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Robert McKee is a creative writing teacher known particularly for his "Story Seminar," a multi-day screenwriting lecture that he has given at venues all over the world. He is the[…]

The main difference between screenwriting, playwriting and prose is the degree of conflict that interests the writer.

Question: How is screenwriting different from other kinds of rnfiction writing?
Robert McKee: Well, the three great rnmedia, not only screenplay, but it’s also the theater, playwriting, andrn the prose.  I mean, those are the three primary.  And they get mixed a rnlot.  TV is a sort of combination of all three really, novel, theater, rnand film.  Graphic novels are another form that combines novels as a rnbasis, as the title suggests, with films, sort of, like cartoons.
Andrn the principal differences between the three of them is the level of rnconflict that interests the writer of each of them.  And so, you have rnstories—they all tell a story—but stories involve characters in conflictrn with their social or physical world, in personal relationships with rnfriends, family, lovers, and an inner conflict within their own natures rnbetween themselves, their subconscious mind, their body, their emotions,rn and so forth.  The novelist tends to be interested in inner conflicts; rncharacters in conflict with their own contradictory natures, their own rncontradictory desires, their emotions.  Playwrights tend to be more rninterested in personal relationships, of family, friends, lovers—becausern the theater is a form for dialogue, primarily.  And talk is the way in rnwhich people in personal relationships work those relationships out for rnbetter or worse, right?  And so the power and the beauty of the theater rnis personal conflicts.
The power and beauty in film is the rnextra personal conflicts of characters in conflict with their physical rnworld and their social world.  And so all three media can tell complex rnstories because you can work with inner conflict, certainly, in a film, rnyou can work with personal conflict naturally in a film, and in a novel,rn you can do all three, in a play you can do all three. But the strength rnof each of them tends to be at one of those three levels.  And so, if rnyou’re trying to make a career choice as to what kind of writer should Irn be, you really need to ask another question; which level of conflict inrn life really interests me the most?  And then you would presumably move rninto that medium.  But I know a lot of writers whose real interest is rnnot at the level of conflict that the medium in which they are writing rnis strongest in.  And so a lot of independent filmmakers, for example, rnare really interested in inner conflict.  And so they should be writing rnnovels and not trying to make films of people staring into space, comingrn to big decisions in their lives, or whatever, it would bore people.
Andrn so, which level of conflict interests the writer is a critical choice. rn And a lot of writers don’t understand their own instincts and they rnget... Stanislavski, the great acting teacher once said: “You have to rnfigure out whether you’re in love with the art in yourself, or yourself rnin the art.”  And too many people go into film, especially, or rntelevision because they are in love with the idea of themselves in the rnart.  They want to be in the movies, they want to be in TV, or even in rnthe theater, or whatever.  When their natural talents and interests lie rnelsewhere.  So, that’s a critical choice as to which medium you choose rnbecause it has to pair up with what really interests you.