To say that book adaptations are popular would be an understatement. Stephen King received no fewer than four in 2017 alone, and has the same set for this year (although only PET SEMATARY has so far seen a release). But what’s the best way to write an adaptation?
There are a few key things if you want to write an adaptation. The first is the big difference in length between a book and a screenplay! The average novel is approximately 90,000 words (with something like WAR AND PEACE getting up over 580,000!), but the average screenplay is only about 15,000.
That means a lot of words need to get cut! A lot of things won’t make it from the book into your screenplay, so don’t try to include everything. But how do you know what to leave in and what to take out?
Here are our tips…
- Identify the central drama and themes, and use them as a signpost. If there’s a scene, subplot, or character that doesn’t add to the central drama, you don’t need it!
- Think about the roles that the different characters serve: what their purpose is in the story. Can any of those characters be combined into one? A screenplay can easily feel cluttered with characters who aren’t needed, so try rolling them into one.
- Look for the key points in the story, like the inciting incident and the turning points between the acts. These moments are absolutely vital; you should look to map them directly into your script and work from there.
- Don’t try to copy and paste the dialogue – it (probably) won’t work! The dialogue in a novel is meant to be read in our heads, but the dialogue in a screenplay is designed to be spoken out loud. That means it will usually need to be rewritten.
- Film is a visual medium – use that to your advantage! Where a novel may need many pages of description or inner monologues to convey a concept or thought, a script can do the same thing with a quick visual clue. Your audience should be able to see what is happening, so they don’t need it explained to them!
There are plenty of other things to think about if you want to write an adaptation, but we’d suggest this is where you start. Novels and screenplays are very different mediums – and that is a fact that shouldn’t be forgotten!
One other thing before you start writing: make sure you pick your project carefully. Some novels rely very heavily on interior thought and description to tell their stories, and won’t translate well to film which (as mentioned above!) is primarily visual.
And above all else, make sure you love the book you’re turning into a script! There’s nothing worse than getting halfway through a project before starting to regret it.
Already finished your script, adaptation or otherwise? Think you’ve got what it takes to impress us? The WriteMovies Fall 2019 Screenwriting Competition is now open for submissions – click here to find out more and enter today!