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And action: The differences of screenwriting and journalism

photo credit: Mike Licht, Most Important Movie via photopin (license)

photo credit: Mike Licht, Most Important Movie via photopin (license)

I have been an U.S. Army Soldier for nearly 20 years. Even longer than that, though, I’ve been a writer.

I started off writing poetry at the age of 12. Fast forward to today, 25 years later, and not only have I written a ton of poems, but I’ve self-published three books and have written several screenplays. I began screenwriting in 2013.

Today, I am a journalist in the Army. My original job when enlisting in 1997 was ammunition specialist. I changed jobs in 2010.

I get asked pretty often how is screenwriting different from other forms of writing. It is important to remember that even as a writer, I need to have a different mindset with each form of writing, because they are all different. I’ll focus here on mainly the similarities and differences between journalism writing and screenwriting.

The straight and narrow of journalism

As a journalist, there is a pretty strict set of guidelines. A proper grasp of the English language, grammar and spelling is of the utmost importance. There are other more technical rules we must follow, but this is an area we cannot be sloppy or casual in, unless the story itself calls for it.

There is a “rule” I learned while attending Army journalism – write at an eighth grade reading level. This is the level in which most people read. So, unless the story calls for complex or large words, we should stay away from them for the sake of our audience.

With journalism, we are also telling the story of someone else. In the Army, of course that is where my main focus is, but I’m simply relaying what I’ve received from interviews and other information about the topic I’m writing about. Just the facts, ma’am.

Now on to screenwriting.

The winding and wide of screenwriting

Screenwriting is the very first step that leads to television shows and movies being made. In these cases, I am still telling a story to an extent, but the story is mainly fiction and involves fictional characters. Unlike with journalism where the story centers on real people, the characters involved in screenwriting involve fictional characters who will be represented by real people.

With screenwriting, there needs to be a grasp of English, grammar and spelling in terms of certain areas of the script, for example, mainly with scene descriptions. These are the parts that describe what we watch prior to dialogue taking place between characters.

Characters and dialogue are what drive the script, so in keeping dialogue sounding conversational, English and grammar, within reason, isn’t the most important. A lack of proper speech may even be what is called for by the character (e.g., if the character is less than educated or maybe from certain regions of the country or the world where proper speech would not be perfect). This can’t, however, be done sloppily or used as an excuse to use poor English, grammar and spelling elsewhere. Each character is obviously different, so there should be a clear difference in how each of them speak. Again, though, there needs to be a valid reason.

What do you like best?

In journalism, we’re after the pure facts; in screenwriting, we’re after the whimsical story. In journalism, I get my information from interviews and other factual data around the topic; in screenwriting, I draw inspiration from many sources, such as an outing with my family or a daily task I’ve completed.

These are the main differences between journalism and screenwriting, and we all tend to prefer one over the other. Though they both have their purposes, yet they should never be approached in the same manner. You should also have a well rounded repertoire of writing styles to choose from, and I tend to prefer screenwriting. So, what’s your favorite style of writing?


RobertPeopleCroppedRobert People has been writing for more than 20 years. He began writing poetry at the age of 12 and self-published his first book in 2011. He has finished three books since then and is working on more. He also writes screenplays and is venturing into the world of screenwriting. Robert has been married for close to 18 years, and has two children, ages 12 and 9. Connect with him on Facebook, Twitter or WordPress.


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