Rachel AmphlettHow I Use Screenwriting Tricks to Write a Novel

Ever since I could remember, I struggled with conventional writing advice about having a beginning, middle and end.

There was something intrinsically terrifying about that humungous bit called ‘the middle’ that had me waving garlic and chanting incantations in its general direction.

It also didn’t help that when I started writing, I was a pantser – and pretty useless at it, too. That means I just wrote – no plotting, no idea of where the story was going, and heading one way towards a guaranteed stress-fest.

Something had to change, and so when I set out to write my next novel, I started to plot and outline my stories before I started writing. Yet I still had that damn middle section to tackle.

However, after I went along to a screenwriting masterclass taught by Cathy Overett (who produced Iron Sky and Bullets for the Dead amongst other films) in 2014, a light bulb lit up like a supernova in my brain.

Behind the Wire Cover LARGE EBOOKSuddenly, I had a way to divide up my story ideas so I could tackle the plots in bite-sized chunks.

I discovered that film scripts typically have five Acts. The way I would describe it is to divide up the middle part so it has its own ‘beginning, middle, and end’.

So, now I outline with five parts to a story, and for two reasons. For a start, it makes it more manageable. Secondly, it ensures I “lift” the action at the end of each of those extra Acts – the critical points for the reader.

If you’re interested in this approach, and want to find out more, there are two books I’d recommend: Alexandra Sokoloff’s Screenwriting Tricks for Authors (and Screenwriters!) and Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Both set out this technique, and you get the added bonus of digging out some favourite films to see the formula at work.

You won’t need the garlic any more, either.

Find out more about Rachel at her website here

Writing on Wednesday – Rachel Amphlett

7 thoughts on “Writing on Wednesday – Rachel Amphlett

  • May 11, 2016 at 14:14

    Mel, so pleased you are back with this column. Rachel, I don’t think we readers totally appreciate the angst you authors go through to produce wonderful books for us to read. Glad you have found a method that takes a bit of the pain out of it for you!

    • May 12, 2016 at 17:53

      Hi Chrstine – yes, I’m afraid I missed a couple. Busy authors couldn’t get back to me in time and I was on a deadline so couldn’t write anything to fill in. I’m having great feedback about Writing on Wednesday though, which is great.

    • May 16, 2016 at 22:33

      Thanks, Christine – yes, I have to admit before I got better at this plotting malarkey my brains resembled spaghetti as I tried to fathom what the heck happened next!

  • May 11, 2016 at 14:30

    Hi Mel & Rachel,
    I’d just like to say thanks for sharing your advice about screenwriting techniques, very interesting. A lot of conventional advice states – A three or four act structure is best. However, I can see how this would help. I’m currently using Scrivener with a four Act structure. Staring down the barrel at 120,000 words is very daunting, and as you rightly pointed out “Bight sized chunks are more manageable.”

    Slightly off on a tangent – how do you approach/find editing? I’m currently on day 42 of the afore mentioned 120k words, and it’s absolutely killing me, both emotionally and physically. As an unpublished writer I enjoyed the writing stage immensely, but Jesus editing is SO BLOODY tedious. It’s taking an age to make a dent in my manuscript even when using “Pro-writing-aid.”

    Many thanks
    Jonathan Burgess
    P.S. Mel Love the new writing on Wednesday posts, inspiring and helpful.

    • May 12, 2016 at 17:56

      Hi Johnathan – I approach edits with dread every time! I just have to keep at it until its done, and when I’m in the middle I can never see it getting finished. Nnr can I hold all the information in my head so I keep rereading every few days from the beginning to cement it all together. I can’t do anything else while I’m editing either – which means my work piles up. But we all work differently. Keep at it!

      • May 14, 2016 at 13:05

        Hi Mel,
        Thanks for the encouragement, advice and taking time from your busy schedule to reply. It’s interesting to hear that you can’t do anything else whilst editing, which is exactly how I’ve found it, apart from the day to day stuff that requires ( zero creative thinking)

        I found your interview with Rebecca Bradley very useful – “Whats your first draft like?” l think it was on her site?https://rebeccabradleycrime.com.

        Thanks again.
        P.S. don’t worry about a reply. I remembered from our chat at Hanley library earlier this year how busy you are.
        Hope your finding “Dragon naturally speaking” helps with the back ache? It has for my neck.

    • May 16, 2016 at 22:36

      I love Scrivener, Jonathan – I don’t know how I’d write without it these days. As for editing, yes I struggle sometimes too but it’s a necessary evil 🙂


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