Shell Shock, a Screenplay, “Hurled into the Sea” of Books

by PortiaLily Taylor

“Publishing a book is like stuffing a note into a bottle and hurling it into the sea. Some bottles drown, some come safe to land, where the notes are read and then possibly cherished, or else misinterpreted, or else understood all too well by those who hate the message. You never know who your readers might be.” – Margaret Atwood

Recently I followed Margaret Atwood’s simile and “hurled” my first self-published book into the sea of books available to purchase online. I don’t know whether it will “drown” among the thousands of other books for sale or “come safe to land” to be found by readers. As Atwood suggested, I don’t know who those readers might be and how they will receive my book and its message. Only time will tell.

My book, Shell Shock, a screenplay, is historical fiction with elements of mystery and romance set in 1920 Ireland. The protagonist Robert Ewing is a WWI veteran who suffers from shell shock – now referred to as PTSD. He returns to his native Ireland as a member of the “Black and Tans” organized to support the Royal Irish Constabulary in opposition to the ongoing war for Irish Independence. Robert’s story involves such matters as haunting flashbacks to WWI and its aftermath, violent clashes over issues of independence, and the impact of trauma on survivors of both war and abuse.

But my book is a screenplay, so hurling its bottle into the sea of available fiction may present a challenging read. First of all, the idea that a screenplay may be offered as any other form of literature – writing meant to be read — may be a new concept to many. In the past, screenplays were not considered as “literature” because they were not published simply to be read without connection to a produced film. However, that situation is changing. Many screenplays are published each year without their ever being made into a film. My last blog post dealt with that subject.

I hope readers who have never considered reading a screenplay in the same manner as reading a novel will do so. But some information may be needed before that task begins because a screenplay does differ from a novel. 

First of all, the format in which a screenplay is written may be new to many readers. For those who are not familiar with that format, please consider:

  • Scene headings indicate if the scene takes place indoors (INT.) or outdoors (EXT.). They also indicate where the scene is set. For example, it could be in the RESTAURANT KITCHEN or the TOWN CEMETERY. A notation as to the time of day is stated in the scene heading such as DAY or NIGHT. In Shell Shock, I decided to italicize the flashback scenes to distinguish them from those occurring in “real time.”
  • Action lines describe important movement/actions within scenes, as well as visual descriptions. For example, the following action line relates something about the look of the setting, the movement of the story’s main character, and an explosive sound. Shadows crawl across the walls as Jill walks slowly toward Jack. She points the gun toward him. BANG!
  • Characters are usually introduced with some description and with their names (or references/positions for minor characters) capitalized. For example, consider: MARY MERRY, a woman in her early twenties with a snake tattoo wrapping around her neck, runs into the woods.
  • Dialogue will be centered on the page, headed by the name of the character who’s speaking. There may be information in parentheses after the name. For example, the following may be included: (V.O.) for voice heard over what’s being seen such as when a narrator speaks and (O.S.) for “off screen” when you hear, but don’t see, the speaker. If dialogue goes into the next page, you will see (CONT’D). There may also be a parenthetic statement that provides more information about how the dialogue should be said such as (eerily) or (sarcastically).

So much more is involved in screenplay formatting, but I hope this information assists in the reading of screenplays with the same ease as reading a novel. Lots of additional materials are available to introduce this literary genre. I suggest reading the Master Class article about screenplay format found at

In addition to formatting, other distinctions exist between screenplays and novels. Rebecca Wei Hsieh describes several in her article “How to Read Screenplays” found in at She writes:

”Since the goal [of screenplay writing] is to mimic the experience of watching a movie, only elements visible or audible onscreen are written, and often in straightforward terms. Emotional details are kept to a minimum, and include only essential nuggets. The lack of detailed descriptions of characters’ internal monologues might be frustrating and take some time to get used to. But on the flipside, that’s part of the allure of reading screenplays—they’re open to interpretation by readers because of how pared down they are. Without the finished footage sitting in front of you, you’re free from choices made by actors and directors to fill in those emotional nuances.” 

Thus, a screenplay’s focus on the visible and audible, and not on extensive emotional details, allows readers to make their own decisions as to internal motivation and subtleties that authors of many novels provide to them. I believe many readers will enjoy being so engaged with the stories of the screenplays they read.

I hope you consider reading my book Shell Shock as an introduction into the world of  screenplays offered simply as fiction written as part of a new literary genre. Its story has been “hurled into the sea” of books – waiting for you to read!

Shell Shock, a screenplay, may be purchased in paperback through Click onto the following link to find that page on the Amazon website:

by PortiaLily Taylor

Photo by Snapwire on

3 thoughts on “Shell Shock, a Screenplay, “Hurled into the Sea” of Books”

  1. Chris, loved reading this blog. As a first effort, writing a screenplay as literature sounds quite challenging and extremely complicated. But then, that’s how you roll. So proud of you!


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