I've come to notice I have a very specific manner of writing. Specifically, I've noticed that while I'm writing a book, I tend to pace and set up things more like I'm writing a screenplay than a novel. The way I've often described it to myself is it's like I'm watching an episode of a television show or movie and I'm frantically struggling to write down what is going on as the scene happens in real-time.

This causes problems for me. I can picture what is going on very vividly in my head, but when I try to put it into words I kind of flounder. I can put in screenplay-esque descriptions of "character X gets up from their seat and does this", but when it comes to putting it into less dry terms to make it prose instead of stage directions I draw a complete blank. I also have an issue where I have things going on in very visual terms that make sense in a visual medium, but don't work as well when translated to the written word. For example, I have a character that's described as very large because they are supposed to visually take up a lot of space to look imposing due to their plot role as The Big Guy, but my beta readers have told me it comes off like I am fat-shaming them. However, I am good at taking advantage of internal monologues and thought processes that written fiction excels at but visual fiction like movies do not.

However, I am writing a written story, not a screenplay, and my tendency to write like a screenplay has basically given me writer's block because I can't figure out how to translate what I am thinking onto the page for someone else to read, at least outside of very rough scene-setting notes describing what is happening like it is a script fanfiction (which is obviously not a good look for a written story). As as result, I am wondering how can I write less like a screenplay, and more like a novel?

I've seen other people on other sites say they've had similar problems, but I've never seen anyone discus how they solved it. The best I can think of is try to take those "stage guides" and flesh them out line-by-line until they resemble prose, but it just doesn't seem to click easily.

5 Answers 5


I had a friend a few years back who had a very similar issue. The advice I gave him was to focus less on what is happening, and more on how it is happening and the feelings around that.

Perspective changes are a huge help with this. The issue you are having is really prevalent with a third-person, omniscient or semi omniscient perspective. You are telling the audience what is happening from a very technically analysed viewpoint. To counter this something I have done is change to the view of an onlooker or another character (possibly minor or insignificant). Personally I am fond of putting this especially to use with deaths, having the character either describe their own feelings as they die to make it more personal, or by switching to an omniscient view to downplay a tragedy as a small part of a larger disaster.

Using similes and metaphors may also be really helpful in this situation, but that does need to be carefully managed as it can be easily over done. So, instead of saying exactly what something looks like, describe what it resembles.

  • 1
    This is good advice. In other words: you know that nagging annoying feeling that we're always missing something that's going on because we can't see and hear everything around us at once? Embrace it. That's what your characters are experiencing, too. Tell the story from their perspective. That's one very quick way to make it all seem more real. Commented Aug 1, 2020 at 12:47

Read more and watch fewer things in visual media. Try to pick works that are not very screenplay-like in style.

Writing pastiches may help. Take a very uncinematic writer and try to write a scene the way that writer would have written it.


It's a perception and a vocabulary problem: it appears flat because you are describing what the characters are doing but there's no emotions or sensation involved. Among the things that I humbly suggest to correct it:

  • Enlarge your vocabulary to describe your character's actions ("dart" instead of "run", or "he flopped on the chair" instead of "he sat down")
  • Describes actions that tell something about who your characters are, put aside the everyday tasks that you characters do, if you can.
  • Make the characters react to their environment and stimulus: if a guy is walking in the rain, don't just write that it's pouring and he's walking in the rain, but have him wiping his face, try to cover his head with a jacket too small, maybe trembling because of the freezing wind, etc... The reader must feel it through your character's senses, and that means mixing not only what the character sees but what he feels or smells.
  • Refrain from using too much adjectives or adverbs (Things like "he answered angrily"), try to convey the emotion to your reader through indirect means (Maybe he can answer while pounding on the table instead).
  • Short sentences tends to quicken the pace of the action, while long sentences do the opposite, use that to your advantage.

Hope it helps.

  • Your third point is a good one - that's normally the sort of little addition that the actor or director would make to the scene while filming it, but when writing a book you have to take care of all the different roles yourself. Commented Aug 4, 2020 at 7:43

In my opinion, there is no problem with using a screenplay-esque style.

I have used a more visually descriptive style for some chapters in my books; it is quite helpful at times in building suspense.

You must use whatever narrative style you think fits your plot. Whatever helps you best unravel the story is okay. There's no dos and don'ts in writing. It is okay if you want to take a more visual perspective to what is going on instead of delving into the psychology of characters - if you want the actions to speak for you rather than words.

Believe me, it is not a problem at all.

  • I'm not seeing any actual advice here. It's not wrong to be reassuring, but in this case the OP has a specific problem, that is affecting their ability to reach readers. Just re-classifying it as "not a problem" doesn't help solve that. Commented Aug 5, 2020 at 14:18

I had this exact problem, and advice from here was instrumental in helping me solve it. It all comes down to point of view. In a movie, things are external, the viewer sees them on a screen. In a book, we see everything through the eyes of either a character or the narrator. For that reason, flat descriptions just sit lifelessly on the page. They need to be colored by the character's emotions, experiences, biases and desires.

One great way to do this is with metaphors and "mini-stories." For instance, "the forest was an army of soldiers in green uniforms," is a great description for a story about war Or, if you want to be less on the nose, use it in a story where you want to build a subconscious mood of tension. For comparison, contrast that with "the forest was a troupe of dancers in green costumes." It's the same forest, but a completely different mood. "His eyebrows were woolly caterpillars, fattening themselves up before winter." "Her office was a secret garden, dark and full of mystery." You can also use descriptions as a way to bring in backstory: "His face contorted the same way my father's did, just before he hit one of us." "Her white hair cascaded down like the frozen waterfall behind my childhood house."

The reason your description of "the Big Guy" in your story turned off your readers is they couldn't help but take the description as representative of how the narrator or the characters viewed this person, and all they saw was a listing of his physical size. If you want, instead, to give them a sense of the respect he commands, you need to find a way to weave this into the physical descriptions. How about "He was a tank, and I was a scooter." Or, "He took up all the space in the room. It wasn't so much his size, it was the size of the shadow that he cast." Or, "He reminded me of the giant sequoia trees I had seen while driving out west --ageless and imposing."

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