Using a Screenplay as an Outline

Using a Screenplay as an Outline, guest post by Matt Dallmann @iReadBookTours

I suppose everyone has his or her own way of outlining the plot/story of a “work in progress.” Some make lengthy outlines, others make note cards and tape them to the wall like clues in an FBI investigation, and some just plow through with only a few notes in chicken scratch on a Red Bull stained piece of loose-leaf. I, however, write the novel as a screenplay first. 

Using a Screenplay as an Outline, guest post by Matt Dallmann @iReadBookTours
Although adaptation is typically done in reverse order for popular books, I have found this “egg before the chicken” method very useful for character development and time management. I don’t know if I’m the first person to do it this way—I doubt it—but I’ll explain why it works for me. 

For time management, I calculate writing two pages of manuscript for every one page in the screenplay. So if I have a 115-page screenplay, I should have about a 230-page manuscript when I’m finished. For those of you that have read screenplays, you know that some pages have very little text, especially if the characters are talking back and forth in one or two word responses. That coupled with the double spaced formatting can end up being only a half page of manuscript, much less two pages. This forces you to really examine what the characters are thinking, where they are, how it looks, etc., to get to your two-page goal. You can then use this benchmark to set long term goals for your writing; adapting two pages of screenplay per week, per day, per month, per hour, and so on. 

For character development, writing the dialogue first helped me to find distinct voices that might otherwise take a hundred pages of character building to find. Ask yourself: How does this character sound? Is it because she is shy or overbearing? Does she have bad grammar, why? What was her upbringing and education like? Then, if you don’t hear the differences in characters when you read the dialogue back to yourself out loud, you need to go back and ask yourself more questions. 

Finally, this method is great for getting quick feedback on your story. Screenplays are much faster to read than full-blown novels. And no one wants to read a lengthy outline, note cards on the wall, or chicken scratch on loose-leaf, so this a welcome alternative. I have even gone so far as to have professional screenwriters review a script and give feedback so that I can make adjustments in the story or characters before beginning the actual novel writing process. Needless to say, this saves a lot of time on re-writes. One thing to watch out for, though, is point of view. Unless you’re putting in a narrator, the point of view in a screenplay feels rather third person omnipotent. Depending on your genre, this could make the reader feel a little detached from your protagonist. For those concerned that they may abandon novels altogether and stick with screenplays, I can say that I started writing screenplays first and have found novel writing much more satisfying. That being said, why limit yourself? The more writing styles we tackle, the better we become.

Using a Screenplay as an Outline, guest post by Matt Dallmann @iReadBookTours
Matt Dallmann has a background in acting and holds a BFA from Marymount Manhattan College in New York City. His films and screenplays have been featured at film festivals across the United States including Cinequest, Big Apple Film Festival, Seattle’s True Independent Film Festival, DragonCon and Zero Independent Film Festival. His piano compositions have been published for commercial use and he is a member of ASCAP. Matt is also the Co-Founder and Vice President of the boutique medical billing firm VGA Billing Services, Inc. in New York City. He lives in New Jersey with his wife and two daughters.

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