Novel or Screenplay. How I overcame the fears of self-publishing screenplays

After I wrote my first (and only) novel, I spent a lot of time hemming and hawing over whether to write my next story as a novel or screenplay.

The thing is, for me, nearly all of the stories in my head I envision ending up as a movie. Even if I wrote a novel, my hope was that it was simply a path to getting it made into a movie.

So why not write a screenplay? Looking back here are some of the fears that were holding me back:

1) FEAR #1 LOSS OF CONTROL. The fear here was that I would put time, sweat, blood, and lots of tears into writing a screenplay then, miraculously, it would get picked up by an agent or studio, I would get cut a check (money is good) but then I would kindly be shown the door. From everything I’ve heard, screenwriters (with a handful of obvious exceptions) write the screenplay and there ends their journey. What ends up on the screen could be COMPLETELY different from what they wrote. I was afraid of this. I want as much creative control over my story as possible. Realistic? I don’t know but that’s what I wanted and it’s one thing that was standing in the way of me and writing a screenplay. HOW I OVERCAME THE FEAR: Once I decided I would write the screenplay for myself and a reading audience and then publish it as a written work unto itself (like one does a novel), that loss of control feeling lifted. I felt liberated. There’s still A LOT of hurdles to overcome to get people to read it but I like having the creative control.

2) FEAR #2 RESTRICTED BY SCREENPLAY FORMATTING RULES: When initially contemplating writing a screenplay I figured I would be submitting to contests, agents and studios and this lock me into the strict formatting and submission rules for a screenplay. I’m talking here more about things like “inciting incident must happen by page X” type stuff more than the elements of a screenplay (CHARACTER, SCENE HEADING, DIALOUGE), etc. But I was worried about getting too boxed in and this held me back. I knew I couldn’t go completely off the rails and write some novel/screenplay hybrid (well, I guess I could – it’s not like it’s against the law or anything) but what I mean is I still wanted it to have that screenplay DNA just not be so confined. HOW I OVERCAME THE FEAR: Same as above. Once I decide to write the screenplay and publish it the way one does a novel, I knew I was no longer beholden to any rules. Sure the general structure of a screenplay had to be there. It still had to look and feel and like a screenplay but creatively I felt much more liberated.

3) FEAR #3 WHO THE HECK IS GONNA READ THIS THING?: Who would read a screenplay? Not a lot of people read my novel but those who did read it, enjoyed it. And that was a good feeling. If I could only get a small number of people to commit to reading a novel how was I going to get people to read a screenplay. No one I knew read screenplays. Who was my target audience going to be? HOW I OVERCAME THE FEAR: I resolved this one in two ways: ONE: Yes it was true the people that read novels may not read screenplay. Reading screenplays means you have to understand the various elements of a screenplay. And the reading isn’t always as smooth as a novel. But again, while my screenplays would still have the look and feel I could make them more “reader” friendly; more readable to the average person. A simple example of this is adding chapters. If you read any screenplay published as “the shooting script” it will be one long story. There’s nothing to break it up. Since I was publishing it as something that was going to be reader friendly I knew I wanted to add chapters. I knew this because this was one of the frustrations that I have when reading screenplays. I didn’t have these beacons along the way to tell me when I might be able to put it down for the night. There are a plethora of other ways to make a screenplay more “readable” but chapters are just one. I’ll get into more in a future blog TWO: The other way I overcame this fear of ‘who the heck is going to read a screenplay’ was: I knew at least I love to read screenplays. And if I love it, there HAS to be others out there who do as well. I can’t be the only one. Also, stage plays. People read stage plays. And yes, there are differences, but the structure makes them close cousins. Many stage plays are required reading throughout one’s education years (Death of A Salesman, anyone?). So I knew there had to be others who would take to the medium. Either those who, like me, love the genre and would take to it or those who have never read a screenplay but would say “hey I’ll give it a try, kind of looks like the plays I had to read in school”. It’s also then that I realized that this would likely be a niche market. But that didn’t scare me it got me excited. Niche means you have a smaller audience but they tend to be more dedicated and passionate one. This is a good thing.

After I laid to rest these fears I still debated in my head whether to write screenplay or novel but as I kept working through them, the fears melting away, I soon committed to screenplay as my storytelling medium of choice. In my next post, I’ll write about some of the ways I made that decision.

Thank you for reading.

And, most importantly, what do you think? Let me know in the comments section.

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When I was grappling with whether to write my next story as a novel or a screenplay, ultimately deciding to write a screenplay that I would self-publish for the general public to read, I went through

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Jason Srebnick
jason.srebnick@gmail.com