Changing Mediums

I’ve written on similar topics in the past, about how learning to write for the stage and the screen can sharpen your novel writing skills (and vice versa). I really can’t stress enough how well-rounded it can make you, forcing you to acknowledge setting and action in a new way.

I know as a primarily novel writer, I tend to become complacent with my fictional elements. I think I know all there is to know to establish a scene, enhance the tension, insert more writer-y lingo here. But whenever I feel like my head is getting too big for my story (or if I get incredibly stuck on a particular scene and can’t figure out the best way to play it out), I realize it’s time for a medium change.

pexels-photo-27008And that change in medium is to write it like a movie.

There are some great sites out there that can teach you how to write a screenplay (Adobe Story is one of them). That’s not what this blog is for. This is really to explain the process your mind goes through as you transfer your readers from their imagination to yours.

When you write a screenplay, your action is direct. The actor needs to know exactly how you see them in this scene – crossing to the door, dropping a plate, laughing uncontrollably.

Sometimes as writers we can get lost in the literary clutter. We try too hard sometimes to make things sound fancy when they really just need to be clear. Stripping down your work to the bare bones gives you that chance to find the skeleton of your story. Once you’re there and you know what you want your audience to see then you can spice it up.

Now the dialogue. That’s the hard part in writing a script for me. There’s not really direction tagged with the dialogue in a script, so your writing needs to make it clear to your actor how the character is feeling. They should be able to pick up on the cues of how to act through what you’re having them do.

The same should be true when you write a novel.

Gasping, crying, laughing, shrieking, murmuring – they’re all wonderful words to describe your characters voices. But are you overusing them in place of expressing those same words through other actions? What if instead of crying out, your character clenched her fists in fear? What if instead of smiling, your character felt the warm bubble in his gut that made his words drip like honey?

This is a lesson I’m learning heavily now as I edit Part 1 of my MG novel and begin writing Part 2. My writing had become stale in the last few chapters. Rather than create a detailed work of art, I had created a sketch, a rendering, of what I wanted my audience to see.

That’s not good enough for me.

Practically, I’ve just transferred my work from a Word Doc into Scrivener by scene. As much as it pains me to do, I’m going to go back, scene by scene, and mentally write my story into a script. Break it down to build it back up.

It’s going to be a painful process, and honestly, I’m going to hate most of it – does anyone really love editing? – but if it produces a better story in the end, I believe it will be worth it.


Show Me What You’ve Got

Show and tell. I remember getting so hyped in kindergarten to show off whatever pet rock I currently owned or my latest horrific drawing.

But let’s be real for a minute. In kindergarten you can barely string two sentences together without losing your entire audience. The glory of show and tell had nothing to do with the telling, it was all about the show.

When you read a book, a good book mind you, you’re often so engrossed in the story that you miss the fact that the author is describing to you the richness of their world. When you write a book, a good book mind you, it’s easy to get caught up in wanting the reader to know the story as fast as possible. You’re excited, it makes sense. Unfortunately, too much telling ends up looking a bit like word vomit.

But, that doesn’t mean we show off all our goodies too. There’s a balance, but yes, the scales do tip more toward the show side. Sorry friends, Lady Justice isn’t completely impartial.

So what does that mean for you?

It means that when you write and edit you need to look out for opportunities to give your story some flavor. Instead of giving your audience their usual mac and cheese (which they love), you might want to change things up with a new dish or two. Maybe some stir fry or a juicy burger.

How do you switch gears from telling to showing? Here are some simple ideas to get your brain in the right gear:

Classical Rewrite

This is currently my favorite exercise in grad school right now. Choose a classic, any classic, and rewrite a scene. Focus on showing the story through action, thoughts, and emotions. Instead of writing “It was cold.” try “His skin prickled as the goosebumps trailed up his arms. He pulled his coat tighter against the chill.” It’s a little dramatic, but you get the picture. Go as big as you want, knowing you may have to tone it down when you get to the final draft.

From Script to Screen

Find a product you love around the house. Anything from your clothes to your couch to your favorite candle. If you had to advertise this product on TV, what would you want to show. For example, I have a White Barn scented candle lit next to me. It supposedly smells like Cactus Blossom, which unfortunately I can’t verify. But that doesn’t matter. How would I market this product? How would I show on screen that it smells delicious?

I could show someone relaxing in the tub with this candle lit nearby. I can show the flames reflecting off something personal, like a family photo to suggest it’s good for everyone. I can show someone freaking out about not finding a lighter, because using this candle is obviously life or death.

Try to think about objects and people (note: not the same thing) in terms you aren’t used to. When you think in ways you aren’t comfortable with you tend to stumble across gold.

From Stage to Script

Take straight dialogue and turn it into straight action. No spoken or thought words. None. Only action. It’s similar to the first exercise except that you’re using a play, which are notoriously dialogue heavy. How would you take a song from Cats and rewrite it into an alley scene between two strays? Or how would you take the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet (gag me) and show it without either of them speaking? Kinda fun, right?


Listen to my friend Anton Chekhov. He knows what’s good for you (and me). Take the time to flesh out the details of your writing, letting your reader experience the story with your characters. It will engage your audience and keep them coming back for more.


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