should I write a book or a screenplay?

Should I Write a Book or Screenplay or Creative Stageplay?

Years ago, I was an unhappy engineer working at a job I hated.

I knew that I had so many stories in my head, but I wasn’t sure how to get them down on paper. I also kept wondering, should I write a book or screenplay or stageplay?

As a new writer, I’d written short stories before, and I had a few unfinished novels gathering dust on my computer, but overall, I felt unfulfilled as a storyteller.

I also didn’t know exactly what I wanted to write – I love movies, so maybe I should write a screenplay? I enjoyed reading thriller and horror books, so maybe I’d work on writing novels or finishing one of the books I’d started already?

When I thought about writing a script, I started wondering about how writing a screenplay for a movie was different from writing a stage play?

should i write a book or a screenplay?

In general, any long-form written work can be broken up into three platforms – novels, stage plays, and screenplays.

Anything else is a variation of these three. For example, short stories are just truncated versions of novels, much like short films are shorter versions of feature films.

In the end, thanks to an acting class I was taking at the time to expand my creative horizons, I decided to try writing a screenplay.

But, like all new writers, I still needed to understand the differences between these storytelling platforms before I got started.


Written descriptions are crucial

white book on brown wooden table

Novels let us see the world through the eyes of the characters within that novel.

Through the descriptions provided by the author, we let the words on the page create a mental picture for us. We imagine the world of the characters by reading about their thoughts and feelings, and we live their experiences by proxy.

There’s no limit to the physical senses involved – through the written descriptions, we can see, hear, taste, feel, think, dream, imagine, and remember along with the characters.

We are subject to everything the character experiences, as long as it is described in words, and how well it is described. A novel lets the readers experience the life of the main character and supporting characters, which is driven by written descriptions.

Conflict and character development is driven through a character’s inner thoughts and inner struggles, rather than mainly through action.

Since we are able to see into the minds of the characters, it is easy for us to understand their struggles, flaws, hopes, dreams, and difficulties in life.

“There are three rules for writing a novel.
Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

W. Somerset Maugham

Overall, the reader creates the world in the novel through the use of their own imagination. 

The downside (or upside, depending on your viewpoint) is that no two people will imagine the same descriptive passage the same way.

In other words, a novel paints a different picture for each reader.

Also, a novel is a finished product, and once we have finished writing the novel, it is ready for its introduction to the world!


Dialogue is key

red and yellow stage

In a stage play, conflict is driven through dialogue, rather than through descriptions of a character’s thoughts.

Stage plays primarily revolve around the spoken word, and are by their very nature, less “real”. 

That is to say, the world of a stage play is an artificial one, where the set depicts a small physical space or room where, at most, there are three walls.

The fourth wall is always open to the audience and is how the viewer is allowed to observe the story unfold before them.

“The world is a stage and the play is badly cast.”

Oscar Wilde

The spoken word is so important because audiences are limited in the amount of detail they can see onstage in terms of expressions, gestures, and nuances. The farther away you sit, the less detail you can make out.

Thus, actors have to always “go big” and play for the rafters or back of the theater as much as for the front row.

In addition, as outlined in this article from, stage plays typically have fewer characters than novels or screenplays.

So, you may have more time in a stage play to provide deeper character descriptions for the main characters you do have.


Show, don’t tell

differences between novels, stage plays and screenplays

As my good friend, Geoffrey Calhoun (founder of, writes in his wonderful book, The Guide for Every Screenwriter: From Synopsis to Subplots: The Secrets of Screenwriting Revealed (2019), a screenplay is “a visual medium conveyed through the written form.”

Film allows for nuance and an emphasis on any part of a person or object that is the focus of attention. It shows us exactly what we are meant to see and doesn’t rely on the other senses to make its case.

Film is a medium of two senses – what we see and what we hear. A good screenplay should limit the other senses to these two, and conflict within a feature film is typically driven by only the senses of sight and sound

I can’t emphasize this enough.

When you write a novel, you imagine yourself in the character’s shoes, and you describe their experiences and senses with omnipotent knowledge.

But when you are writing scripts, always remember to write based on what the viewer in the movie theater can see and hear only.

Rather than being in your character’s shoes, imagine being in a movie theater, and watching that movie in your head as you write, as if you are watching the movie play out, and are simply describing what you see on the screen.

This will mainly include the action that happens in the movie (written as action lines in a screenplay) and the words the characters speak (written as character dialogue).

When you are writing scripts, frame the other senses (i.e., smell, touch, and taste) around only what you see and hear.

For example, if you want to convey that something tastes amazing, you can have the character eating it tell us about it and describe the flavors and sensations it elicits.

Or better yet, show us!

“To make a fine film, you need three things:
a great script, a great script, and a great script.”

Alfred Hitchcock

Film is a visual medium, so make sure to show the build-up of pleasant surprise at the smell of the dish, which transforms into delight at the first bite, and finally into pure pleasure as the character chews and savors the complex and wonderful flavors. 

A great representation of this is in Ratatouille (2007) when Anton Ego tastes the dish of Ratatouille, and we see how it transports him back in time to his mother’s kitchen.

We see how the dish brings back all the wonderful childhood memories he relates to this otherwise simple dish.

We see taste, smell, memory, pleasure, love, and loss shown through a purely visual medium. No words are spoken and yet we understand everything that transpires. 

That’s the power of film.

A great film is at heart just a great story.

Conclusion: Should I Write a Book or Screenplay or Stageplay?

What I learned from looking into the differences between novels, stage plays and screenplays is that while novels are primarily a description-focused written medium, stage plays are mainly dialogue-focused, and screenplays rely solely on the senses of sight and sound. 


Novels typically have more words than a stage or screenplay, so they often take longer to write. However, screenplays often need more revisions in order to get the story structure, plot, dialogue, and characters just right, so they may take just as long as a novel to revise and perfect.

In addition, novels and short stories are completed works in and of themselves. Once you have finished writing your novel or short story, it is ready to be submitted to competitions, production companies, or self-published. 

In contrast, stage plays and screenplays are blueprints for the filmmakers and actors to use when translating your words into the finished product, either on stage or on film.

If you write a stage or screenplay, your work will be changed and adapted by other people when it is used for its intended purpose (a visual production of some sort). You will need to be okay with your work being modified, shaped, and revised by other people. For some, this can be difficult to accept! 

Overall, knowing these differences can help you decide which medium to use for the story that you know you have within you.

I believe that each of us has a story to tell.

differences between novels, stage plays and screenplays

I ended up first choosing screenplays as my preferred medium for the written word, as I enjoyed the challenge of translating the story into a condensed form relying on two primary senses, and I’ll admit, I loved the thought of my work being turned into a film.

But as my experience level grew and I became more confident in my writing, I returned to the world of novel writing to complete my first novel as well.

Since then, I’ve written many screenplays and short stories, and am currently working on my third novel. But who knows? There just might be a stage play or two in my future as well.

That’s the beauty of writing – the platform doesn’t matter as long as we tell our stories. We are only limited by our imaginations!

Is Screenwriting Easy?

Anyone who has ever tried to write a screenplay knows that it is far from easy. Not only do you have to think about creating compelling characters and an intriguing plot, but you also have to format your script correctly and make sure it fits within the industry standard of 120 pages (give or take!). In addition, you need to be able to visualize your story in terms of how it will look on the screen, which can be a challenge for even the most experienced writers in the film industry. Using screenwriting software can help beginning screenwriters create a great script more easily.

Can You Write a Book as a Screenplay?

Only if it’s a book you wrote yourself! If you have the rights to a book, then yes, you can turn it into a screenplay! It’s not an easy process, but it can certainly be done.

Where Can I Find Story Ideas?

You may have a great book or movie in your head, but getting it down on paper can be difficult. One way to get started is to brainstorm ideas for your movie or story. First, think about what kind of story you want to tell. Is it a comedy? A drama? A romance?

Once you’ve decided on the genre, think about the main characters (especially the protagonist and antagonist) and what their goals are. What conflict will they face? How will they resolve it?

Next, consider the setting of your story. Where will it take place? What time period will it be set in? By answering these questions and building a world for your fictional characters, you’ll start to develop a clearer idea of your story and what happens in it. Don’t be afraid to let your imagination run wild!

The more ideas you come up with, the easier it will be to find the ones that work best for your book or movie. So get brainstorming and see what you can come up with!

Should I Write a Book or Screenplay?

You’ve got a great story idea. There’s just one question: should you turn it into a book or a movie? Both writing novels and writing screenplays have their pros and cons.

On the plus side, writing a book gives you complete control over your story. You get to decide what happens, how the characters develop, and what the ending will be.

On the downside, writing a book can be a lonely endeavor, and many novels can take months or even years to finish.

The main advantage of writing screenplays is that they tend to be less time-consuming than writing novels, and the fact that you may get to see your vision come to life on the big screen!

The downside of writing screenplays is that you need to focus your ideas and make your writing more concise. You may need to learn new techniques, ones that are unique to screenplays.

So which is better? In the end, it all comes down to personal preference. There are pros and cons to both writing a book and writing a movie. It’s up to you to decide which one is right for you.

Always try to consider using a different medium to the one that you originally thought of – keep an open mind!

should I write a book or a screenplay?

Next Steps:

If you are ready to stop letting the fear of your writing not being good enough stop you from actually getting your story finished, contact me to set up a free, thirty-minute clarity call.

Working with me can help you take your story from unorganized thoughts in your head to a well-written, entertaining story on paper.

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