Psst! Novelists - Steal These Screenwriting Secrets!

Barri Evins shares Screenwriting Secrets every novelist should steal to power your creative process, elevate your storytelling and up your marketing game.
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Barri Evins shares Screenwriting Secrets every novelist should steal to power your creative process, elevate your storytelling and up your marketing game.

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I am an ardent William Goldman fan.

Novelist, playwright, screenwriter. William Goldman was a true raconteur.

From The Princess Bride, novel and film, to Marathon Man, novel and film. He also adapted numerous novels into successful screenplays including Stephen King’s Misery.

Hearing him speak at a screenwriting conference, I was in heaven.

Then came the Q & A. I am not a fan of Q & A, as most people simply don’t know what to ask. I suspect Mr. Goldman may have felt the same.

“Mr. Goldman,” asked an earnest and eager woman. “Having written novels and then screenplays, what would you say is the difference?”

Goldman took a long, dramatic pause, carefully weighing the best possible response, as the audience held their collective breaths waiting for the pearls of wisdom certain to follow:

“It is important to remember…

when transitioning from novels to screenplays…

that a screenplay is…

much shorter.”

Delivered with utter gravitas.

In a ballroom crowded with hundreds of eager, aspiring writers, I seemed to be the only one who found his answer to be wryly hilarious.

A wit as dry as the proverbial bone.

But, in truth, no matter if Bill was just brushing off the question with his deadpan drollery or not, that is a pearl of wisdom, profound in its simplicity. In fact, it goes to the heart of screenwriting secrets.

Indeed, a screenplay is much shorter than a novel. As a result, screenwriters exist in a world chock-a-block with rules, conventions, and constraints. They must meet them without exception, or be deemed rank amateurs and dismissed. A glance at a single page can get their work tossed in the rubbish bin for failing to “look right.”

10 Screenwriting Techniques Every Writer Can Employ

However, limitations can spark our best artistic work. Screenwriting forces writers to use very few words to convey vivid images and create evocative visceral experiences for the reader, building top-notch writing and storytelling skills that can benefit novelists.

Mastering the expertise required in screenwriting can translate to writing novels. Steal these Screenwriting Secrets before you begin your book, while you are writing and when marketing your work to power your creative process, elevate your writing and up your marketing game.

 © Barri Evins

© Barri Evins

Steal These Screenwriting Secrets BEFORE You Begin To Write

Screenwriting Secrets: Ideas

In Hollywood, conventional wisdom is that Concept is King.

That’s no secret. Great ideas are the best way to launch a film career. It can pay off for novelists big time.

Think of the enormous time and effort you will pour into your next book. That makes choosing the story you want to tell next one of the most important decisions your will ever make.

Assuming that you have a burning desire to tell stories, I’m guessing you’d also very much like those stories to be heard. Your best shot at getting your story out into the world, to be read and cherished, begins and ends with your choice of concept.

Screenwriting forces writers to use very few words to convey vivid images and create evocative visceral experiences for the reader, building top-notch writing and storytelling skills that can benefit novelists.

Ideas possess incredible power to grab our attention. Strong premises captivate us and capture our imagination. Ideas draw us to films, television shows and to your book. Compelling ideas launch careers and keep it thriving.

I encourage screenwriters to generate lots and lots of ideas so that when it comes time to make this decision, they have plenty of options. The Idea File is a screenwriting prompt that is well worth adopting.

Screenwriting Secrets for a successful Idea File: Always Be Creating

At the start of my career as a film industry executive, I had to train myself to constantly think of potential movie ideas to pitch to my bosses – writer-producers Bruce Evans and Raynold Gideon, who created Stand By Me, Starman and many more—once a month—while working 60 hours a week! But it helped me build enormously useful skills and to train my brain to always be looking for great ideas.

Check out my Idea File Success Story here.

Idea File Secret: Listen to the little voice in your head that speaks up when you come across something that intrigues you. That voice is saying, “There’s something interesting here!” Pay attention! That’s your creative instinct sending you a message. Whatever piqued your interest goes into your Idea File. Don’t judge it. Don’t let that other voice in your head say, “Maybe this is a stupid idea. Other people are going to think this idea is lame. Maybe it’s not good enough to be a novel. What if I don’t know how to make this intriguing little thing into a story?” If you hear those self-doubting, judgmental voices, ignore them.

Steal Idea File Pointers here.

Screenwriting Secrets: Outlining

Screenwriting relies heavily on structure to keep an audience engaged from start to finish. Scripts have only a few pages to draw a reader into the world and make them eager to follow the hero on their journey. Then they have about 100 more pages to take them on entertaining, engaging, escalating, suspenseful, surprising, fresh, visceral, meaningful ride with a tightly crafted narrative.

Tall order indeed.

Aspiring writers are keen students of centuries old dramatic structure, dating back to Aristotle. They are constantly advised to plan their stories in detail before they begin to write. In fact, in my ScriptMag column and my blog, I frequently beseech writers to outline before they begin to write.

Outlining creates a roadmap for your story. It also allows you to explore and experiment while your story is still in an early form to create the best possible version. And it is far easier to rework a few pages than to rip apart a completed work in an effort to elevate it to the next level.

Outlining is a great tool for novelists. It can help make your first draft closer to your finished draft. But the highest purpose of outlining is not merely to chart the path from “Once upon a time” to “Happily ever after.”

Let It Go – Keep Your Screenplay Feeling Fresh, Not Frozen…Even After an Outline

The Top Reason to outline is that it can enable you to become a truly compelling storyteller.

Outlining is an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of your story—knowing the characters, their arc, your message. Dig down deep to build the foundation of your story. Fully exploring these fundamental building blocks of story enables you to create something of real value. A story with depth and meaning. A story that powerfully connects with readers.

Some writers feel outlining stifles their creativity. I believe it frees you up. Heck, I even outlined this article. I started with a title. I listed lots of options. Then I narrowed my ideas down to the pointers I felt would be the most effective for novelists. Finally, I figured out how to organize my suggestions so that they would be most useful to you. Once that work was completed, I was free to go with my gut and write the specifics. Part way through, I went back, tweaked my title, and sharpened my focus on what I really, really wanted to say.

Outlining does not stop you from making changes if you find new inspiration along the way. But it does keep you on the right path.

Turns out, I’m in good company:

The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is you really want to say.

Mark Twain

If I haven’t yet convinced you to outline, check out this cheeky advice on the thirst for artistic freedom being like writing with beer goggles on.

Scoop up Screenwriting Outline Techniques here.

While I am in awe of what it takes to create something as large, as elaborate, and as complex as a novel, I think these screenwriting secrets are well worth embracing. Each of these writing mediums require many skills and unique strengths. But I’m convinced that novelists and screenwriters can learn from each other. As they say, a screenplay is much, much shorter than a novel.

Next month, Part Two: Psst! Steal These Screenwriting Skills WHILE You Write

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