Scripting My Story

on June 8, 2014 in Misc

screenplay page

A few weeks ago I wrote here that I had an idea for a screenplay.

Of course I also wrote a long time back that I was planning to give up writing.  I just can’t be trusted, can I?

But here’s the thing:  while I feel burnt out about novel writing (unless I get a massive advance and a fantastic publisher, and other delusions), I’m weirdly excited about writing a screenplay.

Maybe it’s because the story is developing visually in my mind, and also because a screenplay is shorter than a novel (about 120 pages with lots of white space) and has a radically different format.

By the way, did you know you can download some famous screenplays for free?  Turns out they’re all over the internet.  So far I’ve checked out the first 10-20 pages of several superb scripts, including Billy Wilder’s The Apartment, Peter Benchley’s adaptation of his own novel, Jaws, and my fave rave movie of all time, Raiders of the Lost Ark.  I also ordered cheap out-of-print paperbacks of two famous screenplays, Chinatown and The Exorcist.

That’s right.  The Exorcist.  Did you know it won the Oscar for Best Screenplay Adaptation in 1973?

The exor

As critics point out, The Exorcist, far from being just some horror flick, was in fact a brilliant study of evil and perhaps should be ranked on the same level as other intelligent classic 1970’s movies—a decade that might be the best one for movies ever.

Then there’s The Exorcist‘s pacing, which is pretty much perfect.  I realized this when I recently watched the movie on cable after not having seen it in years.  I was really struck by the pacing of the story and the way it quietly and seamlessly unfolded in scene after scene and moved naturally from one character to another, until suddenly the confrontation between the priests and the possessed girl has begun and you find yourself white-knuckled with terror and OMG what’s happening and this is horrible and then… the terror is over… and the movie quietly, ominously ends…


This is the kind of suspenseful storytelling you would find in the best Hitchcock movie.  Except that Hitchcock, while giving me a thrill, never scarred the holy crap out of me.

The more I think about it and the more I read screenplay pages, the more I realize how much movies and TV have influenced my novel writing.  But that only makes sense, doesn’t it?  I mean, we grew up with movies and TV shows (scripted ones, not crappy “reality shows”), which are all about storytelling.  The best screenwriters all say the same thing:  that the most important elements in what they write are the story and the characters.  NOT special effects.  NOT gimmicks and marketing.

I bet a lot of you knew well before I did about how the screen has influenced your books, and about how they’ve inspired you as writers.  Any movies or shows really stand out for you?  I bet you could name a bunch of them.   Have a great week.

14 Responses to “Scripting My Story”

  1. You should try your hand at a screenplay.
    Movies have always been a big influence for me. The Exorcist is an excellent film. (And so many others have ripped off its style.) From the 70’s, I’d also note Jaws as perfectly paced.

  2. Helena says:

    Alex – The Jaws script is another classic. In the first four pages, the antagonist, hero, what is at stake, and the story’s world are all laid out. Four pages! Now that’s solid writing.

  3. Hart Johnson says:

    Sounds like an excellent plan! I write a lot of dialog and have sometimes wondered if I should give it an attempt, but I think my stories are to long. I just can’t quite conceive of anything that would stream well that way… probably I have to rethink how I THINK…

  4. Helena says:

    Hart – Hey, I think you think just fine!

  5. The Exorcist is a terrifying movie for sure as its premise is extremely disturbing. I wish you lived closer because we have a writing group that likes to focus on screenplays.

  6. The Sixth Sense taught me how important it is to layer in EVERYTHING as unobtrusively as possible. Sometimes, I’m not even obvious enough, though, so maybe I should have the opposite concern LOL. Good luck with your screenplay!

  7. The format for screenplays always seems tough to me. So much of it depends on the director’s and actors’ interpretation of the dialogue, since you can’t paint the scene that you’re seeing on paper. I never could get past that part of it! Does that mean I’m a control freak? :-)

  8. Helena says:

    Mike – I wouldn’t mind being in a group like that if you’re in it too. You’re so supportive! Maybe if I write this screenplay (the WHOLE thing, not just some pages), you wouldn’t mind if I could run it by you? I’d trust your judgment.

  9. Helena says:

    Carol – Wasn’t The Sixth Sense wonderful? And you’re so right about the layering. In the end every scene, every detail added up and fit together. But your own stories seem very solid to me and the clues fit like a completed puzzle.

  10. Helena says:

    Stephanie – I’ve heard of screenwriters who want to write novels because then the story is theirs alone and not interpreted or changed (or destroyed) by other people. But no, you’re not a control freak, you’re a real writer!

  11. Nas says:

    Sounds like a good plan, write your own script and lets watch the movie made out of it!

  12. Helena says:

    Nas – Okay, the odds of it being sold and made into a movie are literally about 100,000 to one. But I can still fantasize.

  13. Haven’t seen EXORCIST, but it’s on my bucket list. Adobe Story is a great free script-writing program; my students used it for Script Frenzy, and they loved it. I think taking a break from the novel and pouring your creativity into a screenplay is just what you need to keep your spark ablaze.

  14. Helena says:

    Milo – Thanks for the tip; I’ll check out Adobe Story. And we all need breaks, don’t we?