The Novel Writing Process from a Screenwriter’s Perspective

Category: Writing Life

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Welcome to the Writer Blog Hop!

A Blog Hop is basically Tag for writers who blog. Meaning someone came up with the four questions below and answered them on their blog, then tagged three writer blogger friends to answer the questions on their blogs, who then each tagged three more writer bloggers… and so on and so on. Actually, that’s more like spreading a virus, but Tag sounds merrier!

The person who tagged me is Jennifer Skutelsky. She’s an editor, writing coach, ballet teacher, visual artist and author. She also has a soft spot for elephants and rhinos. Check her out at

Now it’s my turn to bare my writer’s soul to the interwebs. So without further ado, let the questions begin:

1) What am I working on/writing?

Camp_Lakebottom_Title_ScreenMy day job is “freelance screenwriter” which means I get paid to sit at home in my pajamas and string words together to put in actors’ mouths. Currently, I’m writing episodes of a wacky horror-comedy cartoon called CAMP LAKEBOTTOM that airs on Teletoon in Canada, Disney XD in the USA, and a bunch of other channels around the world.

Between drafts of television scripts, I’m writing two YA novels. The first is a dark fantasy entitled DEMONS DON’T DO LOVE about a dead teen who’s banished to Hell for loving the wrong angel and tries to destroy the demons to earn her way back into Heaven, until she learns Heaven isn’t what it claims to be. The second is a mystery thriller called PSYCHO SMART about ambitious teens desperate to get out of their dead-end small town and into college by using smart pills that unfortunately start turning them into murderous psychopaths.

2) How does my work/writing differ from others of its genre?

For screenwriting, it doesn’t! My job is to write episodes that fit in with the show, and my story editors wouldn’t be happy with me if I veered from the format.

For novel writing… this is a hard question mainly because it requires a “toot your own horn” kind of answer and I’m really bad at that. But I will say I haven’t found many decent murder mystery thrillers in YA (they’re either not scary and/or the mystery is riddled with plot holes and convenient coincidences), so I’m eager to write some thrilling yet psychologically scary novels that fill this void.

3) Why do I write what I do?

Writing cartoons is fun! But, to be totally honest, it’s also the most booming segment of the television industry in Canada. At least it was when I entered the scene ten years ago. Thankfully, our live-action dramas and comedies are getting more investment and attention now, but there are still significantly more children’s animation shows produced in Canada than anything else. So, frankly, it was the easiest genre to break into. I do enjoy writing kids’ shows, but I always wanted to write for teens, and since the teen TV slate is tiny and limited, I went back to my first love – novels.

I love YA novels. 99% of what I read is YA. I love the pace (faster than adult novels) and exploring that pivotal time in a person’s life where they’re just figuring out who the hell they are. So many things are new to teenagers, and their futures are wide open and full of potential. It’s so exciting! And for a writer, YA novels are liberating because they encompass so many genres. One can literally write anything for YA! This is very different than television, which depends not only on a more confining script format, but also on the whim of a handful of broadcasters who ultimately decide which shows go to air. And on top of all that, writers have to worry about not pissing off the FCC or the Parents Television Council.

And let’s face it – if you want to create and sell a teen TV show or film, you’re better off writing and selling a book first. Most of the teen stories on the air and the silver screens right now are based on books.

So why do I write YA mysteries/thrillers/fantasy? Because these are the books I loved as a teen and still love now. I delight in figuring out mysteries, especially if there is a supernatural or fantastical element. Bonus points if the story also scares me.

4) How does my writing process work?

The process is straightforward in screenwriting because my job is laid out in stages: first I pitch episode ideas, then if the story editors like an idea I write a premise, then once the broadcaster/producers approve the premise, I write the outline, then the 1st draft, 2nd draft, and finally the Polish draft. In between all those drafts I get notes from the story editors, broadcasters and producers that I implement into the next stage. The only part of the process that’s left up to me is how much or how little I procrastinate, and since each stage has a strict deadline, I’ve learned to not delay.

Novel writing is a whole other beast that I’m just starting to tame. Because there’s no set process to writing a novel (some authors are pantsers, some are plotters), I had to figure out my own method. Since I’m a screenwriter, I’m naturally a plotter, and tend to work through a novel the same way I do a script: pitch, premise, beat sheet*, outline, 1st draft, 2nd draft, etc. Except the process doesn’t go as smoothly on my own. The thing about screenwriting is it’s a job – I have bosses who yay or nay the script and give notes at every stage. Sure, I can put in my own two cents, but I can’t spend days or weeks mulling it over. Story decisions need to be made and written before the next deadline. No time for second-guessing.

However, left on my own, I second-guess the crap out of my stories. So my novel process looks more like this: pitch, premise, beat sheet, redo beat sheet, redo it again and again and again, then realize it still sucks and go back to the premise to figure out what’s wrong with the story, rewrite the premise, start a new beat sheet, revise it again and again until I like it enough to start an outline. Finally, an outline! Summarize Act 1’s scenes and realize the story still sucks. Go back to the beat sheet if it sucks just a little bit. Go back to the premise or even pitch if it sucks a whole lot. Rewrite the pitch, premise, beat sheet, outline, and finally start writing prose! Write the first few chapters, doubt the direction, and go back to an earlier stage to figure out where I went wrong. And repeat, repeat, repeat!

Geez, that’s exhausting. Does anyone else’s process look like that?

*Note: The beat sheet isn’t a paid stage in screenwriting, but still used by most all screenwriters. What the heck’s a beat sheet? I explain here.

So there you have it, folks, a screenwriter/novelist’s writing process.


Now I’m tagging three writers who will answer these questions next Monday. They are:

Nicole-WintersNICOLE WINTERS published her first novel TT: FULL THROTTLE in September 2013. To research this story of a young man’s dream to win the coveted TT motorcycle race, she travelled to the Isle of Man to see the TT for herself, securing a press pass enabling her to speak with privateers, podium champs, marshals, mechanics and pit crew. She’s now writing a sidequel THUNDER ROAD. Learn more at


AMM PICS FOR POSTANN-MARIE MEYERS grew up in Trinidad and Tobago in the West Indies. She has a degree in languages and translates legal and technical documents from French and Spanish into English. She lives in Toronto, Ontario, with her husband and daughter. Meyers is an active member of SCBWI and facilitates a children’s writing group twice a month. Her first middle grade novel, Up In The Air, was published by Jolly Fish Press in July 2013. Find her at


MaureenMAUREEN MCGOWAN is the bestselling author of the DUST CHRONICLES. Check her out at




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HJackson Write Club PicHEATHER JACKSON is a YA novelist, television screenwriter, and small town fugitive. She escaped her rural roots for the big city by attending Ryerson University’s Radio & Television Arts program and the CFC’s Prime Time Television Writing program, which led to a career penning television scripts. Currently she is writing episodes of the animated horror-comedy CAMP LAKEBOTTOM, as well as writing a YA mystery thriller, PSYCHO SMART, and a YA dark fantasy, DEMONS DON’T DO LOVE. Neither is autobiographical. Mostly. When she’s not writing books or screenplays, Heather blogs about writing craft and the writer’s life at