As I prepare to wrap up and edit my New Adult novel this year, I’d like to take an inconspicuous neon arrow and point it at something that I find incredibly helpful when writing a novel. I like to call this little something The Screenplay Method. Allow me to explain.
One of my favorite things to do (besides write novels) is write movies. Writing a script/screenplay is pretty different than writing a book. It’s usually no longer than 110 pages, it’s very concise, and it leaves pretty much all of the emotions of the character to an actor. Your job is to put down the story idea and let someone else fly with it. Dialogue and scenes are meant to be as short as possible. Less is more. A screenplay is divided into three acts, as well:
Act One: 25 pages
Act Two: 50 pages
Act Three: 25 pages
Each act basically introduces a new conflict, builds up to the climax and ends in a satisfying resolution. Sound familiar? This is all the same story stuff we do when we write a novel, or a short story – or anything. Beginning, middle end. What is awesome about The Screenplay Method is you can use it to make sure your novel is working well, and that tension and lulls are balanced out perfectly.
When I write a novel, I make a rough outline so I know where my story is headed. After I know this, I take a blank piece of paper (or two), and divide it into squares. In each square I write:
The conflict of my choosing
How does this conflict get resolved?
|Free Stock Images: Dreamstime|
A good novel will have anywhere from five to a hundred conflicts. What I’m saying is, the longer the book, the more conflicts you’ll end up having. Each one should have a plot within itself and, at the same time, move the story forward. Let me give you an example:
Sally knows that someone murdered her boyfriend. She wants revenge. She finds out who the murderer is and sets off to kill him. What’s her primary goal? Find the murderer and take him down. Before that primary goal can occur, though, there have to be other conflicts for her to overcome; otherwise Sally would have a pretty darn boring story. Each conflict must have a satisfying resolution. One of these resolutions might be that Sally must face a thug on the streets who has information to the killer’s whereabouts. This doesn’t resolve the story, but the immediate conflict is what? Stay alive. This keeps an adequate amount of tension in your story while building up to the final showdown.
With each character in a screenplay, we do three things:
1. Explore their background, which will shape their character
2. Identify what their primary need is (In Sally’s case this is revenge)
3. Identify character flaws and make sure they have a transformation
These three things can be transferred into novel writing, as well. What it makes us do is check our story and build our characters into believable, relatable human beings (or aliens, faeries, vampires, or whatever). You do the same thing with your antagonists.
There are also 3 types of conflict within each character:
Character vs. Another Character
An example of this is The Hunger Games. It’s one character versus the other. Cato is trying to kill Katniss.
Character vs. Himself
A man or woman is warring with themselves over their own shortcomings or irrational feelings. Examples of this could be a man who finds out his wife is cheating on him and becomes emotionally spent, believing it’s his fault. Maybe he overcomes his flaw of not being involved enough in his marriage by the end of the story.
Character vs. the Unfeeling Force
This is when your protagonist comes up against an enemy greater than a single person. In Star Wars, the unfeeling forces are the Empire and Stormtroopers. There are a lot of them and they’re coming from everywhere. The personification of the unfeeling force, however, is seen in Darth Vader, right?
Using these few things when writing a novel will keep your story strong, your characters volatile and humanized, and your make your novel a piece of art. I’m not kidding. Writing a book using some of the tips from screenwriters is novel-writing gold. Why? Because it takes the idea of a story, simplifies it, identifies its primary goals, and as a result, you get a chance to pen the best book you’ve ever written.
Happy Halloween! Don't let the ghouls get to you!