Stealing Screenwriting Ideas to Blast Through NaNoWriMo

By Tammila K. Wright

We all have that dream. The phone rings. Hollywood is calling. They want to develop your book into a movie. It happened to my friend. He took notes during his career and turned those notes into a few small books called the Kenda Files. His idea just finished its ninth season of filming for the Discovery ID Channel. Thinking of a movie or series deal is something I must get out of my mind because there is a behemoth shadow looming over me – and I’m not talking about Pikes Peak.

It’s NaNoWriMo starting tomorrow!

I’m trying not to think of next month. I’m stuck now! I have an astounding premise, mesmerizing characters, and a soul mending ending. But my rough draft is so raw I am embarrassed to read it. But what if I take my idea and start fleshing it out as a screenplay before I transform it into a novel? Would I sail through NaNoWriMo with excitement instead of worry that I’m going down the wrong plot path and waste time and thousands of words?

 To be honest, novel writing is horribly slow. The few screenplays I have developed in the past, move the plot along quickly. My characters don’t pout about their firing from a job for pages on end, and they blow up the building after closing time, so no one has a “job”! I want pumped-up action. Plus, if I throw the “interrogation lights” on my idea that the simplicity of a screenplay will achieve, I am more likely to have a better story in the end. Right?  

THINKING LIKE A SCRIPT WRITER

            What can we steal from screenwriting? By starting with the creation of a skeleton script. Not to be confused with a Spec Script that would be sent out to agents in hopes of selling it, a skeleton script is a fleshed-out outline “hybrid” that crawls, walks, runs, or speaks. Like traditional storytelling, screenplays usually rely on the basic three-act structure to give our ideas a framework; Act 1 is the setup, Act 2 is where the story plays out, and Act 3 is the resolution. We can create six plot points to insure pacing by hitting the following milestones:

Act I- The hero needs to hit a turning point, sending them on a new path before Act II starts.

Act II- Should contain three things; a metaphor with foreshadowing will contain hints at the resolution, the point of no return, and a new development or twist to throw the audience off.

Act II- Needs an event that raises the stakes giving the hero no choice that leads to the climax. The ending of Act III might contain something to help recap the main events for the audience.

THE FUN PART, CREATING SCENES

Don’t worry about correct scene formatting or software. Assign a number and a title to the scene, location, time of day. Add the characters with a quick description. Ex: CRIMINAL CARL, 55, (ex-con), SLUTTY SALLY, 24 (a jewelry store clerk). Add only their name in the consequent scenes. Start each scene by looking at the main objective and then block your characters.  We have a front-row POV on your character’s reaction in a situation. We are forced to show and not tell. Give each character their personal line and their action. I prefer to place each character in large caps to easily find them later.

EXAMPLE:

Scene 1, SLUTTY SALLY’S REVENGE, 1920’s Chicago Hotel Room, Late Night

CRIMINAL CARL, 55, (ex-con), SLUTTY SALLY, 24 (a jewelry store clerk)

Both CRIMINAL CARL and SLUTTY SALLY are nude, laying on bed, smoking, empty liquor bottles, dim light                                           

CRIMINAL CARL

You don’t really believe that I would split the jewels with you, sweetheart? (menacing laugh)

SLUTTY SALLY

But I gave you…everything. (pulling out a hidden handgun) Actually, I deserve all of it! (shooting Carl)

When you write the full scene in your rough draft, you can add details that in a film we can’t see. For instants, Sally was secretly holding the gun under the pillow, ready for the right moment.

EXPOSING CONTENT LENGTH

I know it sounds like enormous amount of work. (The “Pantsiers” reading this are vomiting.) But wait, put down your flaming torches & pitchforks and imagine you have created enough content to fill 120 pages with around 100 scenes. You’ve put nitro in your writing race car for NaNoWriMo! On the other end of the spectrum, maybe you ended up creating only 60 scenes? If you don’t have enough content to fill 100 scenes, how will you fill a full 350-page novel? A typical film contains over 110 scenes and action films even more. But here’s another thought, what about hitting the 500-page mark and your publishers say cut it down? It’s easier to ask which finger to cut off!

Developing a screenplay forces you to show not tell fleshing a character’s unique reactions to conflict and their environments.  Forcing your idea into a skeleton screenplay is brainstorming on triple shot lattes. Scenes are mapped out logically and organically, hitting the essential plot points. Want a twist? You can easily see where a plot might benefit from a twist. Timeline tracking is easy. Is your idea begging for more action scenes that a novel will not do justice? Maybe it needs to be further developed into a full working screenplay. But now you know.

No one left a Batman film saying, “I wish I had read the book!” But I am glad to have read Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander novel series because the details surrounding Claire Fraiser’s medicinal habits and fine details in the TV series are lost. But to be treated to the lavish visual appeal of Scotland is priceless, not to mention Jamie Frasier.


Tammila K. Wright is a fifth-generation Colorado Native and self-proclaimed history geek. She writes, talks, and even acts out her love of history. She is a commissioner for the Manitou Springs Historic Preservation Commission contributing articles for the Pikes Peak Bulletin Newspaper. Tammila has been involved in projects for Pilgrim Films & TV, Greystone Productions, Taurus Productions, Discovery Channel, Travel Channel, PBS and Animal Planet. Her first full novel, Mirror Memory, will be released in May 2020 and is a member of the Scriveners of Manitou Springs and Pikes Peak Writers.

Tammila resides in Manitou Springs with her husband of 31 years, an astonishing daughter, and runs The Feather W Bird Sanctuary.