Sep 01, 2009 | From Nick The Last Song Writing Notes

I’m not even sure where to begin with this:  the screenplay or the novel.

I suppose I should start with the screenplay, since that’s where a lot of the elements were worked out.  Between tours (I had three that fall – one for the film Nights in Rodanthe, a U.S. book tour, and a European book tour), I wrote the screenplay, and I suppose most people would like to know whether writing a screenplay is harder than writing a novel.

Not a chance.  Screenplays are easy to write, once you know the rules.  The rules can be found in any screenwriting book and they provide the structure of the film.  After that, the writing is exceedingly easy, if only because you’re allowed to “tell.” In novels, you have to “show.”  Big difference there.  In a script, you write:  “Jim is still angry at his boss as he enters his apartment.”  In a novel, on the other hand, you have to write something like, “The neighbors could hear cursing him through the thin walls of their apartments, but Jim had never cared what those losers thought of him.  All he could think about was the way his boss had talked to him.  As if he were an idiot.  A moron.  An imbecile.  It took everything Jim had not to smash his fist into the man’s nose, and for a long moment, he’d actually seen himself doing it.  As he sat there listening to his piece of crap boss with his ridiculous comb-over droning on and on about deadlines and quotas, he imagined himself balling his hands into a fist and leaping across the desk; he could see his boss’s eyes widen in shock and fright, and as he delivered the blow, he could almost feel the crunch of bone as the nose began gushing blood.  Slamming his door, he needed a drink.  No, screw that.  What he needed was a bottle . . .”

Granted, that wasn’t necessarily very good, but you get the point.  Never once did I say “Jim was angry.”   Showing is ALWAYS harder than telling.  And in a screenplay, telling is all – for space reasons – that you’re really allowed to do.

I finished the first draft of the screenplay in December, and did the first rewrite later that month.  In January, once the director was hired, I did another rewrite.  Both rewrites took about a day or two – I didn’t find them difficult, and with that, my role as a screenwriter was largely concluded.

By then, of course, I’d started on the novel.  As I’d done with The Lucky One, I chose to write the story in limited third-person perspective, and though I’d done it before, it was a bit more difficult in this particular novel than it had been in The Lucky One.  A lot of things were more difficult in fact, and no character more so than Ronnie.  Ronnie, at the beginning of the novel (and film) is angry, moody and sometimes rude – and yet, I had to make her likable at exactly the same time.  No easy task there.  At the same time (and unlike the film), I knew I had to develop Steve (Ronnie’s father) on a much deeper level.  While the novel is centered around Ronnie and Will (both teenagers), I wanted to have a story in which adults could relate.  I wanted Steve to develop into his own character (not simply a supporting character, as in the film), and I wanted to bring an element of faith into the novel.   Thus, Steve needed his own journey, his own compelling back-story, so to speak, and while in the end it served to make the novel richer and more fulfilling, it was occasionally challenging on any number of levels.

Adding to the difficulties was the sheer breath and scope of the novel.   There are a multitude of characters and a multitude of events:  in the end, the novel ended up 20% longer than anything I’ve ever written before.  Still, it reads quickly, and in the end, I think it will be a novel that readers will remember for a long time after the final page is turned.

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Nicholas Sparks