Hey everyone, Carson here.  I’m out of the office today (found an amazing script and helping the writer get representation!) so I’m putting up a guest article from my friend, Phil Taffs.  Phil is someone who has tried and been frustrated with the screenwriting game.  After seeing all these book authors become superstars, both in the literary and film world, he decided to give novel writing a shot, and has finished his first book, The Evil Inside.  I asked him to share his experience so here it is.  Don’t worry.  I’m not telling you to stop writing screenplays (case in point, finding that screenwriter above).  I do think, however, that writers should keep all avenues open.  Especially since I just read a GREAT novel which I’ll be reviewing Wednesday.  In the meantime, here’s Phil!

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Why not turn your screenplay into a novel?

I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know: There’s a certain inevitable cookie cutter-dom that comes with writing – then trying to sell – your precious screenplay.

Cue Nazi Commandant accent: “IT MUST HAVE: 120 pages; present tense; snappy (and now often ho-hum wise-ass) dialogue; 3 distinct Acts; clear character arcs; broad brushstrokes scene-setting…”

As you know – from all those hundreds of screenwriting books you’ve read and dozens of seminars you’ve attended – it’s a “formula”. And with all those baking instructions, it’s very hard to make your screenplay turn out any different, better or tastier than any other screenplay in your genre.

And unless you have a high-powered agent or a ton of studio contacts, getting past first base is far from a sure thing. 

So here’s a wild thought: could your hot new (but indistinguishable) screenplay become a hot new novel instead?

For a start, with a novel, length can be as long or as short as a piece of string: from 1400 battle-scarred pages of War & Peace to the short and savage In the Cut or Less than Zero. From the doorstop Dystopia of The Passage to the lightweight but still heavy-hitting 1984 or Bright Lights, Big City.

Then within those highly flexible pages, you can write whatever you goddamn want! If you’ve already developed a good story for your screenplay, why not let it out of its 120-page cage and encourage it to roam free and frolic?

Because if you’re writing a novel, you can now extend and embellish those descriptions; deepen and refine your characterizations; play more games with your plot; (like introducing some more nifty sub-plots); key in more surprises and/or suspense; indulge in a little more lyricism; and in general just feel a whole lot more liberated and open-minded about your story.

Tired of living in the eternal present tense of your screenplay? In a novel, you can play around with the present, the past, the future, the pluperfect, future perfect, the imperfect…. The novel is a time machine and it’s heaps of fun to pull the levers up and down.

As long as you have a great story – this is the key – then with some extra effort and ingenuity – it’s possible to skin it either way: as a script or a novel.

(Or maybe even something else again: Baz Luhrman’s Strictly Ballroom was a hit play in 1984, a great film in 1992 and now it’s a super-successful 2015 musical.)

As the brilliant novelist and Oscar-winning screenwriter John Irving said: writing is rewriting. The more you’re thinking about and refining your story, the better it will get.

No matter what form it ends up in.

What’s to lose?

You already have your screenplay – it’s not going anywhere.

So you can still try to sell that while turning it into a novel. And while you’re working on the novel, you’ll probably think of ways of improving your story that you can then also retrofit back into your screenplay as you go along… It’s a win-win.

Two years ago, Australian writer, Graeme Simsion, wrote a comic screenplay called ‘The Rosie Project’ – about an eccentric university professor who takes a left-field approach to finding love.

He decided to refashion it into a novel. The publisher sold world rights for $1.8 million dollars, Bill Gates gave it a blurb and Sony Pictures have just optioned it.

Like his character, Simsion’s left-field approach has paid off big-time.

A novel will become your calling card.

If you do manage to write and get a novel published then that’s going to help you sell your next screenplay.

Because hey, unlike all the other wannabe hacks out there, this guy/girl has actually written a book! So they must know about story. So it’s probably worth reading their new script as well…

With a novel under your belt, you immediately sound more impressive and credible than the thousands of other screenwriters you’re competing against.

So your next script is far more likely to get read and noticed.

Change horses for the hell of it.

You’ve already written one or a number of scripts – you know what that feels like.

Got a great new story idea? This time, why not try writing it as a novel instead?

Just for the experience. Just for the hell of it.

Even if the novel doesn’t pan out, you can always refashion it into a screenplay. Think of it as a longish first draft!

Writing a novel is great practice for scene-setting – always important for your future screenplays.

You might write a scene or sub-plot that becomes a whole other script.

It’s all good practice.

Grist for your artistic and commercial mill.

How I did it 

Now I’m not for one second suggesting that writing a novel is any easier than writing a screenplay. And it’s definitely not any quicker.

The average length of a script is 95-125 pages whereas the average length of a novel is 80,000 – 95,000 words – or 300 to 400 pages.

That’s a whole lot of extra words, scenes, characters, themes, issues, challenges, and complexities to deal with.

Not to worry: the more you write, the better you’ll get – whether you’re working on a novel or your next script… again – what’s to lose?

The road to getting my novel published is a story in itself: I began writing my psych-horror ‘The Evil Inside’ in 2003. After writing more than ten separate drafts, I was rejected by more than 70 publishers across three continents.

In desperation, I decided (kicking and screaming) to self-publish. After selling all of 30 copies to family and friends, I invested USD $425 in getting an independent Kirkus Review. (Even though you pay for the review, they are very well-respected because the reviews are more often critical than praiseworthy.)

The gods must have been smiling: I got a great review and used that as ammunition to approach a new batch of British publishers. One of whom – Quercus, publishers of the famous ‘Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ series – took the bait and signed me up.

Now of course your road to publication will undoubtedly be different to mine. But there are a few handy hints you can draw from my experience:

1 Think laterally: you’re very unlikely to get picked up by the first, tenth or even hundredth publisher you submit to.

2 Follow up any lead you get from anyone: determination is the bedfellow of luck.

3 Never, ever give up.

4 Never, ever give up. (That’s really worth repeating.)

No less a luminary than Cate Blanchett suggested I turn ‘The Evil Inside’ into a screenplay instead as I was still writing it…

But I have to tell you: the Elf Queen was wrong. As an unknown quantity as a writer, that screenplay would never have got up…whereas my novel is now selling solidly across a number of continents.

And now US producers are considering it.

Sorry I gotta go: I hear the phone ringing…

Philip Taffs has worked as an advertising copywriter in his native Australia for over twenty years. — He is a PEN prize-winning short story writer, and lives in Melbourne with his wife and his two sons. — The Evil Inside published by Quercus Books UK is his first novel.

  • carsonreeves1

    Phil is in Australia so there’s a funky time difference but he’s going to try to answer more specific questions about publishing for anyone who’s looking for more detail. So ask away! :)

  • S.C.

    Phil: some novelists outline, like Mario Puzo when he was writing The Godfather, but your book was written on spec. Would you advise potential novelists to outline their book, chapter by chapter say (as Ken Follett does), or just outline “Act One” but not the rest (as David “The Killing” Hewson does)?

  • Marija ZombiGirl

    Congrats, Phil, good for you :) I like the premise of your story and will check it out.

    As a writer of both screenplays and novels (three written so far, only one published and through an internet publisher so it doesn’t really count, and my second novel was picked up by a publisher who promptly went bankrupt so that was that ^^), I find both outlets equally interesting. They’re valuable writing exercises, too – with a script, you need to get to the point in as few words as possible whereas in a novel, you’re free to roam. In that way, they complement each other – novel writing is a good help in writing character/script world backstory and scriptwriting helps in developing the structure of the novel. Contrary to scripts, though, novels don’t necessarily rely on acts the same way as a script does, they’re a little looser in that respect. Then again, to each author his own working methods.

    I just turned in a script draft that my producer doesn’t like. If nothing more comes of it, I’ll turn it into a novel (it’s psychological horror which lends itself better to novels, unless you’re Roman Polanski).

  • leitskev

    Thanks for the discussion, Phil, and congrats.

    I’ve spent the last year doing this also. I still do screenwriting too, but I wanted to get better at prose. I’ve converted 3 of my scripts so far to novellas, and I’m working on a full novel. Learning different story telling formats always helps develop the tools of the story teller.

    I plan on kindle publishing, but I’m waiting until I feel I have enough material and maybe a little bit of a marketing plan. But one thing Phil didn’t mention was that a kindle book can be any length, so you can convert your script to a novella. In my experience, doing that takes about 2 weeks if you stay more or less within the story of the script.

    Too early for me to determine whether any of it will pay off, but I’m really glad I’ve made the effort and I do believe it’s helped me grow as a writer.

    • leitskev

      Just read the opening chapter on Amazon and enjoyed it!

  • Randy Williams

    It’s difficult enough to find someone to read your entire screenplay for a critique. (see every AOW) Nobody I know reads novels on a regular basis and may get through one in a year. Videos are what we feed each other – on a 24/7 cycle.
    Where do novel writers go?

    For me, it would be a very lonely venture indeed.

    • S.C.

      Getting someone to put aside two hours plus of their life to read and give you notes on your script is a big ask (especially as many scripts seem like a loser after reading just a few pages – just saying).

      Don’t always mean to bang on about it, but seriously, it wouldn’t be asking as much to have someone look at your outline, or sit down and discuss your story with them if you prefer that, see if if your story gets a response before you spend x months writing and rewriting the novel/script.

      Then you could show them the first chapter (or first fifteen pages of script) to see if they have any problems with your writing.

      Mario Puzo sent publishers an outline of The Godfather along with the first two chapters, sold the book rights for $5,000. Then sold the film rights for $25,000. That gave him the income to sit down and write the rest. Just so you know.

      I’m not saying that’s for everyone, but – you know – it’s just an idea.

      • brenkilco

        I don’t believe any agent or publisher would read a novice writer’s outline. Puzo had two published novels under his belt before he began shopping his Mafia idea. And if Wiki is to be believed the suggestion that he write a crime novel actually came from his publisher who thought The Fortunate Pilgrim would have been a bigger hit with if it had contained more gangster stuff.

        Perhaps there are writers who turn their scripts into novels as a mechanical exercise. And quickie novelizations of movies used to be a cottage industry. But a genuine novel is a pretty high hill to climb. A good deal higher most would say than a screenplay And if you don’t have a passion to do it, regardless of commercial considerations, maybe only to see whether or not you can, chances are you’re not going to finish it.

        • S.C.

          Totally agree about publishers – I was thinking about showing your mates an outline or brief synopsis of a novel, see if they think it’s worth you pursuing.

          I knew Puzo was a journalist, didn’t know that Godfather wasn’t his first novel. Live and learn!

          And TOTALLY agree that some new novelists may think novels are an easy way of breaking in, when in fact they require a different but equally challenging set of skills. In particular, I think some writers may feel they can be even slacker with their stories in books than in scripts. Imagine reading the first 100 pages of a book and nothing happens. You’re never gonna wanna read that author again!

      • Nicholas J

        I am 100% against showing your outline to anyone unless you absolutely have to. If you want to test out your script on people before you write it, pitch it to them. But there’s absolutely no way I’d show people an outline to one of my scripts, unless they were another writer that I knew very well, and even then I’d be very hesitant.

        Also, to add onto brenkilco’s comments about Puzo: 1) That was 50 years ago. And 2) I don’t even think that’s right. According to Wikipedia: A story outline was prepared and presented to the publisher who rejected it. After several publishers were approached, Putnam editors met with him without having read the outline. He told them a few stories and the project was approved.

        Sounds to me like they didn’t buy it based on an outline, but on a pitch.

        • S.C.

          About the Puzo, frankly I don’t give a shit. If you want to tear my examples to pieces, go ahead, but please replace them with some of your own.

          I am 100% against people sitting in their room for a year writing their screenplay, begging people to read it; you read the first ten pages (to be nice) and it’s a pile of crap. At least if they’d shown you an outline, or synopsis, you could see they were a serious writer and maybe spot that fatal flaw in their story (slow opening, obnoxious main character, and so on).

          Look, it doesn’t matter to me how you write screenplays or novels. Just don’t have a surprise look on your face when you see the reaction your screenplay gets when you finally get around to showing it people.

          • Nicholas J

            I am 100% against people sitting in their room for a year writing their screenplay, begging people to read it

            Exactly. This is why I do all my screenwriting on the roof of my garage and never show my scripts to anyone. Look out, Hollywood!

          • S.C.

            Nice one! Garage screenplays, that’s what they used to call them, I remember. Unseen, unsold, gathering dust.

            Of course, you could self-publish your own screenplay:
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Closet_screenplay

    • leitskev

      This is a good point and I don’t know the answer. I can’t imagine asking someone to read a novel and give comments. Not unless one is an established novelist.

    • http://glintoflifeblog.blogspot.com/ K.Nicole Williams

      I am friends with lots of novelists, both self-pub’d and traditionally pub’d and they have no problem finding beta readers, regular readers, or getting manuscripts read. Small presses on twitter routinely do calls for submissions esp in genre work.
      Also most of my friends are voracious readers and love to read novels at a rate far greater than one a year.

      • Marija ZombiGirl

        Have to agree with this. Most of my writer friends are fiction writers and they all have it a lot easier than me, especially in regards to getting beta readers. Most people are more comfortable with a short story or a novel than with a script which is not surprising. A screenplay is, after all, very technical to read and critisize and the only constructive feedback that I’ve received was always from other screenwriters or directors. And yeah, people still read and definitely more than one novel/year (more like one or two a month).

  • Gregory Mandarano

    I learned a lot about the craft of screenwriting through the act of writing and publishing a novel. I also think that having a screenplay adaptation of your own novel gives a script a leg up. I’d recommend writing a novel to anyone who writes scripts. The whole process is quite different.

  • carsonreeves1

    It’s an interesting question I’ve thought a lot about myself. Which industry is harder to break into? Publishing or screenwriting?

    • S.C.

      It depends on how serious you are. Whether you’ve done the Kirkus review, got an isbn number (I think that’s optional), paid for a professional cover (like “Wool”).

      There are a HUGE number of self-published books out there. Two minutes searching for WEREWOLVES on Amazon and I found this:
      http://www.amazon.co.uk/Hollow-Sun-DL-Wainright-ebook/dp/B00V8YXG4O/ref=sr_1_23?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1427722022&sr=1-23&keywords=werewolves

      Now, I’ve no idea how good that is. Not inspired by the title, logline, or the cover. No reviews. Yes, you’ve got published, but… now you’re one of thousands.

      To REALLY break into publishing you need a profile, TV or radio interviews, preferably an interesting backstory (former Navy SEAL, trial lawyer, YouTube vlogger).

      It’s harder to sell a script but one of the advantages is that you don’t always need an interesting backstory, just a really good movie story!

      • Gregory Mandarano

        An ISBN number is not optional. If a book is published, whether as a kindle or in print, it has a number. The question is whether or not you purchased the ISBN yourself, or used a third party service. If you get a free ISBN but self publish, you’ll find that you’re not listed as the publisher.

        • S.C.

          You’d be amazed to know, Gregory, that I’m not an expert!

          Make sure you do the research before you go down the self-publishing route. And address all your questions to Gregory Mandarano!

          • Gregory Mandarano

            I can definitely answer any direct questions about self publishing.

  • paul

    I think it’s a time waster to suddenly go chase novels… It’s a whole set of different challenges to learn….and it would be hard to convert a screenplay to a novel…. Good novels I’ve read have a lot of deep characterizations that’s sustained over at least 400 pages plus… It takes years to write…..and it’s actually a lot more time consuming to write a novel than a screenplay. Film writing is a completely different game…. Tarantino said he’d never try his hand at novel writing. He got into the game because he loved film…and was good at writing for that particular format…but doesn’t mean he can do novels. It’s like wasting time on a completely new animal just because you find screenwriting challenging. And, it’s a myth that going to novels will suddenly jump start things ….go look at the bargain bin bookshelf of the tens of thousands of authors that get lost in the shuffle and barely sell any books…some are actually quite talented, but the market’s so saturated that hardly anyone stands out.

    • brenkilco

      Many novelists have written screenplays. But name one screenwriter who became a successful novelist.

      • S.C.

        Bryan Forbes.

        There are probably more, but you told me to name one!

        • brenkilco

          I’ll give you Forbes though he had published fiction prior to his first screenwriting gig. And I’d hesitate to describe him as a screenwriter. By the time he turned his hand to novels he’d been an actor, director, producer, documentarian, studio head and God knows what else.

          • S.C.

            Barry Norman reckons he changed careers when got fed up with the last one, so I think after The Naked Face he said, I’m done with Hollywood and Wardour Street and I’ll just write books.

            But in his day he was a very successful screenwriter: The League of Gentleman, Seance on Wet Afternoon, The Angry Silence. He also wrote NESSIE for David Frost and Euan Lloyd – now THAT’S a screenplay I want to read!

          • brenkilco

            Actually a better writer than director. No great shakes behind the camera. Goldman in his Screen Trade book tells a funny story about The Stepford Wives. He thought all the gorgeous robots should wear hot, revealing fashions but Forbes insisted on casting his attractive but mature spouse Nanette Newman as one of the wives. So all of them wound up wearing ankle length dresses. Goldman actually blamed the failure of the film on this.

          • S.C.

            I’m one of the guys who actually liked the long dresses; the husbands don’t want short skirted slatterns, flirting with every guy. They want their mommies!

            Terrific movie; I think a lot of people may think they’ve seen it, because they know what it’s about. But even if you do, it’s a shocker!

      • S.C.

        Fuck me, Sidney Sheldon! How could I forget. I’ll blame my medication, like always.

        • brenkilco

          Yes, probably the primo example. Did he win an Oscar for bachelor and the Bobbysoxer? I did say successful, not good.

      • S.C.

        Guillermo del Toro.

        • brenkilco

          Well, one vampire trilogy doesn’t make a summer.

      • S.C.

        James Clavell. Probably better known as a director than a screenwriter, but a HUGELY successful novelist.

        Budd Schulberg sort of mixed it up. ON THE WATERFRONT is an example of a novelization that’s actually a pretty good novel.

        THE THIRD MAN, WHERE EAGLES DARE, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, and LOVE STORY are all examples of books written after the screenplay (but people think it’s the other way around). William Goldman in particular has cursed the fact that people think books like Marathon Man were screenplays first; in fact, Goldman sweated bullets turning MM into a screenplay, because it was all about what was in the character’s head rather than action scenes (the movie is great but loss some of what the book was about in adaptation).

        Probably a few others, but I take your point, brenkilco – the journey from novelist to screenwriter is less of a leap than the other way around, and people should be mindful of that before emulating Australian Phil!

        • r.w. hahn

          King Kong was a script before they hired a newspaper man to turn it into a book.

        • brenkilco

          Yes Clavell is a good example. Despite the backward production of Third Man and Dare both Greene and Maclean are examples of novelists who wrote screenplays. A list that would include, Faulkner, Chandler, Steinbeck, Hammett, Fitzgerald, Hect, Goldman, Elmore Leonard, on and on. Definitely easier to go book to script than the other way.

      • S.C.

        Nicholas Evans.

        There are others such as Andrew Klavan, Anthony Horowitz, and probably most notably, William Boyd who have straddled books and scripts most of their career. But Evans went from obscure (but still produced) writer/producer to one of the world’s bestselling novelists.

        (I’m going to take a break now and watch a movie. It’s been fun – a test of my brain!).

      • leitskev

        If you’ve already made a career of screenwriting, and are making a living, there is less incentive to try novel writing. But if you have not broken out and made a name for yourself as a screenwriter, that’s a whole different ball game. And I believe there are plenty of successful novelists that tried their hand at screenplays. And there will be more and more of them now for two reasons, both related to the internet: one, the internet has opened up the screenwriting world to many more people because they can get access to pro level scripts. It used to be closed club. That means there are more screenwriters out there, very capable ones. Two, self publishing has opened up new avenues to make it as a novelist. Not saying it’s easy…but it might be easier at least.

        • brenkilco

          I’m not so sure that the form the writer works in is just a matter of choice. I mean I’m wondering whether most screenwriters, including professional screenwriters, are capable of writing a decent novel. William Goldman doesn’t wonder. He said absolutely not. He said it thirty years ago. And people haven’t gotten a whole lot more literate since then. A playwright has to be able to write dialogue and a novelist has to be able to write prose. A screenwriter with a stranglehold on dramatic structure can finesse both. Screenwriting is a long way from easy but it still may be the easiest form of dramatic writing.

      • ripleyy

        (nevermind, I thought you said successful novelists who become successful screenwriters. Now I feel stupid)

    • Marija ZombiGirl

      I get what you’re saying but trying out a different approach may lead to what you were searching for. My lifelong dream since childhood was to “become” a novelist. Well, turns out I had to lay that dream to rest since it appears that it’s not for me. Is screenwriting? I do better at it, that’s for sure :) Maybe I’ll write a publishable novel in the future but despite taking a few years to get over my dream, I do feel I’m on the right path with scripts.

      • paul

        Look, I suspect a majority of the screenwriters got into this because they were inspired by movies….and that is their secret fantasy. If that’s the case, they shouldn’t get discouraged and try novels because that’s only going to take significant time from your dream as a screenwriter. The reality is screenwriting is hard. It’s supposed to be hard. Very hard…. Terry Rossio said that he didn’t even dare to submit any scripts till he’d done a decade because he knew he had to learn the craft and wanted to be ready. The writer for Little Miss Sunshine was living on nothing and faced rejection for over a decade. Now, I’m specifically limiting my viewpoint to screenwriters switching to novels because they think they’ll be the next Gillian Flynn, get hot, and now everyone wants them to write their next movie. I actually think a lot of great novelists can become good screenwriters because they’ve had the training writing deep characters in their novel and can now try to pick up the skills of being economical, and if they were a visual storyteller, then learn how to write cinematically. But, screenwriters are in for a rude awakening when they try to suddenly pick up novel writing. You suddenly have to learn how sustain character growth, multiple storylines over 400 pages! I’ve read many efforts of once hot screenwriters that tried to write novels and it’s just not a pretty picture. In the time spent chasing a completely different format, you’re probably better of going after what you secretly want be a screenwriter…better yet a screeenwriter that wants to direct, etc.

        [btw, this post is not specifically directed at your post Marija, just a general post so I can be at the bottom of the chain….there doesn’t seem to be a feature for that]

        • Marija ZombiGirl

          I wholly agree with you and like you, I don’t think that an aspiring screenwriter should suddenly turn to novels because they’re still learning the craft which, as you say, is very different and harder than fiction writing (technically, of course). It literally takes years to master. Also, publishing has become a little easier today what with the internet. This does not guarantee success, though, nor does it mean that a publishing house will notice the writer and write them a fat check. I still believe that trying out different writing outlets is a great exercice plus it feels great to have a short story/novella published while slaving away on a script :)

  • carsonreeves1

    I’ll reveal that in time. I will say that he lives in Thailand of all places. So it can happen from anywhere!

    • Midnight Luck

      I don’t think many people understand how much it helps to get out and see the world.

      We get so stuck in our little boxes (cubicles, homes, bars, cars). We think that what we are seeing day in and day out is real life.
      It isn’t.

      Real life is out THERE.

      Go bike across a continent.
      Go hike or hitchhike, or backpack across something.
      Jump a freighter, or a boxcar.
      Or go live in the woods ala Walden (Henry David Thoreau).

      Capture your own imagination, so you can capture someone else’s as well.

    • Malibo Jackk

      Deadline Hollywood:
      Carson expands into foreign films.

  • Felip Serra

    If it weren’t so easy to self-publish nowadays this wouldn’t even be a discussion.

    I applaud Philip’s tenacity to stay with a story for 12 years and labor to have it see the light of day. I’ll buy a drink for the person with that much commitment.

    But his success story is his own. I think it’s dangerous to suggest to burgeoning screenwriters to start writing novels; the only commonality they share is they both require the use of sentences.

    Walk one path. Then you might end up somewhere…

    • leitskev

      There are aspects of story telling that are useful to all forms of it. Character development, dialogue, building of suspense. Prose is not right for everyone, but to say they have nothing in common…that’s just wrong.

      I couple of years ago I wanted to work on improving my dialogue. Among other things, one thing I did was I began looking for prose(short stories and novels) that was written in first person, since that’s really all dialogue voice. It did help.

      • Felip Serra

        Certainly any form of art can influence another. As an example I write to music, something I am wholly ignorant to how it’s made. Nonetheless it inspires and drives my imagination.
        But in relation to CRAFT I believe novel writing and screenwriting are uncomplimentary disciplines; in fact whereas some aspects of screenwriting may aide the novel (especially where editing is involved) I think novel writing is detrimental to writing a screenplay.
        You said “There are aspects of story telling that are useful to all forms…” and you are correct. But story telling is neither exclusive to novels or screenplays.
        Of course there are people who can do both. And do it well and professionally. I just get a little cynical when I see the “I-did-it-and-you-can-too” approach to things, especially when so many people here are just trying to improve their work and get it recognized. I think it sends a bad message.
        Thanks for the comment. Cheers.

  • George

    I optioned a script to be turned into a book. That was years ago, and nothing.

  • r.w. hahn

    The timing of this article could not have been better. I turned one of my scripts, GIDEON, into a novel, and just got it back from the editor. I expect the fully formatted version back today or tomorrow. The cover is complete and because it is a faith based novel I will be pursuing that path with it on a Christian Publishing website.

    Turning the screenplay into a novel was an incredible challenge but it was exhilarating when it was complete. The story and characters explode from the pages like never before. Being able to get into the heads of the people, exploring the setting, and having fun with the prose was as satisfying as it gets. And it did allow me to go back to the script and rewrite a few scenes that I wouldn’t have had I not written the novel.

    I am more excited now with the story and the possibilities than I was when I finished the script.
    Add to the fact a production company in LA is raising funds to produce the script and I couldn’t be happier.
    One of the things I loved about turning it into a novel, is that it gives you complete control of your end product. The story is what you write it to be. And when someone picks it up to read, they are taking a journey that came exclusively from you. I can just picture the book in somebody’s hands, and as I do when I am reading a good book, the closer I get to the end, the more I milk it, not wanting to leave the characters and story yet.

    The editor’s review I will receive this week but by her side comments during the edit it only fueled the flames of my excitement.
    Thank you Carson for posting this and thank you Philip Taffs for sharing your experience. May you continue to find success in all that you put your hand to.

    For me this is a confirmation of what I am doing.

    • S.C.

      Congratulations, r.w.!

      • r.w. hahn

        Thank you SC. The journey has been rewarding and taxing at the same time. But fun. :)

    • klmn

      I remember this script from the Am Fridays review and the fact you won the Kairos prize.

      http://scriptshadow.net/?s=Gideon

      Good luck with the novel!

      • r.w. hahn

        Thank you Klmn I appreciate the well wishes.

    • leitskev

      Best of luck! Sounds promising!

      • r.w. hahn

        Thank you Leitskev very much

  • mulesandmud

    Some thoughts:

    –Force yourself to write something, anything, in a non-screenplay prose format at least once day, whether that be a short story, a journal entry, or a lengthy internet comment. Developing and maintaining an easy relationship with prose will sharpen your writing style, improve your clarity, and help you write faster.

    –Creatively, there’s a limit to how helpful novel writing can be to a screenwriter. Screenplays are structure, first and foremost; novels, less so. The larger word count makes it much harder to see structural mechanics; at worst, switching to novels can teach a writer to hide their story deficiencies behind prose digressions. There’s definitely some value in experimenting with fiction, or nonfiction, or a play, or a comic book, but if the goal is to become a better screenwriter, your time is almost always better spent on your chosen format.

    –As a professional strategy, it’s hard to gauge how valid this is. According to Phil, publishing his book got him reads from producers, but that’s all so far. A marginal improvement. Of course, publishing a novel is its own success, and worthy of congratulations, but is mostly a lateral move in terms of a screenwriting career. If the goal is to break in, your time might just as well be spent cultivating relationships with young directors, self-producing a short, or in generating a new script or two. All of these are equally winding paths that may or may not get you to your destination.

    –Regardless of how you feel about writing novels, you should be reading them regularly. It’s too easy for screenwriters to lose touch with actual writing, both their own and that of others; reading prose forces you to engage with words on a deeper level than most scripts demand on average, and that’s a necessary mental workout for a writer. Also necessary: finish things you start reading. Not everything, no, but nowadays it’s easy to get comfortable putting down scripts or books that we don’t like. That may feel like a practical decision in the moment (“This story just isn’t worth my time.”) but if you look back and can’t easily remember the last script or novel you finished, you need to correct that ASAP.

    • S.C.

      Agree with all that, ‘specially the bit about reading things other than scripts. Lot of broken sentences, author asides, bad habits picked up from scripts. Two different styles of writing, but not far apart in the use of the English language.

      If you have a 200-300 page book (like the 70s paperbacks I like to read), that’s closer to a screenplay in structure than the 200,000 word TOMES that people currently use as wobbly-table stabilizers. And some books do read like movies, by design or accident – Ira Levin’s THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL, for example (a short book).

      Good idea, what I do – others might want to do it too – is read books that were turned into movies you like. You can get ‘em cheap off Amazon. See what’s different, what got left out (often a lot of character stuff that helps explain their actions). And since you liked the film, you’re more likely to finish reading the book!

      And, on a personal note for anyone still reading, don’t give a stuff about what other people think regards what you read. Only nobheads read books so they can be all cool and stuff. OK, water cooler conversations over Gone Girl might be nice, but – sod it! – if you want to read Eric van Lustbader then read Eric van Goddamn Lustbader. Just read something!

      Peace out.

    • Midnight Luck

      Writers are readers.

      If someone doesn’t read with a passion, they will not be able to crack being a writer.

      Stephen King says this, as do tons and tons of other successful writers.

      I agree, and believe.

      Your brain expands, and you learn by reading anything and everything. Poetry, Essay, Novel, Non Fiction, NYTimes in depth articles, Scripts, Short Stories, all kinds of things.

      • OddScience

        Stephen King, love the guy and it seems he’s read EVERY book out there. Any and all interviews when he’s asked about another writer/book, he’s got an opinion—and not afraid to share it, good or bad.

        • Kirk Diggler

          True. He was a huge Stephanie Meyer (Twilight) fan and said so. Okay, that’s just a sick lie.

      • tokyoYR

        Yep, reading is essential. One can often spot writers who are not readers from a mile away. Their facility with language is limited.

    • BSBurton

      Great comment. Great article. Glad I browsed the site this week.

  • Rzwan Cabani

    With the crash and burn of THE MOB DOCTOR killing my TV spec pilot THE UNDERTAKING, I decided to turn the pilot into a novella, and while writing it realized I can self-publish the entire first season — it worked out to 2 episodes per novella — I have 3 published on Kindle right now re-titled — THE CLIENTELE — mine is very different, and inspired from actual events. I never did get to the final 4th due to screenwriting taking precedence. The SP world is very difficult, you need a lot of time and marketing $$. But I def recommend trying the medium to give new life to a script.

  • juleslefrog

    Finally, I found another way to be rejected!

  • Eddie Panta

    Let’s look at the opposite here, why so few novelists are chosen to write the screenplays for the film adaptions of their novels. Bret Easton Ellis is a working screenwriter, to date, only one script he adapted has been produced from one of his own stories, and that was with a writing partner, and it was completely gutted before shooting. His screenplay adaptation of American Psycho was rejected. Further more, his prose is already translatable into screenplay format. So why such bad luck with it?

    Here’s a peek at CORMAC MCCARTHY’S screenplay he adapted from his own novel: THE COUNSELOR. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/06/10/scenes-of-the-crime

    It’s passages barely resemble a screenplay. The story is completely lost in all the tedious action details.

    There are as many marketing and genre issues with book publishing as there are with film making.
    P. Taff, would of had a much harder time at this if his novel, The Evil Inside, if it was a comedy or relationship drama. Socially relevant stories that are satirical are well-suited for publication, and now poorly suited for movie theaters. Social commentary exists in book form far more than on screen. But if you’re working on a comedy, it’s going to be very difficult to get attention.

    Next time you’re on public transportation, take a look at the book the person next to you is reading, nine times out of ten I see someone with a paperback it’s from an author I’ve never heard of, and it’s some cheesy salacious read. The subways are filled with ad banners for books from some low-end publishers, about a vampire saga that is 6 books deep that I’ve never heard anyone mention. So obviously there’s got to be a point to what Taff is saying, there are far more books published than movies made, and quite frankly the quality is not an issue if you can reel in the reader a la Fifty Shades of Grey.

    On a side note, it’s amazing how much more believable a sentence is to a reader when it is in past tense form.

    • S.C.

      Lots about this. Not every great novelist makes a great screenwriter and vice versa.
      http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/05/f-scott-fitzgeralds-tense-unhappy-relationship-with-hollywood/275601/

      And I agree that self-published ebooks generally favor genre writing – there may be exceptions, but I think getting a “literary” book self-published (and make money or get attention off of it) will be difficult.

    • leitskev

      Hard to use McCarthy as an example. I am a huge fan of his, but his novels are not normal either. I enjoy them because the writing is unique and brilliant. But story telling is not his strength at all. No Counry For Old Man shows he CAN do it when he wants to, but most have novels have weak plotting and story telling technique. They’re worth reading for other reasons.

      I happen to really like The Counselor. I loved the dialogue, though it’s self indulgent.

      • Kirk Diggler

        I liked the bolito scene with Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender’s performance in reaction to the fate of his fiancé Laura. But a lot of the story was incomprehensible or just didn’t engage me enough to care what was happening. But Fassbender is one of the best actors alive.

        • leitskev

          Yeah, it’s not good story telling technique in a lot of ways. Like I said, I just appreciated it for certain things. His novels are the same way. Right now I’m reading Child of God. It’s not good story telling at all, but it’s worth reading for the prose. The guy is a true original and a genius.

          • Kirk Diggler

            I’ve only read The Road, which is as bleak and unforgiving as it gets, until you hear about Blood Meridian. I don’t know if I could stomach that one.

          • leitskev

            The guy is gifted. I mean he wrote the Counselor when he was what, 105! Some pretty cool dialogue in that. I wish I could borrow some talent from guys like that, just a little on weekends.

      • Eddie Panta

        Yeah, not the best example, I should of picked on Stephen King instead.
        The Counselor has some brilliant moments and some scenes that have really stayed with me.
        What I was really trying to point out is the idea that it may be easier for a screenwriter to expand on a story than a novelist to condense their book into a screenplay.

  • Mike.H

    Today’s article text is deep purple; what’s the occasion?

    • S.C.

      Smoke on the Water. And a guest writer.

  • Jake T

    Great article Phil. I’m actually doing just this at the moment, though it’s not because I’ve tried and failed to sell my screenplay. I’m instead crafting my script into a novel because I knew the beats of the story (ie. the what would happen and why) but I realised I didn’t know how. Through the direct third-person present of the script, I found I couldn’t get inside my characters’ heads. In working on the novel however, I have a much more complete understanding of my protagonist in particular, and can jump into any scene of the script and know how he’d feel and what he’d do.

    I’m not sure if I’ll end up with a screenplay, a novel, or both, but either way, writing in each medium has helped make a stronger story.

  • Frankie Hollywood

    Great article.

    On the flip side I’d LOVE to see an article about turning your screenplay into a Graphic Novel/Comic Book. The stuff I write (lots of action, monsters, powers) I think would work great in comic book form.

    I know you can just hire a company, but getting a step-by-step process would be enlightening. What’s it like compared to novels, what are the odds vs novels, etc.

    Studios (feature and tv) are constantly scouring the comic book titles, too.

    I know Poe was working on this, how’s he doing?

    • Casper Chris

      Would like to hear this as well. Good artists cost a fortune.

      • klmn

        IIRC, on Carson’s Twitter page he posted something about a writer he knew trying to raise money on a crowdsourcing site to pay the artists involved in his graphic novel

        Maybe he can update us on this?

    • leitskev

      Tough if you’re not an artist, though. That means you have to pay someone, or partner up. Partnering is hard.

  • Casper Chris

    Nice read.

    One of our SS regulars went the novel self-publish route (forget his name — he had a screenplay in Amateur Friday recently). Would be interesting to hear his take on this.

    • Gregory Mandarano

      I published a couple novels, one science fiction, and the other epic fantasy. When it comes to scripts you’re creating something that ultimately, isn’t art in and of itself. It’s something meant to be transformed into what people will consume. When it comes to books, the end product actually IS what people get to enjoy. I’d spent so much time writing scripts, I wanted to create something that could be read and appreciated AS the final product, something that could bulk up my resume and also represent my skills as a writer.

      The fantasy I published in my own name, while the sci-fi I used a pen name, since it’s satire and in that case I *didn’t* want it immediately representing my writing skills.

      http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00LX8ULKM
      http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MISZFZM

      Ultimately I adapted my own fantasy book into a TV pilot, which was my intention all along, and I’m very, very pleased with how the pilot turned out. I’ll be putting that on blacklist shortly, and will also be sharing that on here once Carson does a tv week again.

      All in all I found the entire process of writing a book illuminating, and it absolutely improved my writing. people were describing it as a waste of time, and I couldn’t disagree more. Try writing an entire novel and coming out of it without improving as a writer.

      • Casper Chris

        I wrote a 340 page TV miniseries once. I guess I could turn that into a novel :)

  • Howie428

    Anyone who writes a book has achieved the tangible success of having written a book. So what if you have to self-publish it, you’ve done art damn it!

    Us muppets who write screenplays by contrast, have typically produced what used to be thick ply toilet paper, and now is a collection of 1’s and 0’s that fits on a gnat’s scrotum.

    If you’ve got a novel in you, go be a winner.

    Curiously though, it all comes down to what you love. If you got into writing screenplays because you love writing and you love words, and you get excited by prose, then branching out to novels is part of the package.

    If you love movies and the visual spectacle, and the way they sweep you into other worlds and embroil you in the hearts and pains of characters you come to believe in, then perhaps you’re stuck with the screen.

    When I began screenwriting my English writing education comprised of being in a non-elite high school class in which the teacher was happy if some of the kids managed capital letters and periods. But I wanted to write a movie, so that meant writing a screenplay, which meant writing in defiance of my skills.

    Since then I’ve realized that screenwriting has prose-centric gatekeepers, and I’ve come to see the value of a clean sentence or two in the screenplays I’ve read. So I’ve learnt me some grammar!

    But when I read the text of a screenplay, I’m seeing images. I’m experiencing a visual/audio sequence. The nice prose is nice, but it’s often part of the smoke and mirrors game that writers play.

    So prose is both our friend and our enemy. Perhaps someday I will wield that weapon well enough that it becomes an end in and of itself. For now, I’m just using it to write screenplays.

  • Frankie Hollywood

    RELATED: Adapting Novels, Memoirs and Short Stories: What to Keep and What to Cut
    http://www.scriptmag.com/features/columns/adapting-novels-memoirs-short-stories-keep-cut

    Just flip it and rename it: Adapting Screenplays Into Novels: What to Add

  • Scott Strybos

    I don’t want to be a screenwriter as much as I want to be a storyteller. Which is why, as of the last few years, I am leaning away from screenplays and more towards short stories, possibly novellas. This is how my story will have the best chance of being found, read, and experienced by more than six people. I’ve reached a point where the format my story takes is irrelevant.

    • Caivu

      ray(ted)

    • Midnight Luck

      elent.

      • Midnight Luck

        adventure.

  • Frankie Hollywood

    We went to Anywhere a couple of years ago for vacation. The snorkeling was amazing. Never seen water so clear.

  • Malibo Jackk

    I’m told that successful people stumble — often several times before they find success.
    (Ok. Heard that on Oprah.)
    Hey, here’s one guy that wants to acknowledge you.
    Illustrating a graphic takes talent many of us don’t have.
    Could you post some pages for us to have a look?

    Marketing seems to be the big problem with graphic novels.
    Someone in the business told me you have to release the novel in a series
    of affordable comic books in order to build a following.

  • ripleyy

    I think it’s a really healthy thing to do both screenplays and novels. I had a script that was 240 pages. It was so big that I decided to adapt it into a novel, and from the novel I refashioned it into a teleplay. I may not be a great novelist, in fact, I think I’m pretty shit at it, but the experience is really refreshing and healthy.

    This article is really the best and “The Evil Inside” sounds like a pretty great book! In laymen’s terms, write a novel – big or small – and experience the moment. You may not be good, but who’s going to see it?

  • tokyoYR

    Please forgive the incredulous tone of this response, but if there’s one piece of screenwriting advice that has never jibed with me, it is the callow recommendation that aspiring screenwriters rack up novelist credits in order to break into the industry.

    I’m sorry, what? If there’s one (art) industry more difficult to penetrate than screenwriting, that would be literature. The art of the American novel is dying, and there are so few novelists in the field that they can be considered endangered species.

    I’m aware that the burgeoning success of eBooks (though self publishing has long existed as an option, to the great skepticism of readers and critics alike) is making the industry easier to enter in a literal sense, but I’m having difficulty imagining what a novel short of a Franzen level work or E.L. James level of sales can do for a writer.

    To me, this is bad advice. It is distracting, and frankly denigrating to the very distinct art of novel writing. This is not to take away from the author of this article’s accomplishments, which I see apart from, rather than because of, an interest or skill in film. In his particular case, his skills and interests managed to overlap, but I would consider that an exception to the rule.

    • Kirk Diggler

      I agree, but I think it’s relatively easy to go from a failed screenwriter to a failed novelist, just takes a keyboard, bit of desire and very little imagination.

  • S.C.

    And so to bed. Here’s Gone Girl‘s Amy to read you all a bedtime story. Night-night!

  • klmn

    Maybe you should epublish it. Pricing it at $2.99 (or even .99) a copy might result in more total revenue.

  • ThomasBrownen

    Congrats on the novel, Phil! That was a great article to read — not just because of the information you gave us, but because you demonstrated how to keep working and keep writing and keep trying to find new and creative ways to market yourself. Good luck, and let us know what happens!

  • walker

    This article was interesting and I want to thank the author for sharing some of his personal experiences. But his fortunes seem to have turned on receiving a positive review from Kirkus Reviews, for which he paid $425. I don’t really understand how that method differs from entering the top contests or putting a script up on the Black List site. You pay, you hope to be noticed, you hope to parlay that attention into some sort of deal. For $425 you could enter the Nicholl, the Austin, and the trackingb, all at their latest Procrastinator’s Special rates, and still have enough left over for a couple of months hosting and a couple of evaluations on the BL. The gist of this article is that the author won a lottery, why aren’t five tickets better than one?

    • Kirk Diggler

      A true pragmatist!

      • walker

        Yeah I think we both know a true pragmatist would never even attempt screenwriting.

        • Kirk Diggler

          Shit, yeah, there’s that.

        • Midnight Luck

          now that is some truth telling.

  • MichaelAQ

    For the two cents my opinion is worth: If you love screenwriting, you should use any free time you have to get better at screenwriting. Most of the scripts that many of us find less impressive is usually because someone hasn’t spent the time needed with it. Writing. Re-writing. Workshopping. Etc.

    If you’re not dedicated enough to do that, there’s no point in turning anything into a novel.

  • brenkilco

    I’m clueless.