The Difference Between Scripts and Novels — By Serita Stevens

Many people believe that a writer is a writer and that if you can do novels then you can write scripts, too.  Some people can, but most cannot.  Both need great stories, engaging characters and page-turning scenes, but the style, form and rules vary. The writer must understand the differences and know what you can and cannot do for books versus scripts.


Myth #1– Screenplays are easier to write than novels.  False.  If you are doing it right, it takes as long to develop the characters, the research and the plot and subplots with all the twists and turns required.

Myth #2 Writers of the books are paid handsomely for their rights.  Often False. (Several writers have refused to sell the rights to their books because they wanted those large amounts and the independent producers  – who you are mainly dealing with – seldom can afford this.) Many options these days, if not for free, are for the legal correctness of $1.  Even if you are given a few thousand dollars as an option, it is only against a purchase price, which may or may not be what you expect and might hamper what you receive later.

Myth #3 Hollywood is waiting for your book – False – This can be true but only if you can get the manuscript to the right people and it’s not easy to do.  They mainly want books that have been major sellers with great word of mouth and from authors that have a large social platform.  Studios these days are looking for major blockbusters and/or sequels.  Even having a top actor sign on will not guarantee a sale.

Myth #4 – Your work will be respected and you will able to make changes in the script.  You will get final approval of the story.  Usually  FALSE unless you already have a major following and have a great contract beforehand.  Even then…once you sell the rights, you are often pushed into the background.


Even if you do write the first (or 5th draft) of the script yourself and even if it is in the correct form, studios will want A-list writers who have sold millions for them already.  So the producer optioning your book has to hire a scriptwriter who might change your story (more than you want or like) or alter what you have written. Then they have to prepare loglines and sell it.  An option alone is not a guarantee of a sale.  Items are often optioned and then dropped several times before a final deal is made – if ever.    (I’ve experienced this many, many times.)

Obtaining the funds needed to produce the movie can be difficult especially if the story is historical or has expensive scenes as car chases, flight or sea action, battle scenes, crowd scenes, science fiction or other special effects.  Few book writers take into consideration what will sell overseas versus what sells domestically but it is the foreign market that often weighs heavy on the sale of a script.  This process can take not months but sometimes years.  Writers (myself included) get impatient even for those of us who are aware of the timeframes.


Things in Common

`              Both scripts and book need well-rounded characters with journeys and arcs that we want to follow. Good characterization is crucial for good structure.  The reader must care about the character and want to see/ read the rest of the story so an emotional connection is needed for the story to be successful.   Well-rounded means not all good and not all bad.  A character biography is needed for each – even the villain.

Characters should be introduced with action.   Physical description is not always necessary.

Stakes must be high.

Genre structure must be what the audience expects.  Understand the audience you are writing for.  If combining genres understand each and know which genre is primary not only for the writing but for the marketing.

Beginning must be exciting and establish the problem, hint at the stakes

Research must be authentic

Grammar and spelling must the correct at all times

Titles are crucial and must give a hint of the genre and entice the reader/viewer

Proper formatting for what you are doing is crucial for books, but especially scripts!

Be careful of overused words like shrug, looks, etc.  Write active, not passive.

Don’t talk down to your readers.

A rewrite is more than just a polish of a word here or there.  Don’t believe everything you write is gold!!  Be willing to change.

Understand how to write a synopsis /treatment.   Outlining helps for both.  Really, it does.

The first few pages are crucial – many readers, producers, editors these days do not read past page 10 and often can tell on the first page if you are a professional writer.



Things Different

Scripts                                                                                             Novels

99-110 pages As long as needed per publisher guidelines
Subtext is crucial Words can be more direct, but subtext important
One main point of view for audience to follow Can have several point of views. Even multi POV and antagonist.
Flashbacks and voice over discouraged Flashbacks can work if placed properly and limited
It’s a team sport -notes come from all. Know how to take and understand them. Notes are mainly from your agent or editor
Dialogue should be no more than five lines Dialogue can be longer but – within reason
White space is crucial White space if nice but not as necessary
Less is more – no wasted words – very succinct.  Use proper specifics but leave the stage dressing to designers How do you show things?  Can describe rooms, clothing, etc at length (to a point)  Can educate the reader but limited. More description ok including thoughts and feelings.
Simplify characters – combine them; hop over obstacles. Condense time for more suspense As many characters as needed. Time extensions ok but be clear with time shift.
Budget is important – think about scenes as locations, number of characters, car chases, use of animals, special effects. Historicals hard to sell. Can have as many special effects or sci fi as you want.  Time lapse is fine as long as well explained.
Special formatting programs like Movie Magic or Final Draft preferred. Understand script formatting Can be done on any computer program – double spaced and indented with page numbers.
Attitude of character is more important than physical appearance. Physical appearance helps but attitude and action are important here, as well.
Preferred if you are physically available for meetings but Skype can work at times. Network as much as you can – Hollywood is a relationship industry.  Join various groups – as Women In Film, Stage32, WGA, Women Helping Women, Hollywood Networking, Breaking Into Hollywood, Roadmap You can isolate and write where ever you are.  Attending conferences and belonging to genre groups helps to meet editors, etc.
Agents don’t necessarily sell your work unless you are already a big money maker for them.  There are several sites where you can list your scripts and pitch directly to execs.  Managers more helpful to guide you. Agents do sell your work and most publishing houses will not look at material without them.  Self publishing difficult and still not regarded as professional.  Managers are not always needed.
No fancy covers or presentations Plain format preferred but you can spice up cover
No need for parentheticals usually. Actors should understand the lines through the narrative Okay to direct the character’s emotions.  Reader should experience emotions
Know the 3 (or 6) Act structure Act structure is looser in books
Have a one-two sentence log line A short pitch helps but is not as required
Read industry trades and know what is selling now. It probably won’t be popular by the time you finish your script Understand what is selling. Read Publisher’s Weekly (available on line.) Genres go in cycles




The author of The Ultimate Writers Workbook For Books and Scripts – Motivational Press  which is available at, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and well as regular book stores, I’ve written books, scripts, adaptations in almost every genre – usually whatever my agent gets me.  I’ve taught writing at a variety of universities, colleges and conferences.   As a forensic nurse, I often help writers with their poison, medical, forensic, and investigative questions for their scenes.

My IMDB  is Serita D Stevens.   For questions, I can be reached at


Recommitment by Margaret Mendel

When I began writing this blog post for Bookbrowsing, I’d chosen what seemed a relevant topic: how to write while traveling, on vacation, or sneaking in a few lines while commuting to work. It seemed a doable endeavor and something I know quite a bit about. But then the phone rang. Shortly after that the handyman came to fix a broken light switch in our kitchen. Just as the handyman finished his job and closed the door behind him, there was a fender-bender on the street below our NYC apartment. Sirens sounded, traffic backed up and every motorist caught in the congestion was honking his or her car horn. Then during all this noisy commotion, my husband came home from shopping, struggling with an armload of groceries, “What do you want for dinner?” he asked.

Glaring at the keyboard, I tried to remember what I had initially thought I’d be writing. Not all of my days turn out like this. But lately, I wonder if there is a conspiracy against me getting to my writing. I mused that maybe I should write an article titled ‘Writing Interuptus’.

Most authors do not live a privileged life where the world caters to them, quieting their surroundings, periodically offering energy-boosting snacks, bringing a fresh cup of coffee when the first cup of the day has cooled. Most authors I know have tons of personal and familial responsibilities. If there are not children of varying ages to care for, there are elder parents who need to be concerned about. There is shopping, doctor appointments, dust bunnies to clear away from under the sofa, friends to keep in touch with, a work life to juggle, the list goes on and on.

Writing is a commitment. Family is a commitment. Friends are a commitment. And for the writer it’s not a matter of finding the time to write, it really comes down to managing life and getting the writing done.

When my children were young and I worked fulltime, the early mornings before everyone got up for the day, which meant 5:00AM, my writing life would be in full swing. During the weekend there would be a few hours here and there where writing was possible and I would sneak away coveting any time I could get to dig into a writing project.

These days my time is pretty much mine to do with what I want. The kids have grown and have lives of their own. We’ve downsized from a seven-room apartment to a three-room apartment with far less fussy upkeep. So why is it difficult now for me to find that peace and quiet to write?

As I look deeper into how I fiddle with time and life, it appears that the problem is ‘me’. I have forgotten how to set aside time to write. Somehow along the way, I’ve let the priorities shift. There was a time when I would behave like a lovesick fool aching to be reunited with my computer and the story in progress. Now after a few successes with publication, even though I still love to write, it feels like it’s more difficult to find those moments to sit at my computer. The stories continue to come to me. I’m presently in the middle of the second book in a series, but still I let distractions easily interrupt my writing.

What I’ve decided is that much like an older long-married couple that periodically recommit to each other, I need to recommit to my writing. I dearly love writing and I do not want the relationship I have with the written word to fade away until I’m merely dusting the pages of unfinished manuscripts. I want to write. So I’ve decided it’s time to clear my desk of unnecessary clutter, clean the computer screen and keyboard. I’ll comb my hair and wear something attractive, not just my sloppy old stretch pants and ratty t-shirt. Perhaps I’ll light some candles, pour a glass of wine, and while I’m at it, change up the blues and rock music I usually listen to while working. Maybe some Ella or Willie Nelson will deepen the relationship. But however I rekindle this long love affair with writing, it is me who has decided to recommit, it is me who will continue to stay and to work out any problems that will undoubtedly come up in the future.

Blurb for Pushing Water :

VIETNAM, 1939. Sarah, an expat, working as an Archivist for the French Colonial Government in Hanoi, is devastated when she finds a Vietnamese co-worker murdered.


Determined to find the killer, Sarah suspects a secret document discovered in a packet of poetry the co-worker borrowed from the archives prompted the murder.


Sarah’s life is further complicated by the arrival of an old friend, Julia, who brings with her memories Sarah would rather forget. Then Albee, Sarah’s part time lover comes on the scene. He claims to be an archaeologist working on a dig in China. Sarah suspects he is a communist revolutionary.


While Sarah deals with her problematic personal life, another Vietnamese friend is arrested and executed for revolutionary activities. Heartsick, Sarah decides to return to the States. The world is in a chaotic mess and before Sarah leaves Vietnam, within one devastating day nothing will ever be the same again.

Margaret Mendel lives and writes in New York City. She is an award-winning author with short stories and articles appearing online and in print publications. Her debut novel, “Fish Kicker” was published in 2014. Margaret’s latest novel “Pushing Water” was published in February 2017. She is a staff writer and photographer with the online magazine Kings River Life. Many of her photos have appeared in websites, online travel journals and have become book covers. Several of her photos have been exhibited in Soho Photography Gallery in New York City. Check out her photos at Read more about Margaret and her writing on her website:

PUSHING WATER is available here:   Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Kobo | Scribd | Inktera | 24 Symbols

FISH KICKER is available here:   ~ Amazon ~ Barnes&Noble ~ Kobo ~ Apple iTunes ~ Omnilit ~ Bookstrand ~ Coffeetime Romance ~ Smashwords ~

“Oh, my…You’ve been Asked to Give a Keynote Address!” By JoAnn Smith Ainsworth

Panic sets in when you’re asked to be the keynote speaker for a nearby, regional conference. You’ve never given one. You don’t know how to begin.

Be at ease.

The speech is not unlike writing a book. The beginning sets up the topic. The middle covers key points and breaks those points into sub-points. The ending summarizes and reinforces these key points. Sound familiar? Easy peasy, right?

Well, maybe there’s a little more to it.

For one thing, a keynote address is an “inspirational” speech. You need to inspire your audience to participate in conference meetings and workshops and to pursue their writing dreams. The speech sets the mood for the conference. Match your delivery style to the tenor of the event—is it celebratory, serious or in-between? Generate enthusiasm.

Know your audience. What will they be expecting to take away from the conference? You achieve an inspirational effect by supporting collective beliefs, values and sentiments.


Where to start? Let’s tackle that by looking at what goes into the beginning, middle and end.



The opening of your speech should leave no doubt as to what you’re going to say. Just like with any book, the first words must hook the audience. They should inspire your audience to want to listen to you.

Use this time to establish your credentials. Also, identify a common bond between you, your topic and your audience. This will establish rapport and good feeling.

Use the rest of your brief beginning to introduce the main points which will carry your middle. Show the conference topics for having timeliness and relevance to their lives. Use only material that relates to the rest of your speech in some way; e.g., don’t use jokes, anecdotes or illustrations that have nothing to do with the points you want to get across. They should directly relate to the points and sub-points you want your listeners to retain.



Just like with a book, you must frame your keynote speech to your listeners’ interests—not yours. Use vivid word images to build a scenario your audience can see in their own minds.

People are interested in knowing about you. Anecdotes are very effective way to reveal who you are as a person and give your audience a chance to get closer to you. That reminds me, follow any abstract concepts with concrete examples, like quotations, personal experiences or statistics. These make abstract ideas more tangible.

To provide your audience with a logical approach to understanding your message, structure your content with a “pattern.” You could compare the past and present with some conjecture about the future. You could contrast before-and-after situations, introduce alternative viewpoints, or introduce a problem and offer a solution.

Just like in books, your audience needs a clear understanding of where you are going—i.e., transitions that move them from one point to the next and tie it all together. Confusion, doubt and uncertainty have no place in a keynote address. Use pauses to create suspense and orient your listeners to transitions in your subject points.

And here’s a friendly reminder. The middle is where you really need vocal variety to keep your listeners focused and attentive. Bring music into your voice. No monotone.


The ending: 

Hey, you’re on the home stretch—the last one-quarter of your speech. Time to summarize and to inspire.

Remember, the goal of your keynote address is to “mobilize” your listeners. You want them ready to participate in and to support the aims of the conference. Like with the ending of your book, summarize your key points and sub-points. Emphasize those points you want your listeners to take with them throughout the conference. Make them feel good about being at this particular conference.

End with a Call to Action. Inspire them to get the most out of the workshops and encourage them to strive to reach their goals as writers.

There, that wasn’t so hard, was it? It’s as easy as writing a book!


During WWII, the US government recruits psychics to find Nazi spies on the East Coast.


Opening herself to ridicule by revealing she’s clairvoyant is the last thing U.S. WAVES Lieutenant Livvy Delacourt wants, but when Uncle Sam needs her skill to track Nazi spies, she jumps in with both feet.


Expect Trouble released as an audiobook in September 2017 from Audible, Hoopla, Overdrive, and other audiobook distributors and clubs.


It was Runner-up, 2016 Shelf Unbound Award, and Semifinalist, East Texas Writers Guild First Chapter Award.





JoAnn Smith Ainsworth experienced WWII food rationing, Victory Gardens, and blackout sirens as a child. She lived in Philadelphia during the ’50s and she attended the Berkeley Psychic Institute in the late ’70s. These experiences bring authenticity to her historical paranormal suspense series.


She is the author of six published novels. She earned a B.A. from UC-Berkeley, an M.A.T. from Fairleigh Dickenson University, and M.B.A. studies from Pepperdine University. Ainsworth lives in northern California.

To learn more about this award-winning author, visit




For more, visit:

Twitter @JoAnnAinsworth

Facebook:  JoAnn Smith Ainsworth Fan Page ( and Profile Page.

Goodreads Blog:


Contact her at

Never Give Up on Finishing a Book by Helen Dunn Frame

For almost a decade in the seventies, a government organization headquartered in Dallas made headlines when an investigation found that some employees, mainly buyers, performed illegal activies on the job. I knew many of the more than one hundred indicted and the thirty-five who served time. At first, I followed the story due to my connection with the organization because my ex-husband worked in Personnel. Then I decided it might inspire a novel, a genre that I only had edited for others.

After high school where I was an editor of my school’s newspaper, over the years I had written everything imaginable including articles, columns, business letters, grants, and brochures, and also edited newsletters. As I began writing the book, I found it exceedingly difficult to deviate from all I had learned when I studied journalism at Syracuse University. Painstakingly, I came to realize that readers could not follow the slew of players; I began combining personalities and reducing the number of characters, feeling as if I were pulling teeth without anesthesia.

Since I based the protagonist on several employees, including one who served time, I needed to make him more likeable to enable readers to feel empathy for him. I achieved this with a backstory where readers learn about his childhood in a dysfunctional family and about his father who accused him of killing his brother. The accusation haunted him throughout his life because he was unable to recall the events surrounding the death.

At the time I started writing the book, I was working fulltime, sometimes holding down two jobs. I was also a single mom. I would work on the novel when I could, putting it aside as life got in the way. Probably after the tenth revision, I had an opportunity to have an agent read it. It was not ready for publication. I figured out that it still had too many characters and that I should not name the actual “non-appropriated fund organization under the Department of Defense.” As a result, I “formed” a new organization that would serve all branches of the military instead of just a limited few. Believing that “Revenge is mine,” said the writer, I exaggerated characters’ traits. Of course, I created noms de plume to protect the guilty and prevent legal repercussions

To make the story seem more real, I pulled information from albums I had assembled from my life’s experiences. A restaurant may have closed, but as I had eaten there, I could make it real for the reader.

Fast-forward over the years that I toyed with the story until I retired in Costa Rica. Once again, it lay dormant as I wrote other books and learned more about the genre. Finally, I felt the book was nearly complete and asked others to read it and suggest edits and changes. As a result, I wrote a new first chapter and eliminated the final chapter because the story was complete without it.

One other hurdle required attention. A long-time artist friend voluntarily designed a cover for me without asking for or even discussing a fee. After he gave it to me, he informed me that I could use it for 100 books and then I would owe him money. No way would I agree to this as I feared unnecessary legal problems, and eventually our friendship ended. I canned his design and hired a specialist who continues to provide covers for my books today.

After many tentative titles, it evolved to “Secrets Behind the Big Pencil, Inspired by an Actual Scandal. A “Big Pencil” is slang for a buyer that has control of millions of dollars for the purchase of merchandise. By now, I had published other books. It was not difficult to format this one on Create Space, keeping costs to a minimum. After about 45 years since the scandal became public, the fictionalized tale was in print and on Kindle and I sighed with relief that I had not given up on the story.

Author’s Page:

BIO: During Helen’s business career, she wore several hats including professional writer, editor, marketing/public relations specialist, Real Estate Director for franchisees, sales, and commercial real estate broker (licensed in Texas and specializing in restaurants and retail).

In Costa Rica, where she has spent most of her time since 2005, she wrote a nonfiction anecdotal book based on extensive research and her adventure with input from other expats.  Baby Boomers can use it to jump-start their due diligence in order to find their paradise for retirement or possibly for a vacation home or investment in Costa Rica. The third edition (2017) of Retiring in Costa Rica or Doctors, Dogs and Pura Vida,” “Secrets Behind the Big Pencil, Inspired by an Actual Scandal,” (2014) Greek Ghosts, (2003) and Wetumpka Widow (2016) are available in paperback and on Kindle on Amazon. A booklet called Retirement 101 (2017) is available on Kindle only.

Helen Dunn Frame, whom I had the benefit of having on my writing team at Inkwell Newswatch, and for whom I have consequently had the privilege of proofreading her work, is an enormously talented writer. She’s flexible, professional, and very thorough in every writing assignment; whether it was from other sources, her own books, or me. She is definitely a top-notch writer with the desire to perform beyond the call of a “normal” writer. Rowdy Rhodes

Struggling to Juggle or Building a Better Reality by Molly MacRae

“This is a time-turner, Harry. McGonagall gave it to me first term. This is how I’ve been getting to my lessons all year.” Hermione Granger to Harry Potter in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban


“You have a full-time job; how do find time to write?” Lots of people to me


“Sorrycan’ttalknowgottatypetypetypetypetypittytpyotype.” Me to my nearest and dearest


For the past six years I’ve been lucky enough to be writing full time. In those six years I’ve written five books in the Haunted Yarn Shop mystery series, two in the Highland Bookshop mystery series, and two in the Secrets of the Castleton Manor Library mystery series. And now I’m thrilled that I have a contract for two more Haunted Yarn Shop books. Writing full time is something I dreamed of and something I’m absolutely tickled to be doing. The only problem is that I already have a full time job.


What’s the problem with that? Not enough hours in the day. When I wrote the first five Haunted Yarn Shop books (a book every nine months), I solved that by adding waking hours to my day—getting up at 5:00 a.m. to get writing time in before work. I also wrote over my lunch hour and in the evenings and ignored housework. All of that worked out fine (especially the housework part).


Lately, though, I’ve been noticing that my characters spend more time with their families and friends than I do with mine. They have time to read for pleasure and do fun things like knit and hike and get enough sleep. And they solve murders (they might be over-achievers).


What changed? Working on two contracts at once, which meant a book every six months. It was still doable, but . . . I found out that I’m jealous of my characters.


Struggling to juggle is a common problem for writers, and we each have to solve it in our way. My first shot at, after nixing 4:00 a.m. wake-up calls, was to ask my husband to invent a time-turner. He’s an engineer who invents and builds the equipment graduate students need for their research. He invented a levitation device, for heaven’s sake. But apparently a time-turner is out because we’re stuck with a small thing called “reality.” So I decided I would build a better reality.


“Revision is the key to success” is one of my writing mantras. It works for plots, dialog, word choice—manuscripts from concept to “the end.” Why not apply it to the writing process itself or some part of it?


My usual process is roughly this: idea, outline, daily word quota, revise previous day’s quota, finished manuscript, tada! This is essentially bash it out now, tart it up later, except that later is the next day. Each day I tart the previous day’s bashing and then move forward through that day’s word quota. What could I change?


For Scones and Scoundrels, coming out in January, I tried this revision: bash out the entire manuscript and then tart it up. Many writers are successful with that method, and given more than six months to complete a manuscript, I’d be willing to try it again—maybe. But for me it ended in a horrible time crunch during the tarting part of the equation. Very few hours of sleep and still the day job to smile for. Yow. I shudder at the memory.


For Cat and Mouse Murder, coming also coming out next year (under the pen name Margaret Welch), I tried this revision: instead of a daily word quota, I set myself an hourly word quota. It’s a very simple tweak to a process that has worked for me for years and it made all the difference. The hourly word quota concentrated my focus. I gave me more hours in the day. It let me have lunch with friends and actually talk to my family.


For me, the real writing is in the revision. It’s in the differences, some of them small and oh so obvious, that make the difference. A better reality was there, too.




The Boston Globe says Molly MacRae writes “murder with a dose of drollery.” Scones and Scoundrels, the book two in Molly’s new Highland Bookshop Mysteries, will be out in January. She’s also the author of the award-winning Haunted Yarn Shop Mysteries from NAL/Penguin (and being continued by Pegasus Crime). Her short stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine since 1990 and she is a winner of the Sherwood Anderson Award for Short Fiction. Molly lives in Champaign, Illinois. You can visit her at and


Buy links:






Barnes & Noble:

The Writing Life: Breaking Things Up by Nancy Boyarsky

For most of my life I’ve been a writer and editor. This was in the days before telecommuting, so I worked in a highrise downtown. Surrounded by my workmates, I broke up my day to chat with them. I met friends for lunch. My job provided camaraderie, office gossip, turf wars, rumors of layoffs, and other diversions that livened things up.


Now that I’m a mystery writer, working at home, my situation is what many would consider ideal. It’s just me, working in the peace and quiet that most authors and would-be authors crave.


The problem is, too much peace and quiet can lead to feelings of isolation, burn out, and (dare I say it?) writers block.


Luckily for me, I stumbled into painting, which breaks up my week and, somewhat mysteriously, enhances the time I spend writing. Here’s how it came about: A number of years ago, I completed my third mystery and found it as unsaleable as my previous efforts. I couldn’t start a new book, knowing I’d have to face the nightmare of marketing it when it was done. So I gave up on fiction writing. After looking around for something to do, I took up art, starting with beginning drawing at a local art college.


I was just getting into oil painting when I decided to give my last novel another look. A long time had passed, and I figured I’d be objective enough to see its flaws and get over my disappointment. But the opposite happened. The book was surprisingly good, so good I felt it deserved another chance. I couldn’t face sending it to agents and publishers again. Instead, I decided to give self-publishing a try. I got quite a few good reviews as well as a few great ones. Then a miracle happened. Light Messages Publishing, an independent house in North Carolina, noticed my book and gave me a contract to reissue it under their imprint. This gave me a new lease on life as a real published author. I was so thrilled that I wrote a sequel to The Swap, The Bequest, in less than five months. My publisher took that one, too, and gave me a contract for a third book, now almost finished.


But I’ve never given up painting. I’ve found that the two activities complement each other. They are similar in that both involve puzzle solving. Writing a mystery, obviously, requires a great deal of hard thinking, planning, plotting and rewriting.


Painting is much less cerebral. A lot of it is done by instinct (after a good bit of initial training, I have to add). Once I’m absorbed in painting, time can pass without notice. When I copy a still-life setup, a model, or a photo onto my canvas, much of the work seems to come in through my eyes and out through my fingers without a great deal of thinking in between. During the process, it feels as if I’d emptying my mind of any thought but the image I’m rendering. The heavy-duty thinking and puzzle-solving comes in figuring out how to mix the right colors and amend the painting (much as one would rewrite a written draft) to make it into what I set out to create. I like to paint from old family photos, which are generally in black and white. That means I have to make up the colors. I often use the web for this, researching the colors and styles of clothing and perhaps furniture, even cars, from the decade when the photo was taken. This is much like the research I do when I write fiction.

For me, the biggest difference between writing and art is that writing is not collaborative; it has to be done alone. Even when I’ve co-authored an article or book, I and my cowriter have traded the manuscript back and forth to work on it individually. Sometimes we wrote alternate sections or chapters, then traded them for the final polish. Each of us basically worked alone.


On the other hand, painting can be a highly collaborative and social pastime. It that way, it’s a welcome change from sitting at my computer and writing. I paint at a small art school near my house. I’ve become friends with the school’s owner and teachers, as well as other students and people who drop by. Students critique each other’s work. (Generally, permission is asked and granted first.) This is empowering for both parties. When a painting turns out well, we cheer each other on and, when it doesn’t, we offer our best advice. Sometimes that means suggesting the painter take the work home and before giving it another try.


I paint twice a week and write four days a week. When I leave my manuscript for a day to paint, I come back refreshed, happy to sit down with my characters and give it another go. I often find I have fresh ideas and solutions to problems I’m struggling with. Next time I go back to the studio, I think, “This is so much fun; I’ve been away too long.”


An author’s view of Writers Police Academy 2017 by John Desjarlais

Hardly a day goes by when we do not hear news about a tragic confrontation between police and a member of the public. Either A) An officer deploys deadly force and an investigation ensues,  sometimes accompanied by street protests that turn violent with dramatic media coverage – or B) an armed suspect ambushes a cop during a traffic stop for a “routine” moving violation and kills him whereupon a pursuit follows and – see A).

Writers of crime fiction who have no background in law enforcement cannot depend on television news or entertainment programming in order to understand the officers’ perspective on such events. But at the annual Writers Police Academy, ordinary woman and men enter a cop’s world and experience the discipline and dread involved in such split-second decisions.

In four intensive days of realistic demonstrations, hands-on experiences and classroom presentations, writers step into the Kevlar vests, duty belts and lives of the men and women who ‘serve and protect.’ In (controlled) high-speed chases, mock traffic stops, live-fire gun ranges, shoot-don’t-shoot simulators, armed-suspect-in-building searches, blood splatter analysis and the like, ordinary people directly experience – well, in a small way — the demanding daily vigilance of patrol officers, ATF agents, Secret Service agents and other professionals who hold ‘the thin blue line.’

The primary aim of most writer-participants is to get the details right in their writing and avoid careless blunders (which, unhappily, abound in crime fiction). One makes up stuff, of course, but any police particulars must be credible. No quick turnarounds in DNA testing, thank you, no shooting of a gun out of the perp’s hand, and please, no cordite smell (the ingredient was dropped from bullet making after World War II).

But nearly every fellow-writer I spoke with said the deepest impression was the humanity of the officers. Sure, it was important to know how a Taser works, and how a cop stands and talks to an EDP (Emotionally Disturbed Person) who is wielding a knife in a public space. But more important was to listen to these men and women talk warmly about their families, hopefully about their communities, and frankly about their anxieties. Their daily ambition – besides doing the job right – is to survive and come home.

My next book’s protagonist is a small-town cop who has been in the background of my previous three novels. So I’ve already done some research on crime scene processing, evidence handling, handguns, interrogation and other procedural things. But for this story, I needed to know – no, I needed to feel:  what’s it like to BE a cop? To THINK like one? To leave the driveway every day and be ‘on the air’ (as they say) for a 12-hour shift not truly knowing if I’ll come home that night?

The objective of my story isn’t mainly to portray a police investigation accurately or even to solve the crime (though it will do both). It’s to make Detective Francis Gordon fully human, because that’s what every cop is. A real person. Well-trained, you bet (our ‘academy’ was only a taste of the rigor these people endure). But not just a ‘badge’ – a neighbor. A parishioner. A son. A Mom. An uncle. A library volunteer. The hyperbole of the news and the rapid-fire conflicts of the typical Fifty-minute cop drama make us forget that. Under that riot gear is a guy who just wants to go home that night and hug his kids.

So thanks to Lee Lofland and the staff of the WPA, primary sponsors Sisters in Crime, and the instructors of the Northeast Wisconsin Technical College criminal justice program (in Green Bay WI and the Oneida Reservation) for this chance to literally feel the weight of your responsibilities (the duty belt is about 10 pounds and those tactical vests are heavy and hot!).

BIO: A former producer with Wisconsin Public Radio, John Desjarlais teaches English at Kishwaukee College in northern Illinois. His first novel, The Throne of Tara (Crossway 1990, 2000), was a Christianity Today Readers Choice Award nominee, and his medieval thriller, Relics (Thomas Nelson 1993, 2009) was a Doubleday Book Club Selection. Bleeder, Viper, and Specter (Chesterton Press, 2009, 2011 and 2015 respectively) will soon be followed by a fourth entry in this mystery series. Blood of the Martyrs (2012), a short story collection, is available at Amazon Kindle Select. Two of the stories were Finalists in the Tom Howard Fiction Contest and all previously appeared in literary journals. A member of Mystery Writers of America, he is listed in Who’s Who in Entertainment and Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers.





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