Working on a screenplay adaptation from a novel can often be a challenging process. It is especially challenging if you are a first time author diving in without a full understanding of what’s involved.
With so many novels and novelists finding best-selling success on the Amazon market, however, the development of a project for the big screen (or the small screen of Hulu, Netflix, etc…) has become natural.
To say that little has been written about screenplay adaptation is not true. Professional screenwriters have their choice of an array of books, articles and video courses about the craft. Adaptation is a rare topic for novelists, however, because the scope of works can seem beyond reason.
Just writing a novel is hard enough. Now you have to adapt it?
I believe that kind of thinking limits your success. As an independent author, you can adapt your fiction property into a commercially viable spec screenplay or teleplay. A screenplay adaptation of your book allows you take control of your story’s movie and/or television rights.
This blog is designed to help you understand a few key points before you take on the process of adapting your work of fiction for the screen.
Adaptation Versus Translation
The term used in the screenwriting business is adaptation for a reason. Most authors incorrectly think of the process more as a translation.
First, let’s define each term.
Translation is the process of finding the same word (or term) in a different language or way of speaking. For example, I recently learned that “buhos” translates to “owls” in Spanish.
Between English and Spanish, those two words are interchangeable. They mean exactly the same thing.
Adaptation is more complicated. It is a more three-dimensional process, requiring a deeper transformation. Using the previous example of buhos/owls, it would be akin to creating an entirely new word.
Imagine there was no word in Spanish for owl. You would have to come up with one if you wanted to understand what it was.
The same is true for adapting a novel to a screenplay. There is no such thing as an exact match between them, so something new needs to be created.
What Is A Screenplay?
A screenplay is a visual blueprint for your story.
The best written scripts in Hollywood are stripped down versions of the movie that is eventually performed, shot, musically scored and edited.
If you take that another step back, the first screenplay draft is a bare bones version of the story that your novel is based on.
Most of the key differences between a novel and a screenplay come down to visual versus narrative aspects and what is possible in them. While a novel is broadly narrative, involving active scenes and moments of both an interior and exterior nature, a screenplay is not. A screenplay is written as an almost purely visual depiction of the story in a novel.
Let me boil that down further: everything that happens in a screenplay, happens on the screen before your eyes.
In a novel, a character can reflect thoughtfully for as long as the writer so desires. They can sit on a train and watch the rugged landscape stream past as they travel backwards and forward in time. They can reveal their deepest inner workings and sources of trauma, affections and excitement.
In a novel, the writer can do whatever they want.
In a screenplay adaptation, the screenwriter has to answer one key question before any other: what do those thoughtfully reflective scenes look like? A character that stares longingly out a train window for 90 pages (which is 90 minutes in movie time) is never going to make the cut.
If it’s not visually compelling while also directly linked to the main narrative, it’s not going to be very effective.
Who Is A Screenplay’s Audience?
Your novel was written to attract readers. When a fiction author sits down to write a book, they envision a target readership.
Knowing who those readers are can be relatively simple. Many genres, such as romance, young adult fantasy and military science fiction, to name a few, come with that readership already baked in.
On the other hand, screenplays are written to attract talent. They are meant almost solely to be passed on from reader to reader at a fairly rapid pace as they move their way up the chain.
Here is a scenario for how that might work.
An assistant reads the screenplay and passes it to their boss, an agent; that agent snaps it off their desk and, from the first page, loves it, so they ship it off to his/her actor; that actor sends it to a producer friend because they want to make (and star in) the movie.
A screenplay is the story’s calling card. It is meant to entice a line of producers (who have money) and directors (who put people in the seats with their captivating visual styles) and actors (whose faces sell tickets).
What Is That Audience Looking For?
For the most part, your first reader is looking for a solid story. Give me something the people will want, that’s what they say.
Or more like it, give me something I can give to my boss.
The movie business is social like almost any other. People are always making new connections. They are, for the sake of their careers, trying to move up into more fruitful relationships.
Screenplays are avenues for creating those relationships.
Once those relationships form around your screenplay, meaning your novel’s story has come through, they will look deeper. They ask questions.
How much will this screenplay cost to produce? Where will it play? Who is going to play the lead?
All of that leads to money. A spec script, which is what your screenplay adaptation will be once it is on the market, is viewed in terms of money. How much will it cost versus how much it might make.
A screenplay boils down to a business plan. The best way for you to get in on the ground floor of your novel’s expanding profile is to get busy working on a screenplay adaptation, today.
Do you have tips for Screenplay Adaptation that you would like to share? If so, leave them in the comments.
I would love to hear more…
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While this book doesn’t necessarily cover screenplay adaptation as this blog does, it does serve as a primer for a professional mentality with your writing.
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