Using Scriptwriting As An Outlining Tool

After years as a freelance copywriter, and quite a few years as a ghostwriter, I am now on the road to self-publishing my own fiction. I have made the observances, beginning with studying the market and deciding which genre was calling to me both creatively and financially. Military science-fiction, as it turned out.

I studied those tropes – after looking up what tropes were and, as with a reassuring number of things so far on this journey, discovered it was all mostly stuff I would have done naturally anyway. I read a superb book on novel plotting. I’ve always sucked at plotting, and have got away with a lack of it on more occasions than I’ve deserved. Not this time, though. Time to start writing like an adult.

Now I am learning about marketing while, at the same time, doing something rather odd, something that I wonder if anyone else does.

Like I said, I suck at plotting. I have a good idea, I flesh it out well, then my mind goes blank until I actually start writing. The plotting book really helped to make sure that I sat down and constructed a plot scene-by-scene. But when that was finished, I still looked at most of those scenes and just kind of felt that they were low on detail.

So I had an idea.

I used to write scripts, mostly short ones. About 10 years ago, I finished a film degree, and scriptwriting was the skill I developed most during that time. I don’t love writing scripts in the way that I love writing books, but I do like the how it’s a really efficient method of getting a story down. Scripts are all about dialogue and bare-bones description.

So, most of the scripts I’ve written have been for short films, but I did write a 60-page monster one time, something a little bit like an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where a demon gets into people’s phones and starts possessing the teens of a small seaside town. Some time later I was looking for a story to write, so I took this script and started to write it as a book.

Revelation.

Writing this way felt so easy. Everything that was going to happen in any given scene was already there, so the writing process became about enriching it, bringing it to life and, where necessary, re-directing it. It was like something between drafting and editing. I never finished the book – can’t really remember why – but the experience of writing this way stayed with me.

So this is what I am doing with my military sci-fi novel. It’s a big investment of time, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to be worth it. I’ve spent about two weeks (and generally about a third to a half of each working day) on it so far. I’m 90 pages in and hoping that another week will do it, but in all likelihood it will take another day or two beyond that.

What I’m writing isn’t a feature film script, not really. For one thing, I’m allowing it to run longer than a feature script should do considering the story I’m telling – putting in more detail, having scenes that describe characters’ internal thought processes, and so on. In other words, I’m not letting the format restrict me, that would be silly. Of course, conversely, there’s a balance to be struck, and I do occasionally have to remind myself that I’m only outlining here.

Would love to hear any thoughts about what I’m doing. Is this a waste of time? Is there a better way to overcome my outlining issues? Please comment below, I’d love to hear anyone’s thoughts.

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