Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Are you writing for the right medium?

It's tough enough getting your writing noticed without making the wrong choice about how best to present your story. Are you so in love with the idea of yourself as a novelist that you're selling your stories short because they'd be better presented in a different format?

There's plenty of ways to tell stories and plenty of markets for them – video games, television, theatre, comic books to name a few – and some of these markets are booming. So how do you know if you've got the right format? How can you be sure that the medium you've chosen is the best showcase for your story and your talents? Here are some questions to ask yourself.

How do you imagine your story?

Do you invent visually? As internal monologue? Via scenes or dialogue? Do you conjure punchy and complete vignettes or meandering plots? Do you imagine deep and wide worlds, or closed domestic dramas?

All stories can be told in all mediums – but if you create your stories in the ways above, you should also consider the following mediums respectively: film or comic, novel, stage or screen play, short stories, novel, novel or videogame, stage play.

Where do your writing strengths lie?

Are you struggling through a single POV novel yet your crit group keeps telling you your prose is atrocious? Are you writing a stage-play where your descriptive stage-directions run for pages but the dialogue comes like blood from a stone? If your dialogue scintillates while your prose is abominable, you really should think about writing scripts – likewise, a novelistic play can work but perhaps you should think about writing prose.

What format would suit the story?

You may have planned a deeply internal character driven novel but the story you can't help writing is a highly visual action-hero epic. Is a novel really the best medium for your superhero? Wouldn't he fit better in a comic or a film?

Is your writing restricted by the format?

Is your chosen medium holding your writing back? Is it getting in the way of your story? A good way of telling if you're writing in the right format is if your story and your writing are liberated by the medium you're working within. If it keeps getting in the way then maybe you should try something else.

Would your vision be better developed collaboratively?

A lot of writing is a foundation for the final product – film, stage, tv, comics or games for example. While the god-like control of the story in a novel appeals to some, other writers thrive on the more collaborative forms of writing - or enjoy seeing where an actor, director or artist can further take their work. They may be spurred to greater heights as a writer in consequence.

If you've spend years studying and learning a particular format the thought of trying something else can be daunting – but if it really is the right format for you and your story, the going will be easy. At the very least it's good to mix things up, it will make a change, and will certainly make you a better writer.


  1. You continue to provide the best posts, James. This one is timely as I have been looking at the very issue of format for my story ideas. Thanks for the brainstorming!

  2. Thanks Gene. Glad you found the post useful.

  3. Great post, James. I know scriptwriters who've tried novels and were scared stiff that no one would pull them out of the difficult bits. Everyone has their weak points but personally, I have to have total control. I haven't done a book trailer because I want to be the person to write the music for it.... possibly I've got issues from ghosting other people's books :)

  4. I didn't have you down as a control-freak, Roz! But that's one reason I started writing The Chicken Factory - to have control over the whole production so to speak. I'm finding myself (as you know) writing for the stage currently. I write good dialogue and tend to imagine my stories in scenes - hence the thoughts that drove this post. I'm getting positive professional feed-back on the novel at the moment too - so who knows where I'll end up? Where the wind takes me, I suppose...

  5. This is an interesting post. I agree it can be daunting to change writing styles, but it can be done!

    In my current life I write fiction, because I want to. But previously I wrote academic articles for work (very boring).
    When I first began to submit my manuscripts, one publisher suggested to me that I might be better suited to writing non-fiction (...aaaargh!)

    I had to retrain myself in the art of writing (which I did with the help of a post-grad creative writing course), to improve my fiction voice.

    The more I wrote, the better I got at it. Of course, reading prolifically in the genre in which I write also helped.

    Now I get great feedback the teens that read my books...

  6. Hi Khyiah - really appreciate you taking the time to read and comment on this post. I'm impressed by your commitment to your fiction writing, and the lengths you've gone to pursue it. This kind of determination in a must in an industry which is a hard slog with little encouragement or reward. Good for you and good luck.