I’ve been thinking about Novels a lot lately. It’s a medium that I’ve always wanted to work in but I’ve struggled to wrap my head around. Most of what I’ve done has either been scripts or short stories.
Some of the things I like to think about are what a novel is and what are the benefits of working in it as a medium actually are. (Other than the audience for novels being much larger than the audience for short stories or story collections.)
One of the things everyone will tell you is what novels are not: they are not short stories that you’ve just made bigger.
I’ve read this a lot, but I’ve never seen any follow up on what it means. But I was thinking about the differences between a novel and a screen play and part of the answer dawned on me. In novels, you have every scene you need.
Screen plays are fixed objects because they have to grid to the run time of a movie or tv show. Basically this means that a screen play can never exceed 180 pages of screen play formatted text. (This assumes the standard one page per minute of film and a cap of three hours for the over all movie.) This constraint is one of the factors that causes things to feel rushed or lack emotional depth.
If you ever not bought a character turn or where confused by a character’s actions, you’ve experienced this. The cause is that there were missing scenes to give context or motivate character change. Usually these scenes are cut out or not written in order to maintain narrative flow or get to a section with more exciting visuals. Movies and tv shows can only be so long therefore not every scene can exist to get to a complete story. Not every character, detail, or subplot can be served due these constraints.
Novels don’t necessarily have this problem. Because they don’t have a fixed length and aren’t rigidly formatted in the ways scenes are constructed, novels have the room to build up every element and justify every turn their characters make. They can have a scene for everything.
Does this mean that all novels do this? NOPE!
But it’s something to think about if you’re ever writing a novel and definitely something you should expect if you’re ever reading a novel.