Saturday, December 18, 2010


Two days back I had to answer a query by one of my prospective students, who wanted to join for a creative writing program I offer now at the Academy - ScreenWrite.In. Her query was: How’s creative writing different from Screenwriting. I reckon many have this confusion, and that’s why I told Revathy I’ll write a blog about this.

Creative writing is anything where the purpose is to express thoughts, feelings and emotions rather than to simply convey information.

Creative writing is considered to be any writing, fiction, poetry, or non-fiction that goes outside the bounds of normal professional, journalistic, academic, and technical forms of literature. Works which fall into this category include novels, epics, short stories, and poems. Writing for the screen and stage - screenwriting and playwriting respectively, typically have their own programs of study, but fit under the creative writing category as well.

'Creative writing is writing that expresses the writer’s thoughts and feelings in an imaginative, often unique, and poetic way.' ( – What is Creative Writing?)

'Writing is a form of personal freedom. It frees us from the mass identity we see all around us. In the end, writers will write not to be out-law heroes of some under-culture but mainly to save themselves, to survive as individuals.' (Don DeLillo)

Creative writing can technically be considered any writing of original composition. In this sense creative writing is a more contemporary and process-oriented name for what has been traditionally called literature, including the variety of its genres. The practice of "professional writing" is not excluded from creative writing — one can be doing both in the same action.

Forms of creative writing:

Collaborative writing
Creative non-fiction (Personal & Journalistic Essays)
Flash fiction
Playwriting/Dramatic writing
Short story
Stream of consciousness (narrative mode)

To differentiate or bullet-point screenwriting from creative writing I’d say screenplay is a visual and an auditory medium. It cannot convey the inner thoughts of the protagonists’ minds as within novels, unless there is a narrative in the form of a voice-over, as in Goodfellas and Field of Dreams. However, such a tactic must be used with care, as it can be often be overused and may not be the best way of conveying inner thoughts.

There must be no literary prose within the screenplay. With just about a hundred and twenty minutes or so of storytelling, there is very little scope to describe in depth the protagonists’ background and biographical details.

On an average, a novel can be anything from 60,000 to 500,000 words long, and depending upon the font used, the size of the book will differ vastly too. The screenplay has strict guidelines, demanding a particular font (courier or pica with a font size of 12), with the ideal length of about 90 to 120 pages long, one page equalizing one minute of screen time.

As a screenplay is a blueprint for a film, and film being in present tense, it becomes a written and unbreakable rule that you can't write the text in past or future tense. Flashbacks and Flashforwards or any innovative non-linear structures are all inside the storytelling; but they are shown on the screen in present motion as is always the case.

So Screenplays are more ‘formatic’ for purposes of time and visual orientation than Prose or Poetry. Creative writing is an “art piece” of your mind wherein you can freely express your ideas, emotions and ability to attract or magnetize readers. Screenplays , on the other hand, attract readers but of a special category viz. the script-reader or the director to make the play to a visual reality.

To wind this up I’ll ‘retweet’ here: Nothing else has ever given me such ineffable joy or left me in profound despair, still I can't imagine a time I cannot write a screenplay.


shylaja said...

Thank you John. That was a wonderful differentiation shwing you practical and creative knowledge of both. This is my first read of your blog and I hope to be catching up soon.

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