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Mystery & Drama

Thoughts on a Murder Novel in Process

An Electric Chair at the National Museum of Cr...

An Electric Chair at the National Museum of Crime & Punishment (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



`A while back I published a post on reasons why a writer should consider finding a novel in their finished full length play, but I hadn’t actually gone down the road of creating a novel that way, at least until now. I’m currently in the process of creating a novel based on the characters and situations I laid out in a play of mine entitled Transit of Venus. It’s a play in which Marcella, the lead character, decides to visit a convicted murderer in prison. The prisoner was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death in the electric chair, but over the course of many years has schooled himself in the law and has crafted over a dozen appeals which have postponed his execution. His appeals, and two books he’s written, and his friendship with a famous writer and intellectual have not only staved off his death in the chair, but created considerable doubt about his guilt, as well. Marcella has become obsessed with the case. She decides to go to the prisoner and offer to investigate, research and write about the case for local newspapers ostensibly to help him get out of jail. What have I found out about this attempt to make a novel out of a play?


Writing a novel is much longer road to travel.


Notice I didn’t say it was a harder road. In writing a play, there are the fundamental elements of storytelling to deal with: compelling, interesting characters, vivid scenes, a story with an arc, and absolutely mandatory, killer dialogue. But, a play is shorter than a novel by a long shot. A play probably will run for an hour and a half. The script to support that length has probably 80-100 pages. In a novel today,readers are used to books with as few as 50,000 words all the way up to 140,000, which translates into 175-450 pages.Writing a novel is a long distance grind. It’s sitting down as often as you can to put down words on a page, maybe 300-1000 or more at a sitting. I don’t remember counting words writing a play. A play is composed of characters on stage imparting the story in physical action, expression and words. The dialogue needs to imply things that have happened in the past, backstory, and thoughts. In a novel, these things need to be presented in words that paint a picture of the scenes.

In future posts, I’ll go into more details about how a play becomes a novel. What are your thoughts about writing a novel or a play?

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  1. Good post Larry – I think it’s such an interesting concept to convert a play to a novel. Talk about getting to know your characters! But as you say it’s a whole different ballgame. There’s something reassuring about the slow grind of a long work though – it’s always there waiting for more attention. Which is a good thing. Look forward to hearing more from you as it progresses.
    I’ve not tried my hand at a play or a screenwriting script. Someday I hope.

    1. Thanks AK – This is my first post in a couple of months, as I’ve been hard at work on the novel. As you say, it’s a completely different animal in the way you have to approach it. I’ve been on a bit of a run with it, and enjoying it. I can’t wait until I sit down and read it through, hoping I’ll be waiting to turn the next page!

  2. I think I’ve mentioned that I tried my hand at writing a ten-minute play when I taught a unit on such writing to my creative writing students. It was quite the task, but if I ever get a chance I wouldn’t mind taking such a class myself 😉 Trying to write my first novel without much planning showed writing by the seat of m pants is not the type of writer I am, not is such an approach all that it’s cracked up to be. Novels are most definitely a long haul!

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