I read a lot.  I also watch movies and occasional television series.  Recently I got to thinking about how novel writers and screenwriters differ.

In some ways a screenwriter has an easier job than an author.  Take, for instance, “painting a picture of the scene.”  When describing a scene, the screenwriter essentially “takes a snapshot,” something like: “you are looking down the beach, with huge cliffs off to the left, surf to the right, and a body down at the far end.”

He/she does not use too many adjectives such as azure sea, turquoise ocean, foamy waves, or 60-ft cliffs, ragged rocks, sandstone hills.  No need.  The snapshot, the images on camera of the actual place, capture all that for the viewer. 

The scene I’m describing, by the way, is from a BBC Series called Broadchurch, one of the most well-done, intriguing and dark stories I’ve seen.  Instead of spending myriad words to let the reader “see” the image, the stage is, essentially, pre-set by reality.

Rather. the screenwriter spends considerable time on the characters and, probably to a lesser extent, on the plot.  In Broadchurch, the plot is riveting, starting with the murder of a young boy.  And it twists and turns its way through the episodes with skill and bravery, to end with a, pardon the expression here, a cliffhanger.

You always want to return to the next episode.  You always want to turn the page.

Chris Chibnell is the screenwriter of Broadchurch, and no, the book (written by Erin Kelly, along with Chibnell) came after the screenplay–isn’t that interesting? Chibnell’s past credits include Doctor Who and Torchwood, but Broadchurch catapulted him to screenplay stardom.

What Chibnell does so masterfully, and we authors need to take a lesson, is character development, growth and change.  The Broadchurch characters start out one way, they grow through the series and, somehow, almost magically, are transformed by their experiences.  They have learned and matured; they have gained strength and resilience.  And they continue to change, giving the viewer hope they will survive no matter what the future holds.

This is a concept we novel writers need to infuse in our own work.  Character development, however little, is BIG.    Don’t minimize it and its effects on the audience (reader.)  Without being a spoiler, I suggest you watch Broadchurch, and, in particular, the character of Ellie Miller.

See if you don’t agree that this device can make you a much better writer.