As if writing a screenplay wasn’t hard enough, writing a screenplay based on a novel can be even harder. While you have the benefit of knowing the basic storyline and having, in most cases, a well-honed leading character, in other ways writing a great screenplay adaptation of a book comes with a whole host of other things to consider. Before you start, ask yourself whether adapting that book into a movie or tv show is a smart move.
Is It Visual?
Many screenwriters go wrong here, erroneously committing themselves to telling a story that doesn’t translate well into a visual medium. If the novel takes place inside of someone’s head and it’s nothing but stream of conciousness how are you going to translate that into something watchable? If the book you’re adapting is told from a first person perspective, will your adaptation stay close to the protagonist and show his or her experiences as close to their point of view as possible or will you choose to enlarge the view and show what’s happening in the world around them?
How are you going to use the visual medium of film or television to mold the story and make it as interesting and engaging as possible? How are you going to show what’s going on in your character’s head? Does the structure of the story need to be reorganized to entice the viewer? Or, do you need to make sense of a non-linear storyline? Do the characters need to be altered, or perhaps conflated?
Are You Passionate About It?
When starting this processes, especially after you’ve broken into the screenwriting world, it’s important to know if the book in question is easily adaptable or even appropriately adaptable. It’s also exceedingly appropriate if you’re personally excited about the work in question. Some good questions to ask yourself before delving in are: Do you really connect with the material? Do you really understand it? What about the project makes you want to see it as a movie or a television show? What about your connection to the book makes you the ideal person to adapt it into sound and moving pictures?
What’s the Budget?
Words are cheap. Novel writers don’t have to pay a cent more whether they’re creating a world set in the backwoods of Appalachia or the 3rd planet off of the moon Zygor in an imagined galaxy far away. Novel writers are concerned with telling the best story they can while the screenplay writers who adapt their work must keep one foot grounded in the reality of having a budget to consider. Based on knowing whether a project is shoestring, indie, modest, or big budget enables the writer who adapts the work to consider the number of locations or “stages” upon which the action will be played out. If the project is one you’re funding on your own, after you’ve completed the first draft of the screenplay, read through it once with your producer’s hat on to find opportunities to scale back the number of locations, shooting days, and scenes if necessary.
What’s Your Ultimate Goal?
If you’re looking at launching your career as a screenwriter who specializes in adaptations, getting clearance then marketing your original screenplay is a potential path for you to follow. If you want to make that adaptation yourself, you still need clearance and the writer may want to be more involved with your project, perhaps having final word on the script or screenplay so do your research to make sure your agreement is rock solid for both parties.
If you really connect with a book and translating it into a film seems doable, stay committed to the project and see that screenplay through to its completion as an engaging piece of art.
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