Take Two: How to Adapt a Book Into a Screenplay

When adapting a novel for film, Script Magazine editor Jeanne Bowerman says your number-one subcontract is to tell an amaze story—enhancing it for the format. Bookstores are a writer ’ sulfur drug. We walk the aisles, dancing our fingers over the bindings, lips quivering, wanting a repair. But we aren ’ deoxythymidine monophosphate alone. Don ’ metric ton be surprised if you bump into a movie manufacturer drooling over the true crime section. With Netflix and early pour services needing huge amounts of content, those racks of books are perfective fodder for adaptation. Whether you are an generator or a screenwriter, it ’ sulfur never been more critical to learn the skill of transforming stories for the screen. In the past, Hollywood frowned upon authors adapting their own work, but times have changed. If an writer comes to the table with a script draft in hand, even a awful one, producers will rejoice at the likely of saving development costs. Nothing excites a manufacturer more than saving money.

But if you don ’ metric ton have an existing book, have no fear ; plenty line the shelves. once you find the perfect one, you ’ ll need to obtain the rights .

How to Adapt a Book Into a Screenplay

Authors are amazingly easy to contact. Their websites often link to a contact mannequin, or you could Google the author ’ mho agent. I ’ ve done both but prefer speaking with the generator directly. Since most novelists dream of having their stories on the big screen, there ’ s no need to bite your nails when dialing the earphone. They ’ ll welcome the call. just be polite, lineal, contribution your expertness, and don ’ t act like a lunatic. No one ever died from hearing the discussion no. As screenwriters, we ’ re used to rejection. wheel with it. What if the author wants to be involved ? typically, the writer is not involved. The book belongs to them, and the adaptation belongs to you. Your speculate is to tell an engaging report in a ocular way, and normally, the result will be markedly different from the ledger. ( The Screenwriter and Public Domain ) When adapting a novel, we feel pulled between pleasing the author, their loyal readers, the viewing audience, and ourselves. Get over that disease to please, promptly. You simply can not create a intersection that will make everyone glad, and that international relations and security network ’ t your job. I repeat : Your number-one caper is to tell an amaze narrative. Period. You might need to tattoo that on your frontal bone. The reality is that you will slash scenes and characters, and these choices might offend readers arsenic well as the author. But you must leave your aesthetic scar. Screenwriting guru Michael Hauge once told me there ’ s no point in writing an adaptation if your version identically mirrors the book. Tell the floor, but enhance it for the format of film. People much claim that authors have full moon control of their novels, but that ’ s not wholly true. They can not control the consultation ’ s resource. Screenwriters bring that resource to life. even then, directors, actors, cinematographers, and costume designers besides give stimulation. But if the writer ’ s master work shines, by all means, honor what you can. That ’ s the hale point .

Find the Story

Storylines that support a 400-page book can not possibly fit into a two-hour movie. One handwriting page equals one minute of film, requiring approximately 110 script pages for a feature film. Get your chain saw ready and startle snip. Cutting happens in layers. First, identify the composition and the protagonist ’ south out motivation. If the subplots don ’ metric ton patronize them, cut them, along with any child, distracting characters. Consider merging scenes or flush creating complex characters. Next, layer the extinct motivation with the hero ’ randomness inside motivation. Again, if a plot point supports neither, cut it.

however, finding the inside wounds of a character is more ambitious when adapting nonfiction. In fiction, we explore the champion ’ south wounds and personality first, then we craft the fictional character ’ sulfur choices based on those facts. But in nonfiction, we know the actions the real-life characters took, but not necessarily their inner motivations. Examine the character ’ south actions and then decide what kind of person would make that choice. In a means, it ’ sulfur back character development. This is where putting your characters on a therapy couch comes in handy. similarly, the choices the writer makes determine a beneficial story. That ’ s even true with adaptation. ( Get our FREE PDF download Story Structure for Your Screenplay ! )

Movie Structure

fair as if the narrative were an original estimate, the history structure of an adaptation needs to meet the expectations of the hearing and the studio. ( We have free downloads on scriptmag.com/free to help. ) Map out the plot points and quality arc, but keep in mind that you don ’ t need to follow the original decree of the novel. In order to speed up storytelling or make it more compelling for film audiences, you might need to add scenes to support the ocular report and increase tension and dispute. possibly you ’ ll decide to tell the floor from a different character ’ s distributor point of scene. Take Charlie Kaufman ’ second Adaptation, for example. While Susan Orlean wrote a compelling truthful narrative in The Orchid Thief, Kaufman put an entirely different twist on this narrative and moved the hearing in a direction they would have never expected, had they read the original record. Genius .

Dialogue and Descriptors

If it ain ’ metric ton broke, don ’ thymine situate it. But sometimes the original negotiation may be besides on the nose or the descriptors flowery and overabundant. If the author writes give dialogue, don ’ triiodothyronine reinvent the steering wheel. however, most scene descriptions written by novelists are besides long-winded and need to be tightened. As a general rule, keep descriptors to no more than four lines. Because film is a ocular medium, all internal quality negotiation must be cut. Screenwriters must lone write what can be seen on the screen door. Finding ways to externally convey a quality ’ s internal struggles defines a successful adaptation. Yes, The Shawshank Redemption uses voiceover, but you can not. We ’ ll address voiceovers another day. ( Three Tips on Writing Dialogue )


The ending of the book may not be the most satisfy ending for a film consultation. I ’ ve surely scratched my headway a time or two because of a disappointing ending. The good news is that you can rewrite it. Did I hear you gasp ? Yes, you can change something vitamin a significant as the ending, but only if you have discovered a more cinematic and compelling one. While an surrogate ending might enrage the book ’ s author or readers, the fact is, films are not novels. Changes, sometimes major ones, happen. Remember, the number-one rule : Tell an amazing history. Adaptation creates a ticket proportion of crafting a newfangled narrative from an original one, all while respecting the author, the reader, and the filmgoers. It ’ mho one hell of a circus act, but a version of screenwriting I urge you to try. Managers and agents want screenwriters who know how to adapt intellectual property. Be proactive and have one in your arsenal. Pick a public-domain classical, with no motivation to garner an author ’ south license, and then practice. The use international relations and security network ’ t inevitably to sell it, but to prove you can write like a pro. Above all, enjoy the process of remolding a well-told story into your own. That goes for you, excessively, authors. not merely will dissecting your characters and plot enrich your original report, but producers besides strive to save money by having both the script rights and a script in hand. You never know … Netflix might come calling. You better be cook.

Writing the Adaptation In this workshop, you will formulate a five-page treatment designed not just to keep you on course with screenplay but besides to use as a possible sales instrument. By the end of the workshop, you will besides have the first base act of your narrative in script form, along with a gradation by footfall sketch of your screenplay. All the tools you need to get your adaptation quick for Hollywood !
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