Ten things screenwriters need to know when writing a book

Lots of writers (especially in Los Angeles) write screenplays. Often, these screenwriters decide to try their hand at writing a book or a short story. Screenwriters tend to have a good understanding of how to write dialogue (especially if they are also an actor) and of story structure, but there are other areas where they often need improvement when comes to writing fiction. Here are ten things screenwriters need to know when deciding to write a book or a short story:

1. Change the POV in your Head

Change the POV in your head from the camera’s angle to the POV through your character’s eyes. Not making this mental shift is the number one issue I see with screenwriters who transition from writing for the screen to writing books or short stories.

2. Stop Writing in 3rd Person Present Tense

Get out of the habit of writing in 3rd person present tense. Learn how to write in the first person or 3rd person past tense.

3. Learn about Narrators

Screenwriters write in the 3rd-person present-tense objective (no character thoughts) POV. Learn about the different types of narrator choices you have when writing fiction. There are many options and specific ways to execute them. Study how to implement an omniscient narrator or an omniscient narrator who also has an opinion.  Learn the difference between an Omniscient Narrator and a 3rd Person Deep POV Narrator. Learn what you can and cannot do when writing in first person present tense.

4. Know who is Telling the Story

Ask yourself two questions: Who is telling the story and who is the story about? In most screenplays, the narrator is the camera. In books and short stories, you need to know who is telling the story, even if it is you, the author.

5. Write Better Setting

In most cases, you need to write the setting from your character’s POV. You also need to go deeper when describing your character’s environment than you typically would when writing a screenplay. Don’t only focus on what your characters see. Focus on what they hear, smell, taste, touch, and what they sense through intuition. Sensory detail makes for a more relatable setting and enables the reader to visualize what you write. The lack of sensory detail is also why screenplays are more challenging to read. Learn how to incorporate subtext into your descriptions (this is true for both fiction writers and screenwriters).

6. Learn how to Write Internal Dialogue

Learn how to write a character’s internal dialogue. What do they think about? What do they notice in their environment through their senses? What is their internal reaction and interpretation of that sensory input? What things trigger short memories or flashbacks that warrant an immediate scene? What is your character experiencing physiologically?

7. New Slugline = Scene Break

Realize that when you write a new slugline in a screenplay, that is the same as adding a scene break and writing a new scene in fiction. Both show that something is about to change, either a new POV or a new location or a time passage. You don’t have to follow your character’s every footstep in fiction, just like you don’t have to in screenplays.

8. Character Reactions are Important

Focus on how your character interprets other character’s reactions, not on describing the contortions a character’s face makes. Example: He scrunched his nose and lifted his lip vs. He seemed skeptical.

9. Write Better Character Descriptions

Learn how to write better character descriptions. In screenplays, we write a quick but efficient character description: (SAM (28) a hefty, bearded millennial). When writing a book or short story, in most cases, you write a character description from another character’s point of view, not the narrator’s point of view. Sol Stein, the author of one of the best books on writing fiction, Stein on Writing, says, “The first thing you see is usually a cliche.” [p.165] Go deeper with character descriptions than you are used to when writing a screenplay and put your POV character’s spin on it.

10. Don’t Forego Structure

I know deciding to write fiction can feel like sweet freedom to a screenwriter. I have a bit of bad news for you: You still need to write a story that has 3-act structure. Writing a book doesn’t let you off that hook. There’s a reason 3-act structure works. You do have a bit more flexibility when writing fiction, but you still need to understand how your character is flawed and if they choose to change or not change and you still need three acts to show how your character grows or refuses to grow.

I hope this is helpful.

Happy writing!


Workshops you can attend this weekend:

Lighting up the Past: A Memoir Writing Workshop

This workshop takes place this Saturday from 2:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. and every other Saturday after that. Cost: $45 for first-time attendees.

Writing with Spirit: A Meditation and Writing Workshop

This workshop takes place this Saturday from 11:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and every other Saturday after that. Cost: $45 for first-time attendees.

Weekly Creative Writing Workshop

Get words on the page and learn new writing tools every Sunday at 11:00 a.m.

I hope to see you soon!



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