Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

Using screenplay treatments to jumpstart your novel — it works, sometimes…

Sometimes you pick up an old WIP with the best of intentions and you just can’t make it work. Kind of like looking up an old flame and hoping you might rekindle some of the old heat — usually you walk away shivering.

My most recent attempt is heading in that direction, mainly because I’m not in the right frame of mind for a satire at the moment (and the themes in this project are lighter than air) but also because the book doesn’t quite fit into the cycle I’m envisioning for the next couple of years. It’s a tonal thing. We’re going from light to dark, it seems to me, and I can’t see how I can shoehorn this farce into the mix.

But all is not lost. There’s something else to work on. No comment at this point, but it’s more appropriate for the coming line-up.

In sharpening my pencils and cracking my knuckles to get started, I landed on this post about writing screenplay treatments. I like approaching a new book from this angle — sometimes, anyway — so that I don’t waste too much time digging a hole I can’t climb out of. Often I take the opposite tack and just start writing, but more often than not I hit a wall at some point and have to write up a treatment or outline or synopsis or beat sheet (I like that one) to get me over that wall.

Mr. Harris’ method of writing these: “I start with a short paragraph (no more than 4-5 sentences), then expand to three paragraphs, then three pages, and on from there,” seems logical. Yesterday I did the short paragraph. Today I’ll probably take a stab at three. Tomorrow, on from there.

Incidentally, I already have about seventy pages of notes for this book, which has undergone a lot of mutations. But each year it’s been displaced by other novels, including Yesterday Road and Wish I Were Here. Now it looks like just the thing.

Some of us are “freedom writers,” going at it with spontaneity, and some are outliners — planning it in detail.

Some of us are both.

Don’t forget Read an E-book Week at Smashwords!


14 comments on “Using screenplay treatments to jumpstart your novel — it works, sometimes…

  1. John W. Howell
    March 3, 2014

    The article was interesting, but I really need to learn more.

  2. Charles Harris
    March 3, 2014

    Hi Kevin, thank you for the link. Tell me how the process works out for you. I’ve used it for a couple of novels – one to be published and one still in need of revision – and strangely I’ve found sometimes I had to not use it for screenplays.

    One in particular turned out to be fiercely resistant to me writing the treatment, so I ended up dumping the scenes down in any order just to get something written. That script (after considerable revision) turned out to be my most successful ever.

    Every project tells you what it needs, don’t you think?

    • Kevin Brennan
      March 3, 2014

      Thanks so much for popping by to comment, Charles! I think you really hit the nail on the head when you talked about the insights you gain into the material by using this approach. Sometimes, oddly enough, the intimacy you need for the actual writing can make you a little myopic.

      And I agree completely that each project makes its own demands. There’s really no standardized method, at least for me. An adventure every time out!

  3. ericjbaker
    March 3, 2014

    Maybe you could write the farce under a pseudonym (perhaps borrowing one of those names from yesterday 😉 ). It would be an interesting experiment seeing how a different writing persona influences you, and you could try a different marketing angle that wouldn’t be right for Kevin Brennan but might work for Cheese Steak Joe, or whatever name you go with.

    • Kevin Brennan
      March 3, 2014

      It’s so crazy it might just work!

      Of course, my pseudo’s gonna need his own blog, Twitter, Facebook, etc., so life will become hellish pretty quick.

      It’s hard enough being ONE self-published scribe, much less two or three!

      • ericjbaker
        March 3, 2014

        Dress as a woman for your other persona. Then you can turn it into a story within a story about a guy who dresses as a woman to achieve the success he only dreamed of as himself, in the process learning valuable lessons about life and love. You can fall in love with Jessica Lange, too, if you haven’t already at some point in your life.

  4. 1WriteWay
    March 4, 2014

    Love this: “Kind of like looking up an old flame and hoping you might rekindle some of the old heat — usually you walk away shivering.” 🙂
    Don’t listen to Eric … he’s crazy and Jessica Lange doesn’t need any more Tootsies.
    From everything I’ve been reading (blogs, actual books, author interviews), it seems there is no right way to write what you need to write, and, yes, sometimes the book itself will dictate how you write.
    Don’t quote me on this because I don’t have his books at my elbow, but I remember reading about John McPhee’s writing “style.” He would put all his notes on index cards and move them until he got the flow he wanted, or rather, the flow that best worked for his essay or book. I read this about the time I read his essay about debris flows in So. California and how it clicked for me because the essay did have this tense buildup as he described the debris bowls getting full, and then this rush of words as the bowls overflowed and boulders etc. crashed into the houses below. It’s been a long time since I’ve read McPhee, but he’s still one of my favorites.

    • Kevin Brennan
      March 4, 2014

      I remember something along those lines by McPhee too. In the very early days of this blog I cited him as well: https://kevinbrennanbooks.wordpress.com/2013/04/28/who-am-i-kidding/ . He does have a way of making you care about things you didn’t know you cared about…

      Do they even still make index cards?!

      • 1WriteWay
        March 4, 2014

        Yeah, I think I’ve seen some at Office Depot. I think I even have a pack that have a sticky strip on the back … how cool is that 🙂

  5. J. S. Collyer
    March 6, 2014

    Interesting! Sometimes projects are meant to die but I do mourn them. Having an entirely new approach might be the breath of life for some. Thankies, I shall remember this

    • Kevin Brennan
      March 6, 2014

      It does seem like each book needs its own method. Or at least, you have to adapt your usual method to its requirements. I don’t think I’ve ever handled a book the same way twice!

      • J. S. Collyer
        March 6, 2014

        That’s really reassuring Kevin, thanks! I’m ploughing through novel draft number 2 at the moment and I’ve been worried because it feels like a completely different process. Glad to know that that’s ok 😀

      • Kevin Brennan
        March 6, 2014

        Whatever works is what’s ok!

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