Friday, September 13, 2013

It’s Not Just Words.

It’s Not Just Words.

Back in the day, almost as far back as when man was first learning to harness fire for his benefit, I used to write screenplays. I started my writing career with a stage play, then immediately switched to writing movies (yes, the play was that terrible). I wrote movies for many years. Had some very small successes, many huge failures, but I loved the heck out of it.

Now I write books. My debut novel, Untold Damage, came out on April 8th of this year. Next April will see the second Mark Mallen novel, Critical Damage.  A lot of people liked my debut novel, and that is super-duper awesome as it took me about ten years to learn my craft, get an agent, and then get a publishing deal. One thing that everyone who reads the book agrees on, outside of liking Mallen (which bodes well for a series, right?), is that the book is very visual. And that’s where we come to the point of this post: writing with a visual style.

And just how do you do that, you ask?

You write in all forms.

Screenplays. Plays. Even poetry can teach you something. Screenplays are all about movement and action, with as little dialog as possible. Plays are the opposite, they’re mostly dialog, BUT, you also have to have a sense of where you want the actors, what you want them to do as they’re talking. That’s great practice for setting your scenes and writing about things as simple as a character moving from one room to the next. Poetry can teach you how to find the right metaphors, find the BEST possible word to draw your word picture.

You can find screenplays all over the Internet. It’s not a hard form to get the hang of, but it’s a very difficult form to master. Very few ever do. Obviously you can also find plays everywhere on the ‘net. Through writing screenplays, I learned not only how to write in a visual manner, but also how to tell a story that contains a strong forward movement and pacing. Through writing the one stage play that I mentioned earlier I learned SO MUCH regarding what good dialog is, and isn’t. (mostly isn’t). Through writing poetry, I learned how to better use metaphors to make the scene in my head match the scene I was writing.

I’m being very serious here, if not a bit convoluted, hahaha. Bottom line: If you want to be the best, most visual writer you can be, open yourself up to writing in different forms. Heck, even spend some time writing Haiku. Writing a Haiku REALLY shows the power of just the right word.

It’s this looking at words, sentences, and the story form in entirely new ways that will take you far. 

Bay Area resident Robert K. Lewis has been a painter, printmaker, and a produced screenwriter. He is a contributor to Macmillan's crime fiction fansite, Criminal Element. Lewis is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, the International Thriller Writers, and the Crime Writers Association. Untold Damage is his first novel. Visit him online at and at


  1. Great advice, Robert. Dialogue can be especially hard to nail. I can see how writing a screenplay or play would really help with that.

  2. Thanks, guys. I really feel strongly that this stuff really helps.