My current goal is to write a novel (I'm already close to the 35K word mark). However, most of the books I've read about story structure are actually about screenwriting.

While stories are stories no matter the medium, I'm wondering whether everything in these books applies to novels. In particular, some books about structure are very precise about where in a screenplay should some important event happen; can this be directly translated to a novel?

In general, are the basic concepts about structure freely interchangeable between novels and screenplays, or are there major differences to be aware of?

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    Contrary to what the Write a Novel in 30 Days books may tell you, there is no exact formula for writing novels or screenplays. And if you think you have written something because you have a certain number of words or followed a preordained pattern, that thing is very likely not a novel or a screenplay.
    – Robusto
    Commented Nov 6, 2012 at 21:51
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    You're absolutely correct, of course; these 35K words cover roughly half of the 12-page outline I spent two years planning carefully, so that thing may be half a novel. On an unrelated topic, I'm sure it would be truly enlightening to know your thoughts about the question I posed above, should you be so kind to share them.
    – ggambetta
    Commented Nov 7, 2012 at 7:06

2 Answers 2


In terms of structure the two mediums are actually very related and follow very similar patterns. You have a set-up, an inciting incident, a call to action, first act resolution etc. etc. The difference with a novel is that there are more ways to explore the intangibles that cannot be used in a screenplay - what a character is thinking, what memories they are having, what they can smell etc. - and these things are what gives a novel greater depth than a screenplay.

If you're interested in knowing more then you should read Alexandra Sokoloff's 'Screenwriting Tricks for Authors' which costs about $3 as an ebook or try her website.

She does both and she knows her stuff. Hope that helps.


John Truby, screenwriting teacher for decades, has started teaching Novel structure. Similar but different. Novels are more free: you can write anything and cost of production is all the same (words printed on a page) -- not so in movies. Novels have interior monologs from the Hero, sometimes from others. Movies almost never do that. Novels can spend more time on description of people, place, thing, events, environment, etc. Novels can be less conflict-driven than movies, where more things have to HAPPEN than in a novel where things, people, events, etc. can just BE, if sufficiently well described.

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