Thursday, September 17, 2015


I've got over forty years in film and TV mostly in front of the camera...I also have a degree in drama...Did write and direct one feature film, but like most actors...I wrote screen and teleplays. Always thinking I can write something better than some of the crap that was floating around.
     It is the silence between the words that makes it a story.

 After basically retiring from on-screen work...still do a lot of VO, but that's another story. Well, four years ago, a buddy of mine from the Marine Corps called and asked if I could adapt his novel to a screenplay. I said sure, John, send it down. He sent me a 974 page novel...over 350,000 words. Well, long story short, my partner, Buck Stienke (he executive produced the film I wrote and directed, "Rockabilly Baby") and I sat down and in twelve weeks, we adapted John's 350,000 word novel to a 125 page screenplay (that's about 25,000 words) that is currently making the round at Disney.

Buck and I looked at each other when we finished and said, "Hell, we can write a novel." We had written some twenty-five screen and teleplays over that last three or four years. Three months later, we finished our first novel, (110,000 words) "Black Eagle Force: Eye of the Storm"—it was published Feb. 14, 2012. We have just published novel # thirteen, "Black Eagle Force: ISIS", and are over half way finished with # 14 "BASS and the LADY". 

Our second novel was an adaptation of a western screenplay I wrote back in '86 entitled "The Tumbleweed Wagon". It was a full length script, 122 pages. The finished novel was over 75,000 words. And yes, we did have to add some scenes, but mostly when I write, I not only see a movie, but I also hear (the dialogue), feel, taste and smell the scene...I just write it down. The actual dialogue was almost identical to the screenplay, but the actor in me always comes out in the action lines. I write exactly what the camera would film. I like to create a visual...I call it writing word pictures. Oh, that novel, "THE NATIONS" was one of three finalists for the Elmer Kelton Award and it just won the Laramie Award for the best Classic Western - 2014.

The biggest problem I had in transitioning from screen/Teleplay writing to novel writing, was in my tenses. I was so used to writing in present tense for screen/Teleplay, I really had to watch that I maintained past tense when writing my novels…except for dialogue, of course. Other than that, I thought the transition was quite easy, especially in writing dialogue. Now, to be honest, I think the ease of writing dialogue came from my acting experience or skills and not from my script writing background. In forty years, I never did a movie or TV show that I didn't change my dialogue from what was in the script...with the director's approval, by the way.
The first movie I ever did was called "Split Image", directed by Ted Kotcheff. Starred James Woods, Brian Dennehy, Karen Allen...and me. One scene, Ted thought was real flat. My character didn't have any dialogue in that particular scene, he just stood there. (I was Woods sidekick) Kotcheff asked me, "Kenny, what would your character say in this scene?" I replied, "Hell, I don't know, Ted, let's run the God damned camera and find out." We did, I improved some lines, Woods improved back, Ted said, "Cut, print, star that." Farmer, you don't get writing set up." On the way over to the next scene, Ted walked beside me and said, "Kenny anytime you think your character needs to say something, go have carte blanche. He gave me the same freedom in "Uncommon Valor." I actually made Gene Hackman break character in a scene we did with an ad-lib.

A good story comes from the heart…not the head.

My point is, as an actor, I relied on my instincts in playing the character to fix or correct the dialogue. As an author, I just play each of the characters in the story and create their dialogue as the story unfolds. I listen to them talk and write it down. That ability to play each character also holds me in good stead when I do the audio versions.
One of the things we do is to create a back story for each character. You can't know how they talk unless you know/create their personality, level of education, their job...what they do...their background, history, where they're from and so on. 
A little trick I use is as the author/creator (we get to play God), we can pick their birthday. Now, I don't really care if you buy into Astrology or not…it really doesn't matter. But, I found a book I used as an actor and now also use it as an author that can be an enormous help in creating your character's traits. "THE LITTLE GIANT ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE ZODIAC", - ISBN 0-8069-9529-7. You pick the birthdate, go to that sign and there you'll find listed their Positive Characteristics and their Negative Characteristics…Handy as handles on a jug.

The Writer is the brush; Emotions are the Colors; the Character is the Canvas; the Palette…your Imagination.
Each character must have their own voice. As an actor and acting coach, I tell my students when they're working on characterizations, to OBSERVE the mall, church, grocery store. Listen to how they talk, move, act. What makes them unique/interesting? Readers are always drawn to unique/interesting characters...As a writer, that's our job...create interesting characters.
Great writers don't just follow a formula or some manual...they create wonderful characters and let them tell the story.


  1. Fascinating post, Ken. Thank you for the insight into your world behind the camera and your writing transition from screenwriter to novelist.

    And thank you for the tip about the Zodiac. What a great idea for working out characteristics and tagging characters. I have ordered a copy!

    1. Buck ordered one for .99 on Amazon. I used to require my acting students to have a copy along with my book, Acting is Storytelling. They had to write out their backstories and present the to me for characters they would do in class.

  2. Thanks Ken - great post! You've got some interesting experience to share.

    I've always used the astrological info as well. As you say, it gives you a quick and dirty handle on a character's personality and a place to start developing. I also like those "Love Sign" books that tell you how people of different signs will get along - great for figuring out that loyal sidekick or romantic interest.