Writing a novel as a script first

I wondered if anyone has successfully tried this strategy for writing, or structuring, a novel: writing the first draft as a script in order to get the scenes/character relationships/structure down and then rewriting it as a full novel. The reason I ask is that I personally find script writing a much easier way to structure a story, get inside the character’s heads and work out their relationships etc. than attempting to write a full 250,000 draft of a novel from scratch (it’s also much quicker). I’ve got an idea for a novel I’ve been kicking around for years, (it would never be made as a film) but I’m finding it really hard to start as a novel. As a script I think I could put together the first draft in about two months (as opposed to 6 - 8 months) and then my plan would be to go back and work it up into a book. I realise that scripts and novels are very different beasts, though some writers do write cinematically (Stephen King and Barry Hines for example). I just wondered if anyone had ever tried this and what happened as a result. Thx.

Go for it. Our agent has recommended this strategy for our next novel: screenplay first, novel second.

But we are doing all the research first and building a big DTPO database, just so we consider all the angles involving characters, relationships, settings, and time scheme first.

After that, we’ll write a standard-length screenplay (105 pp), and while everyone is mulling that over, go ahead on the novel. BTW, if you can keep the novel to 120,000 words, it may sell sooner.

Also, agents report that the movie business today is just as chaotic and confused as the markets for fiction and nonfiction.

I occasionally lift a scene out of a novel and script it for stage. That forces me to think immediately about dialogue itself, of course, but it also sharpens awareness of motivation, transition, attitude. Haven’t (yet) tried starting with the script and working to narrative prose, but it could work.

Incidentally, I’m now (as an actor) in rehearsal for a play adapted from a novel. The novelist/playwright is on hand; we have no end of questions for him – complaints, sometimes – about relationships, motivation, back-story. A good exercise for us and for him.


Yes, go for it. Apart from anything else, you should learn a lot (such as how to begin in media res, and how to create sub-text and avoid dialogue that’s “on-the-nose”). I’ve outlined parts of a novel as a script for just this reason.

But like Druid, I suggest cutting down the planned length of your novel if you wish to sell it. Most first novels are 80,000 to 120,000 words. Ask yourself: why should a publisher risk the extra costs of printing 250,000 words for a first-timer? (I take it you are a first-timer?)


I’ve used that technique and I’ve found it very useful.

Sometimes when I’m writing a novel I will script the scene as I find it easier to visualise and pick up on the small details that you can forget when writing a novel.

Of course with Scrivener’s script formatting feature it’s a breeze to switch between the two! :smiley:

I think anything that limbers up your keyboard is a good idea. I read an article in a magazine where a doctor said “When my patients ask me whether it’s better to jog than walk, I tell them it’s better to move than sit.”

I’ve tried the (sort of) opposite of your approach with some success: before I write a script, I work out the idea as a short story. Short stories help me get to the spine of the thing; I figure out what I want to say, who everyone is, and what they want. And because I tend to prefer those New Yorker-style, slice-of-life-leads-to-moment-of-truth kind of stories, I usually end up with what amounts to a decent second act — always the hardest part of a screenplay.

Thanks for all the really helpful advice - I’m glad it seems to be a method that works - I’ll give it a go (and get the word count down as well) :smiley:

There’s an interesting article about writing dialogue in script format for the first draft here:


(The author has another great article on the same site here: chuckpalahniuk.net/features/essa … he-details )


I am aware my suggestion will be useless to most people around here, but I’ve read this page recently about the idea of a “scripted novel” or, translated more accurately, “novelized script”, presented both as a new literary genre (something I can’t agree with) and a method of outlining a novel before the full writing process. This last point seems to me the real use of the idea. Unfortunately, the page is in Portuguese. If you read Spanish, maybe you can follow it, or you can resort to Google Translator, and try to make sense of the resulting mess.

shakes head to clear it

Okay, my limited Spanish let me pick up that it combines script and novel techniques, and then Google translate helps more, but have you ever read Latin American short stories? If Brazilian ones are comparable in style, then it sounds like it might be more of an expansion and slight adjustment of those styles. The Spanish short story is already more of a vignette than what we’d traditionally consider a story.

For example, take Marco Denevi’s “Apocalipsis” (Spanish, Google translate into English). No plot, just a verbal illustration of a thought.

I didn’t know Marco Denevi, but reading the story you linked, I see that it belongs to the that genre that Brazilian and Portuguese literatures have been calling “micro-conto”. A very short short-story, with concentrated effects. I admit that this kind of work usually lets me dissatisfied.

The “novelized script” to which I have linked is indeed another thing. It is really a mix between novel and script techniques, where a fully developed subject (not a very short episode) is presented in a more direct way than the tradicional narrative.

I quote from Google Translator (with some adaptation):

The aim of this novelized script is to trim down the narrative until those elements really necessary to convey the story, taking away all the rest. The micro-conto, otherwise, reduces the story until the most basic fact that the author describes in a direct language, obtaining a kind of poetic conciseness. Back to that description page, Mr. Ximenes suggests 300 pages to a well developed story in novelized script.

I think his idea may be used as a way to make an outline of the whole novel before actually writing it, with some advantage as to the separate treatment of the dialogues (as confirmed by Craig Clevenger’s discussion on the links above). On the other hand, I think a novelized script as a full work is rather lacking in expressive terms, and I can’t agree when Ximenes treats some literary techniques as mere convention.

Hi, I just joined the forum and saw this thread, so rather than starting a new but similar thread, I thought I’d add to this one.

So how do you utilize Scrivener to do this?

I had started off writing novels, and then met up with a couple of local independent film producers looking for scripts, so I adapted my novels and short stories into screenplays. Now I like to write both simultaneously. They are both about storytelling after all, although they are structured and formatted differently - one for film directors and actors — to guide them in making the film, and the other for regular folks to read for enjoyment.

I don’t think it is the act of writing the screenplay per se that forces you to develop characters and locations, but rather, the discipline imposed by most screenwriting software in developing (and later, tagging) these “production elements”. Good storytelling in any form demands you develop good characters, good places for them to “act” in, and a plot that engages the reader (or viewer) and keeps him or her engaged throughout.

I have been writing my screenplays using Celtx — not only because it’s free, but because it is good! I’ve tried both Final Draft and Movie Magic Screenplay and while they are both very good screenplay writing apps, they don’t seem to be any better than the free Celtx.

When I was writing novels and short stories exclusively, I was using Microsoft Word and a customized template. I kept databases of characters, places and even sniglets of dialogue that I thought up, but wasn’t yet sure where to use them, in an Excel spreadsheet.

And I use what would be described as a “mindmapping” application to layout story threads and visually “map” the story to see if the structure seems good.

So now I’m pondering whether an app like Celtx can be utilized to simultaneously write the story as both screenplay and novel, while doing the story development in a single tool that I used to do using virtual index cards, outlining software, and databases.

My options seem to be:

(A) Keep a text folder in the master catalog in Celtx where I can copy and paste finished scenes as plain text and then modify them to work as chapters in a novel.


(B) Use a more generalized creative writing application like Scrivener to manage all of the elements of both, and then export the script as plain text into an app like Celtx for final formatting.

Anyone doing either?

Scrivener can do script formatting. I recommend exporting to a screenwriting app for the final polish though.

My first novel (not published, yet) was 490 pages, written directly from just a brief synopsis. It took me several years, in periods, and when I got up to speed towards the end, I averaged maybe 3 pages per workday.

My next one, I did exactly what you refer to – since I have my roots in TV and video, I wrote a script in present tense, with no looks inside the characters’ heads (describing thoughts and such, that can’t be filmed or expressed by an actor), only what the characters did, what they said, where and how they interacted, and so on.

Now I’m re-writing it in novel form (mostly past tense) and I average about 5-6 pages/day. And I have much more fun!

My next one after that, I’m going to follow the same two-stage formula. Works absolutely great for me.

Best of luck with your script!


A couple of years ago I was engaged in some research which involved doing screenplay analysis. It struck me at the time that, since we live in such a movie culture, it was surprising that (some transmutation of) the screenplay has not emerged* as a literary form – as a thing to be read, as a thing to be written to be read.

So, S.B. Ximenes’ website was an interesting read, and his ideas about the virtues of the form and differences of effect are provocative (and contentious).


  • Or do I mean ‘been marketed’'?

I know this isn’t quite what you mean, but of course screenplays are frequently well worth a read, even if one doesn’t write them. The location and character descriptions are sometimes an art-form and models of linguistic precision, and it’s very interesting to see the development of an idea over a series of drafts.

Once upon a time I used to buy screenplays by the armful for nothing from a deep, dark shop on Hollywood Boulevard. In recent months I’ve downloaded Up in the Air and The Social Network. Of course they have value now. Perhaps that’s an indication that they are “emerging”.

Another thought: some recent Cormac McCarthy is very screenplay-ish.

I’m fairly new to writing, and drafting a story as a script first seems like a good way to learn how to show rather than tell.

Since scripts typically contain only actions and dialogue, it forces me to find ways to show what a character is feeling. If he’s worried, rather than saying it outright, I can have him pacing the room and looking out of the window and doing all sorts of fidgety things.

It can also be a great way to get the dialogue right. What the characters say and avoid saying (the subtext) is much easier to see in script form.

When the script is finished and I’m ready to write my first draft, I think I’d be in a good position to put in the POV character’s internal thoughts and physical state, as well as any necessary backstory. This way, telling is hopefully reduced to a minimum.

Melbourne, Australia

As long as you don’t go too far the other way, and the script format leads you to try and tell too much through the dialogue.

JOHN: “I see that you are wearing green”
DAVE: “Yes I am, and you are wearing blue”
JOHN: “Do you remember that time when you’d only wear yellow”
JOHN : “I wonder why you changed.”
DAVE: “Do you mean yesterday?”
JOHN: “Yes, I suppose I do”
JOHN : “Those were great times”.

DAVE: “John, you seem to be carrying an axe”
JOHN: “Yes, yes I am”
DAVE: “You are lifting the axe and advancing towards me in a threatening manner. You have never done that before. It’s such a sudden change in the character for you that I have grown to understand since we first met yesterday in that meeting about new yoghurt flavours for the August / Winter collection.”
JOHN: “Only externally, Dave. I have always had such emotions within me. Even back then in the meeting when you suggested adding apricot during our discussions on nectarines.”
DAVE: “John, you’re swing the axe wildly and you’re standing far too close to me for my personal comfort in such a situation. I can see in your eyes that you have unsavoury intentions and yet you are standing between me and the only door to the room.”
JOHN: “You are not wrong, Dave.”
DAVE: “Hang on, I’m on the first floor or the ground floor depending on whether I am saying this to an American or an Englishman. I will have a look at the windows as I may be able to climb out of one… Oh blast, it looks like these windows have fallen into disrepair. The glass is quite dirty and the wooden frames have been painted over several times. I doubt they willl… URGH!”
<JOHN looks down on the prone form of DAVE on the floor and removes his axe from DAVE’s torso. He lifts DAVE’s body to allow him to dress him in a yellow t-shirt JOHN pulls from his pocket. JOHN kissed DAVE gently on the forehead before letting him slump back to the floor, lifeless>
JOHN: “I don’t like change, Dave. You shouldn’t have worn the green.”

Could someone please, [size=150]tell[/size], Vic-k, what the hell is going on here.
Thank you