What's to Lose?

Still not sure whether you want to try scriptwriting? Straight from our Cameo Archive, Betsy Franco—yep, James' mom—shares her experience and asks, "What's to lose?"

I used to think of myself as an author of picture books, poetry collections, and YA novels. Then a friend in an acting class challenged me to write sketch comedy for a live performance, and I haven't been the same since. From that day on, I've taken every challenge I've been given to write in a new genre. What do I have to lose?

Absolutely nothing. In fact, my venture into sketch comedy helped me find humor in every book I wrote after that, and humor tends to enrich everything. When someone in Hollywood saw one of my sketches, he encouraged me to take a screenwriting class and to write a screenplay. Challenge taken...

I have a policy of writing in a genre and then taking the class, because that way, I can do everything you're not supposed to do without knowing I'm breaking the rules—I find a lot of creative ideas that way. I took my latest unsold novel, Naked, and wrote it into a screenplay. I'd envisioned the scenes in the novel very cinematically from the start, so it came easily. Also, I'd been reading screenplays for my acting class, so I had some idea of what to do. Books taught me the basics. Final Cut provided the format.

Then I signed up for a screenwriting class, and everything was turned on its head. Adam Tobin, the teacher, said my screenplay was obviously written by a fiction writer, among other things. It took him ten weeks to get me to see in images, to understand that what was happening was more important than the dialogue, to make sure something was going on in every scene, to get out of my character's heads and into action. He also gave me an invaluable suggestion: He said to think of ten ways to revise a scene that needed work. When I do this, it shoots me right into a creative mode, and I've used his suggestion on everything I've written.

Since then, I've sent the script to someone in Hollywood, and in the meantime, I've improved the novel. How? By using everything I learned while writing the screenplay, to heighten the action and the scenes in the novel. If I never sell the screenplay, I still have a novel that is vastly improved. For instance, a reviewer assumed that the protagonist was the male character in the screenplay. I saw the advantages of that, and now the protagonist in the novel is the young man instead of the young woman—I've always written with much less effort from a male point of view. Everyone who reads the latest draft of the novel says it's wildly more relatable.

So, there you have it. We'll see which I sell first—the novel or the screenplay. But, regardless, I've never lost anything from writing in a new genre. In fact, the world premiere of my play based on my novel Metamorphosis, Junior Year, just finished its run in Palo Alto. If you don't think I learned from writing my first play, working with a profoundly creative Polish avant-garde director and a brilliant tech director, and having my words acted out in front of me and an audience, you've got another thing comin'.  And my son James Franco is producing a documentary of the making of the play. So as I was saying... What have you got to lose by writing in a new genre? Or more accurately, what do you have to gain?


Betsy Franco has written over 80 books for children and young adults—picture books, poetry collections, and nonfiction. She also writes young adult novels and compiles anthologies of teenage writing from across the country and around the world. She particularly loves to show how exciting, sassy, and creative math can be, and how wise, honest, and insightful teenagers can be. Betsy lives in Palo Alto, California, with her husband Douglas. They have three sons, James, Thomas, and Dave—two actor/​writers and a sculptor/​illustrator.