the situation, and the words came naturally. And you should hear Kristine, especially in those scenes where she and Richard deal with the one obstacle she can’t find away around. (I’m tearing up as I write this. What they are facing is Richard’s diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s. In the movie, he’s basically symptom free. But he and Meryl both know what’s coming. As do I, because my mom died of Alzheimer’s.)

      Anyway, that’s what it’s like for me when I’m writing a book. As long as I know my characters, writing believable dialogue and believable actions and reactions comes easy.

      So for me, that’s the biggest similarity between screenwriting and book writing.

      Posted by Ed Gaffney | January 23, 2012, 1:38 pm
  14. Good morning, Ed –

    Welcome to RU! I’m insanely curious about how a marriage between two writers works. I’m married to an engineer, and he’d prefer I whap him on the head with a wrench to asking him to brainstorm with me. That bring said, he’s a ton of help when I need to figure out how to give my hero only a ballpoint pen and get him out of a locked room :-).

    Do you find you and Suz (and your son) feed off one another’s creative energies?

    Thanks!
    Kelsey

    Posted by Kelsey Browning | January 23, 2012, 11:03 am
    • I know what you mean, Kelsey. I’m awed when writer friends share their works-in-progress with their husbands. Mine would never read a romance in a million years! (He doesn’t know what he’s missing…)

      Posted by Becke Martin Davis | January 23, 2012, 1:05 pm
    • Hi Kelsey! Nice question!

      Suz and I have such different writing and working styles that you might think she would be whapping me in the head with a wrench several times per day. But the fact is, we’re pretty good at working together. We’re just careful when we do it. 🙂

      For example, when Suz is stuck on a plot problem, she frequently asks me to take a walk with her, so we can work on it together. And the way the conversation goes is this: Suz begins to describe the situation that is leading to the problem, and then she describes the problem. But because she’s so familiar with the characters and the set up underlying the problem, her description of the situation never has enough information in it for me to be able to offer any suggestions. So I ask some questions about the situation, to clarify it for myself, so that I can offer useful suggestions.

      And almost every time, as Suz answers my questions, she solves her own plot problems. Really. Almost every time. I’m useful, but not so much because I offer suggestions. I just ask questions. As I become less confused, Suz figures everything out. Win win. 🙂

      As far as creative energy, Jace lives in California right now, and Suz and I live in Florida. And when Suz writes, she’s in a little outbuilding, while I stay in the house. So nobody gets their creative energy on anybody else. 🙂

      But when we start to pass around a draft of something that we are working on together, that’s when the energy does flow through all of us. And that can be a lot of fun. (We’re still careful, though. if something that one of us wrote doesn’t work for another, we tread lightly. It’s easy to take things personally, and we don’t want to mess with anyone’s creative spirit. (In other words, it is very unlikely that you will hear the following as a script is being read: “Pass the wrench. Somebody needs a whapping.”)

      All in all, I feel pretty lucky. It’s fun to create something you are proud of with people you care about!

      Posted by Ed Gaffney | January 23, 2012, 2:02 pm
  15. Such a great post and follow up comments, Ed. I love hearing your process and can’t wait to see The Perfect Wedding.

    I’ve got a high concept screenplay idea that’s been nagging at me for two years, but with book deadlines I haven’t had time to do anything with it yet. I love hearing how you were inspired to write a screenplay for James Rebhorn. That’s how my idea came about too, but with a different actor. (Two weeks? Holy crap!)

    You mentioned reading screenplays of movies we’ve seen. Where can you find them?

    Thanks for coming to RU today! This has been so informative and inspiring.

    Posted by Laurie London | January 23, 2012, 11:04 am
    • Laurie – Can you tell us what actor you were thinking of, or would you rather keep it under your collar? Good luck with this project – I hope you’re going to give it a shot!

      Posted by Becke Martin/Davis | January 23, 2012, 1:02 pm
    • Hi Laurie! (By the way, I’m curious about the actor that inspired you, too!)

      I’ve found screenplays published (I think that the William Goldman book I mentioned above — Adventures in the Screen Trade — has a few of his screenplays in the text). And I know that some other classics are available in bookstores.

      I also know that there are books with collections of West Wing scripts and Buffy the Vampire Slayer scripts. Those are quite useful, too.

      I hope that helps!

      Posted by Ed Gaffney | January 23, 2012, 2:08 pm
      • Thank you, Ed! I’ll look for those.

        Will Ferrell is the actor. Particularly the secondary character he played in The Wedding Crashers (loser guy who lives with his mother). It’s totally out of the realm of what I write. But when I wake up at night dreaming of various scenes, I know it’s an idea that needs me. Whether it sees the light of day or not, at the very least, it’ll be a project that stretches my creative muscles.

        Posted by Laurie London | January 23, 2012, 5:36 pm
  16. Hi, Ed! I can’t wait to see your movie! I’ve always dreamed of writing a screenplay, but I see that a lot more is involved than writing a novel!

    Posted by Maria Mckenzie | January 23, 2012, 11:41 am
    • *waves madly* Hi Maria! Thanks so much for stopping by. If you ever write a screenplay, I’d love to read it!

      Posted by Becke Martin/Davis | January 23, 2012, 12:52 pm
    • Hi Maria!

      I hope I didn’t intimidate you with my post!

      From strictly a writing standpoint, a screenplay is just a different animal than a book. The format is different, exposition is handled quite differently, etc.

      Many of the challenges and rewards I wrote about came about from the “storytelling” standpoint. In other words, when you tell a story as a novelist, you write the book, and you’re done. When you tell a story as a moviemaker, you take the script, and then you put it in the hands of a zillion people, who make contributions that end up affecting how the story is told.

      Typically, a screenwriter writes the script, takes the check, and goes home. Not because they don’t want to be a part of the process, but because their contribution is, for the most part, done. The actors and the crew take it from there. The risk, of course, when you are just a screenwriter, is that the story you wanted to tell with your script is not the story that is told by the movie.

      But that doesn’t always happen! So if you want to write a screenplay, go for it! 🙂

      Posted by Ed Gaffney | January 23, 2012, 2:52 pm
  17. Having had the opportunity to listen to and read an early view of the screenplay – I am excited and look forward to seeing how it all turns out on film. Thanks for this interview into the fascinating world of screenwriting. Also, Ed’s books are great reading — and several will make you sleep with the lights and question everything you think you know and believe. Cool!
    Best,
    Stephanie

    Posted by Stephanie h. | January 23, 2012, 12:13 pm
    • Hi Stephanie – Thanks so much for joining us! It was great to meet you at the performance of LOOKING FOR BILLY HAINES! (At least, I’m assuming this is you…?)

      Posted by Becke Martin/Davis | January 23, 2012, 12:51 pm
    • Hi Stephanie! It’s great to hear from you!

      I’m especially interested in hearing from people like you (those that attended the reading, or read the script) after you see the movie. I can tell you (from a writer’s standpoint) that reading a script is a completely different experience from watching a movie. Sound effects, music, camera movement, acting — it’s amazing.

      I hope you like it, Stephanie!

      (And thanks for the kind words about my books!) 🙂

      Posted by Ed Gaffney | January 23, 2012, 2:56 pm
  18. Hi, Ed. Love this. I just re-read it a second time. I hope folks are wrestling each other for that movie.
    Best wishes~

    Posted by Nancy Naigle | January 23, 2012, 12:18 pm
  19. Quick update: I just got back from running an errand and learned that Born to Darkness (Suz’s next book, to be released March 20, 2012) got a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly!

    I am so proud of her!

    Posted by Ed Gaffney | January 23, 2012, 12:53 pm
    • Ed – Suz was kind enough to send me an advance copy of BORN TO DARKNESS. Wow – I had no idea she was such a strong world-builder!

      I pretty much went into lockdown when I read it – I was useless for anything else! Looking forward to the next book in this series, although I’m sure it will be awhile. I’d like to know how either of you find time to write with everything else you have going on!

      Posted by Becke Martin/Davis | January 23, 2012, 12:59 pm
  20. Aw, Becke, thank you. No, I’ve never been tempted to write a screenplay, although I do tend to think cinematically in terms of opening and closing “shots.” And I build my scenes from the dialogue up.

    Ed, LOVE what you have to say about characters. That’s always been a strength of yours. (And of Suz’s! Becke, I’m so jealous you got your hands on Born to Darkness. I’m counting the days!)

    Posted by Virginia Kantra | January 23, 2012, 2:19 pm
  21. Ed – I can’t thank you enough for your great blog and your thoughtful (and occasionally mind-boggling!) responses to our questions.

    I hope a lot of people will go click “like” on your Facebook page for THE PERFECT WEDDING.

    (C’mon, Hollywood – stump up! A lot of us are eager to see this movie!)

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | January 23, 2012, 7:04 pm
  22. Ed – If you get a distribution deal for THE PERFECT WEDDING, please come back and tell us about it! Thanks!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | January 23, 2012, 10:11 pm
  23. Ed – I don’t know about everybody else, but I’ll never think of screenwriting the same way again!

    Posted by Becke Davis (Becke Martin) | January 24, 2012, 6:45 am
  24. Thanks Ed and Becke, this has been fascinating.

    Posted by Mary E. Ulrich | January 24, 2012, 9:31 pm
  25. Hi Mary – Thanks so much for stopping by!

    Posted by Becke Martin/Davis | January 24, 2012, 9:46 pm

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