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What Authors Can Learn from Screenplay Writers

High Concept

Whether writing a novel or nonfiction, you need to be able to boil your book down to its core concepts and describe it in one or two sentences. A “high concept” movie or book is one that has a simple and clearly defined plot that is easily describable; for example, “My book is about a  ____ who ____s.” Subject + Verb = HIGH CONCEPT.

This exercise is valuable for writers because it forces you to consider the theme of your book, which will help you to develop that theme as you write.

Furthermore, a book that is high concept is likely to have a clearly defined target audience, which is a key element of any successful book marketing campaign. Keep in mind your concept and your audience during the writing process, and you are more likely to be able to appeal to that audience once your book is completed.

Being able to concisely state what your book is about will also help you as you write your back-cover text, which plays a major role in whether someone will pick up your book in the first place.



Similar to the layout of a comic strip, a storyboard is a visual representation of the action or scenes in a movie, cartoon or other moving medium.

Writers may be familiar with the process of outlining, which is a written list of how you will organize a lengthier piece of writing. But storyboarding can be another valuable exercise for authors. By organizing your plot and ideas visually, you may have an easier time bringing your plot to its climax and conclusion, because you will have a sort of map to follow.

You don’t have to be an artist to create a storyboard; in fact, the process of storyboarding may improve your ability to think visually.


Character Arc

Most of the movies that get made in Hollywood feature a main character with a clearly defined arc or dramatic transformation. In other words, the main character is one way at the beginning, he goes through something (a challenge, for example), and by the end, he has changed.

Of course, not all movies follow this pattern, nor should all books, for that matter. But making one character a focal point is a good way to focus your entire story.


Show, Don’t Tell

Movies can’t rely on voiceover to describe what characters are feeling or thinking at every moment; what characters are feeling must be expressed through their physical actions and their dialogue. Similarly, book writers should show, not tell, their readers what internal conflicts are going on.

For example, if a character in your book is extremely nervous, writing “Mary was extremely nervous” suffices, but it doesn’t sing. Something like this might work better: “Mary crossed and uncrossed her legs, tilted her head left to right and back again, drummed her fingers on her knees in time with the flutter of her heart, and still she could not shake the tingles that were traveling from the pit of her stomach to her limbs and bursting out the tips of her fingers and toes.”

The great thing about books is that they allow a writer to craft an entire world full of characters and events, but, unlike the movies, the audience (reader) is able to bring its own imagination to fully realize this world created by the writer.



Movie scripts are meant to be performed or, in the early stages, read aloud at least. To make sure that the dialogue in your book is well-paced and natural, you should read your book aloud.

You can also “perform” the non-dialogue bits of your book. By hearing your book read aloud, you are more likely to catch awkward phrases and grammar mistakes. Plus, you will be able to judge whether the book flows well.



“Writing well is only half the job; marketing your work is the other half,” said author and screenwriter Lenore Wright in an interview with Screenplayers. “You need both talents. If you're missing one or the other, either learn how to develop it or find a writing partner who has it.”

Though Wright was offering advice for screenwriters, the same lesson applies to book writers, especially self-published authors. You have to be willing to sell yourself and your book; and if you make your book the best it can be, the process of doing so will come much more easily.




on the big screen*


Legally Blonde

Legally Blonde**
by Amanda Brown
Book published 2001
Movie released 2001

Shadow Warrior

Shadow Warrior
by Dr. John Mayer
Book published 2005
Movie optioned 2010

Long March to Freedom

Long March to Freedom**
by Tom Hargrove
Book Published 2001
“Proof of Life” movie
adaptation released 2000


*All book covers are original to AuthorHouse or FirstBooks. These books may currently have alternate covers or editions.

**Denotes a book published by FirstBooks, which developed into AuthorHouse.