Is my story a novel or a screenplay? Five tips on picking the right format for you.

You’re a writer. You have story ideas. You yearn to see them come to life. But in print or on a screen? True, you could start with a novel then adapt it into a screenplay. However, not all stories lend themselves easily to production on a screen. If your story does, why waste time flushing out full-blown novel details that will never make the production script?

Let’s go one level deeper to YOU, the writer. Are you a visual thinker or a cerebral observer?

You may think writing a screenplay is no different than writing a novel. The components are the same: your characters must grow and be empathetic; your dialogue must be believable and entertaining; your plot must drive the story forward giving a reason for one to care about the ending. But do you see your story as a string of images in your head or do you concentrate on finding the perfect word?

Creating a three-act, well developed and entertaining story should be the goal for writers in both formats. However, once those foundational similarities are laid down, the mechanics upon which the story is built are completely different.

“Elementary my dear Watson.” – Logical formatting.

A novel’s format is much looser. Open a novel to any page and the formatting doesn’t jump out at you.

Other than following the Chicago Manual of Style guidelines and grammar rules, there are no specific formatting requirements on the placement and length of dialogue, exposition, setting and description – except those required by the publisher. Also there is no page limit.

In contrast, a professional screenplay has a highly detailed and rigid format. When followed, each page quickly communicates the approximate length of the finished movie as one page roughly equals one minute of film time totaling the average of 110-120 pages, or a two-hour film.

A sample of these guidelines include: 

  • The font must be a Courier, 12-point.
  • There are specific tab settings for all components such as dialogue (2.9” from the left), action (left justified), transitions (right justified).
  • Slug lines, a loose setting description, are all caps with details arranged INT. (interior) or EXT. (exterior) LOCATION – TIME OF DAY.
  • Sounds are in all CAPS.
  • Excessive camera directions are seen as unprofessional.

*This list is not all-inclusive.

If your three acts cannot be succinctly condensed into 120 pages without compromising the integrity of your story you have a novel, not a screenplay.

“You Talkin’ to Me?” – Intentional Dialogue.

In a novel, characters can wax philosophic for chapters as long as the musing (with your editor’s blessing) moves the story forward.  There is no such thing as exposition or inner thoughts in a screenplay. Voice over can be used but only when it is true to your story and not simply a means to an end.

In a screenplay, no dialogue should be gratuitous. Your character’s speech must communicate only the who, what, why, when, and how necessary to move a scene forward in the most concise way. After all, each minute is money.

Of course, there are non-verbal ways to communicate too which leads me to…

“Good, bad, I’m the guy with the gun.”  – Narrative Action.

Audiences pick a movie to see something HAPPEN. Screenplays typically follow the three-act structure with the rough division of:

  • Act One, The Introduction of the Problem in pages, 1-30
  • Act Two, The Journey, in pages 31-90
  • Act Three, The Resolution to the Problem, in pages 91-120

In a novel, the author can spend a whole chapter describing the burning down of Atlanta (Gone with the Wind anyone?). In screenwriting, each causal action must have an effectual reaction toward the resolution, or it simply doesn’t belong. The dramatic theory of Chekov’s gun in the first act must be fired by third act is a dramatic principle that applies to all story-telling, not just novels.

A good screenwriter will also use visual cues and non-verbal communication as sensory details to divulge story elements on multiple levels all at once – which is next to impossible in the print format of a novel.

‘Show me the Money!” – The Challenge of Marketing Your Genre.

Novelist or screenwriter, the end goal is to sell your work. In order to do that, there must be a defined market. Which market is driven by the genre of the story. Novels can combine three or more, think Young Adult Sci-Fi Thriller Romance. Novels are the final product, sold to the public.

However, screenplays are sold to the studio and must go through production to make money. The more mixed the genre, the less well defined the market. The less defined, the harder it will be to sell to a studio and produce the movie. Also the more simple a screenplay genre is, the better defined the budget. (“Five Major Differences between Writing Novels and Screenplays”, Rebecca Williams Spindler). A rom-com is much less expensively produced then a Young Adult Sci-Fi Thriller Romance.

“Just keep swimming.” – Beyond “The End.”

Writing “The End” brings a novelist much closer to the finish line then it does a screenwriter. A novelist ends with a finished product to publish with the help of a small team. A screenwriter ends with a blueprint to hand over to a large team that will continue the creation process. A novelist is typically a bigger fish allowed a weightier opinion in the publishing pond. A screenwriter is a smaller fish that must join a larger creative collaboration school of fish in order to see their story come to fruition. As a writer, which pond best suits you? How much control of your story do you desire?

“May the Force be with you.” – Take action now!

If you decide screenwriting is the way to go, there is no time like the present. As streaming content has continued to expand across every electronic device, the demand for more content, which was already being pushed by the big guns of Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu, has only increased. As Americans doubled their streaming time in March, due to stay-at-home orders for Covid-19, new platforms joined the market that will need original programming.

Netflix is the leader with a whopping 85% of its $17 billion budget going to originals this year in addition to it’s current 1,177 original titles. The appetite is growing for entertainment whenever and wherever we want it. With Hollywood and sports indefinitely on hold, the demand for original streaming programming doesn’t look to slow down. “What’s postponed in 2020 will come back to us, even bigger, in 2021…so now is the time to write!” said Matt Strauss, chairman of Peacock, the next digital streaming platform to launch in July 2020 from NBC.  (“NBC’s Peacock Streaming Service Launches, but only for Xfinity Customers”  Joe Supan) 

It’s the perfect time to jump in as a screenwriter. Contact us here at Kismet Writing and Development for professional formatting and screenplay development assistance.

Additions to this screenwriting series will be added every other month on the following topics:

  • The three act structure
  • The basics: creating drama from plot and characters
  • Translating exposition into dialogue or action
  • Screenplay adaption
  • Animation vs. television vs. film script
  • And others

Holiday sweepstakes winners.

Happy January and 2020!

First, we’d like to thank everyone who entered our sweepstakes. It was wonderful to read the worthy (and absolutely attainable) goals of so many of our fellow writers. If you’d still like to share your goals with us and others, please join us on social media. (accountability drives success, after all).

Facebook: Kismetwriting

Twitter: @kismetwriting

Whether it’s a page a day or a finished novel by the end of the year, we can help keep you on track.


While reaching your writing goals is a wonderful prize in and of itself, the sweepstakes swag has been awarded to our winners. Please congratulate our First Prize Winner Robert K. Karrie is currently working with Robert to ghostwrite his untitled memoir about inwardly embracing the miracle of addiction recovery while outwardly establishing the medical cannabis industry as a viable investment.

Robert will be rocking that Kismet backpack!


The second prize winner is Mary Ann D. who is working with Stephen in pursuit of content development for her breakout novel of social critique as a lifetime feminist, surviving college in the 1970s and the debutante lifestyle of the south. She’s going to be sporting our winter wear.

Congratulations to our winners. We wish everyone could win, but that would take the fun out of it.

Don’t forget to check in monthly to see our blog.

In our most recent post, Stephen gives his perspective on how writers can utilize the latest and fastest-growing social media platform: Tik Tok to expand to your author platform. There is nothing better for starting a new year off right than being one of the first to use a new social media to further your own goals. You can check it out here:

Follow your story. Let us help you. It’s Kismet.

Stephen Axtell and Karrie Stewart

How to use Tik Tok to succeed as an author

How to use Tik Tok to succeed as an author

Or: How to pop and lock your way to better book sales.

Do you remember Vine? The short-form video platform that filled the internet with the wonderful/terrible Harlem Shake. For a month or so, that song was everywhere. Then, it vanished. Vine had its moment, but Twitter decided that Vine wasn’t worth the server space, so they killed it.

Worldwide viewership instantly, and they killed it. Imagine the publicity if that could have been harnessed for your book. Too bad that ship has sailed.

Or has it?

You know where this is going.


Tik Tok is the newest and fastest-growing social media of the year. If trends continue, it may begin to compete with Instagram for the fifth-most popular social media platform. With a Year over Year growth of 275%, 500 million active users, and consistent active user time of 52 minutes, Tik Tok is the #1 growing social media application to watch for 2020.

Growing out of the acquisition of by the Chinese company Bytedance, Tik Tok is the better realized and globally implemented successor to Vine.

Users, or Creators as they are called within the Tik Tok community, can create short videos of up to 15 seconds, or string smaller videos together into a compilation running up to 60 seconds. But, the really revolutionary thing is that creators have access to a wide variety of music curated by the app itself, in addition to being able to create sound of their own.

How can this help me sell more books?

This is why you’re here. The burning question that motivates you to navigate the endless mires of social media engagement.

The answer is very simple: Authentic visual engagement.

Writers and readers alike complain that we are becoming a visual culture, unable to look away from the flashy videos and pictures all around us. No attention for the quiet, contemplative, pursuit of books. But, here’s a secret: we’re all visual. it might not be the first way we understand the world, but we are all visual. We love to see visuals that engage us. Like the wide range of Tik Tok Cosplayers who put painstaking effort into creating a visual of our favorite book characters. We love seeing reenactments of great moments in quick succession.

There are a wide variety of methods a creator can use their downtime to create a greater authentic connection with their readers and potential readers. Most of which can be captured in the hashtags that are also fully implemented in the site:
#relatable #howto #Booktalks ect. But, remember those song trends from before? These trends are something like ready-made templates for fun engagement. If you do yours better, or funnier, or more visually impressive, you’re going to gain followers.

I know what you’re thinking: But, I don’t have the budget to compete with stunning visuals. Here’s another secret: You don’t need to. The app is designed with a variety of professional quality visual effects that can be added to a video for free. Even companies that use Tik Tok for advertising do better by deeply engaging with the community rather than spend a lot of money.

Brand Engagement, or how to make them like me.

You’re a writer, true. But, if you’re smart about what you do, you’re also a brand. You craft an image of yourself as The Author. Crafting a specific mystique around the mind that is the font of your books.

But, you know that selling books is as much art as business. So how does the business succeed on Tik Tok? Remember that, so long as your social network is fully connected, every follower on one platform can become a sale of your books But, there are more direct ways to engage.

  1. Create an author account and engage as an author. There are three formats to do this effectively: Expertise, relatable, and validation.
    • Expertise: Engage with your followers in ways that you are a uniquely authoritative voice. If you’re a nonfiction author, or have a job with a specific expertise: Make videos showing your expertise in action. How-tos, break downs, sights only you get to see, ect. If you pen fiction, talk about your books. Character interactions, theories, and book-related announcements (This should be the smallest share of your videos)
    • Relatable: Show parts of your daily life (Curated by your author brand) The more relatable, the more affection your audience will have for you.
    • Validation: People crave attention. Interact with them to get more followers. You can always follow, like, and comment as with most social medias. But Tik Tok offers another method of engagement: The duets. Basically: two creators collaborate on one video that will be posted to both accounts, allowing for visibility for both parties.
  2. Signal boosting. Every social media has influencers, but the advantage to Tik Tok is that the platform is still young. The status of influencer is still up for grabs. If you can get a duet with an influencer, or get them to use your book as the source material for their videos (even if it’s mildly satirically) you’ll experience a boost in followers and sales.
    • There is also the option of creating a challenge, with a hashtag, that can bring your brand prestige and greater followers. The challenge of the challenge (See what I did there?) is that it has to be something legitimately fun, engaging, intended to be captured on video, and actually related to you and your brand.
  3. Use Tik Tok’s paid campaigns. This option may yet be a bit premature, as the platform is still growing, but if you have the money you can cheaply create a video for your ad and use the in-app linking to direct users directly to your merchandise.

Who does Tik Tok reach?

Currently, Tik Tok’s primary demographics trend toward the younger crowd: Gen z and the Millenials. But there is a growing sector of Gen X mothers surging onto the site lately. The attitude is, generally a bit silly and very friendly. Encouraging also has a large part of the overall community attitude, but politics have recently begun to make forays. Especially with the trend “Democrats, don’t make me vote for Joe Biden.” that has taken off in recent weeks.

Remember that every social media is a piece of the puzzle, and success using it will depend on your ability to authentically engage with the platform. But don’t forget to have fun with it.

Give Tik Tok a try. You might enjoy driving your book sales.