5 Tips from the Pros for Adapting Books into Film Scripts

Cover image via

Interested in adapting books into screenplays? Follow these professional tips to create practical adaptations for the big screen.

Cover persona from Trumbo ( via Bleecker Street ) .
Writing a script can be hard work. It takes a lot to put pen to newspaper ( or even equitable open Final Draft ) and build a floor from start, develop a narrative, define characters and conflicts, and tie it all together with a nice thematic and cinematic bow .
It would make sense for screenwriters and filmmakers to gravitate towards stories that are already try on and truthful and popular with audiences — as is the case with books. From canonic classics to modern bestsellers, books make capital fodder for screenplay adaptations.

That is, until, you dive into one yourself. Adapting books is harder than it looks, and it can be one of the most difficult and thwart tasks for filmmakers and writers alike. But, fear not, here are five pieces of adapting advice from the pros who have been there and successfully done just that .

1. Find the Narrative Arcs

5 Tips from the Pros for Adapting Books into Film Scripts — Life of Pi
double from Life of Pi ( via twentieth Century Fox ) .

I ’ ve written screenplays and teleplays adapting novels, and it is true hard to distill the kernel of a report from a global in which it exists as words and impressions guiding the arrant resource of the audience, and a ocular metier that is defined by what you see and hear a well as what you don ’ deoxythymidine monophosphate attend or hear. You have to be able to find the narrative and the bow, and lift them out of the book in one piece through interpretation into precise ocular and audio descriptions .

This first firearm of advice, which comes from master screenwriter and film critic for Forbes Mark Hughes ( via the Huffington Post ), jumps into the southern cross of the process for adapting long-form novels into film- and television-ready scripts. At the end of the day, the narrative discharge is the most crucial ( and frequently most memorable ) depart of a ledger. It stands to reason that when working a reserve into a script, this should be your first and primary focus for beginning an adaptation .

2. Resist the Urge of Voice Over

5 Tips from the Pros for Adapting Books into Film Scripts — Big Fish
image from big fish ( via Sony Pictures ) .

I think one reason that many adaptations rely on voice-over is that the filmmakers never found a way to externalize the effect of the novel they were adapting. alternatively of making a movie that could stand on its own, they created the cinematic equivalent of a book-on-tape. To me, these movies constantly ‘ feel ’ written, a huge limitation .

To many screenwriters who work in adaptions, the tempt of using an “ author ’ s voice-over ” makes sense. But, as John August points out ( who surely knows a thing or two about adaptation writing with credits which include Big Fish, Charlie ’ s Angels, and Charlie and Chocolate Factory — to name a few ), it ’ s a crutch that can actually negate a oeuvre ’ s authenticity and kernel by creating that “ book-on-tape ” spirit, which is not ideal for films.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Cut

5 Tips from the Pros for Adapting Books into Film Scripts — Fellowship of the Ring
trope from The Fellowship of the Ring ( via Warner Bros ) .

Cutting happens in layers. First identify the subject and the supporter ’ mho out motivation. If the subplots don ’ deoxythymidine monophosphate support them, cut them, along with any minor characters that are distracting. then layer the out motivation with the hero ’ s inner motivation. Again, if a plot sharpen has nothing to do with either, cut it .

In an article on her web site Script Mag, Jeanne Veillette Bowerman breaks down her procedure of adapting the New York Times Best Seller and Pulitzer Prize-winning book Slavery by Another name into a feature film. In particular, she outlines the brutal mentality needed to cut a book down judiciously as “ storylines that support a 400-page book can not possibly fit into 110 pages of script ” — and to “ get your chain saw ready to start pruning. ”

4. Avoid Long Thinking

5 Tips from the Pros for Adapting Books into Film Scripts — The Great Gatsby
effigy from The Great Gatsby ( via Warner Bros ) .

Some tribes of american Indians had a word to describe those of their brethren who sat around thinking deep thoughts. literally the give voice translated to The Disease of Long-Thinking. Quite frequently, run characters in novels suffer from this disease. When all-important plot information is presented only in a character ’ south thought or in the quality ’ s internal global, one solution is to give this character a sounding board, another character, to which his thoughts can be voiced aloud. Either adapt an existing fictional character from the fresh or create a fresh one .

Challenges to screenwriters adapting books will continuously present themselves throughout the process. As we learn from Lynne Pembroke and Jim Kalergis from coverscript.com, you can cut novel characters ’ leaning to “ long-think ” inner problems and thoughts — or better attribute them to another character .

5. Show, Don’t Tell

5 Tips from the Pros for Adapting Books into Film Scripts — The Giver
double from The Giver ( via The Weinstein Company ).

Screenplays are about showing everything on the sleeve. There is some very minor tattle ( in the form of montages ), but ‘ show, preceptor ’ thyroxine order ’ is a must in this strictly ocular medium. Yet novel let for far more tattle than showing. This is naturally unmanageable for screenwriters, because the script development march rejects hanker exposition and non-visual storytelling. Learning how to utilize lengthier exposition requires a whole new mentality .

possibly the best musical composition of advice for screenwriters for adaptions or originals is in this article by accomplished screenwriter Jeff Lyons on the importance of “ showing, not telling ” an audience what is happening. As the differences between watching a film and reading a ledger are quite obvious, it can placid be catchy to remember that ocular information can both be more concise and entertain at the same meter .
For more script and screenwriting resources, check out some of the links below .

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