Adapting a novel into a screenplay is something a lot of writers are interested in because all writers dream of having their book turned into a movie. Although writing novels and screenplays involve two completely different styles of writing, that doesn’t mean it is impossible to learn how to do it. In fact, if you’re interested in turning your book into a screenplay, you can take the following steps to make that happen.
Getting Started Isn’t Difficult
The task of turning a book into a screenplay is much easier if you take the process one step at a time. As with many other aspects of life, there is a bit of planning and preparation involved. You can’t just dive in and start writing a screenplay! However, here are some things you can do to get started:
1. Start reading books about screenwriting. Writing screenplays is a specialized form of writing, and you’ll need to know as much as possible about the process before you get started. These books teach you about character development, plots, dialogue, and everything else that makes screenwriting so unique. It is always a good idea to learn as much as you can before you begin writing your screenplay.
2. Read actual screenplays. The flow and details in the average screenplay are very different than those of a novel. Try to read two screenplays a week, and you’ll quickly start to get a “feel” for what makes screenplays different. There are even websites that allow you to download screenplays for free, so it won’t cost you any money to do this.
3. Learn more about movies themselves. Regardless of the genre, there are recurring plots and points that you’ll notice in every movie that is made. You can start by writing an outline of each scene in a certain movie. Once you do this for several movies, you’ll have a better understanding of the basic “beat” that comes with each movie.
4. Outline your novel. Take your novel and turn it into an outline, with a scene-by-scene description that will act as the basis of your screenplay. Imagine you’re watching the story on a screen so that you don’t forget anything. It is also a great way to bring your characters to life, which is an important step in the screenwriting process.
5. Think about the core conflict in your novel. If you turn your book into a movie, what is the one thing that will make people pay money to see it? Ask yourself certain questions, such as: Who is the protagonist? What is at stake if the protagonist doesn’t reach their goal? What is the main goal or aim of the protagonist? In other words, describe and refine the core conflict of your novel.
6. Put the final touches on your outline. When adapting a novel into a screenplay, the outline is going to be important. Remember that screenwriting is about cutting out unnecessary storylines and getting to the “meat” of the story as quickly as possible. In other words, remember to always focus on the most important characters and storylines.
7. Finally, start writing your screenplay. You can purchase some screenwriting software to make the task a little easier if you like. Always remember that a good screenplay is about brevity. Focus on three main things on every page you write – dialogue, description, and technical formatting, which includes things such as scene headings.
Some of the Basics That Count
Of course, before you get to this point, you should’ve already decided if your book would make a good movie, and why. All writers think their book would look great on the big screen, but that doesn’t mean this is a realistic viewpoint. If you’re wondering if your book would truly make a great movie, consider the following aspects:
8. Decide if you think your book would have a worldwide appeal if it were made into a movie. Would only certain people wish to go and see it, or would it appeal to everyone?
9. Determine if your book would be a good one-time-only movie or a series. It can be either one, of course, but it’s best if you determine this before you start writing your screenplay.
10. If your book is about something that really happened, you’ll likely need an entertainment lawyer to assist you. You may have to acquire something known as “life rights,” because these types of movies and books can get a little tricky.
11. Look for certain aspects to determine if your book would make a good movie. These include characters with unique problems, an unusual setting, a historical event, or a twist at the end.
12. Determine if your book is big enough to adapt into a screenplay. You’ll have to do a lot of revising and cutting while screenwriting, so your book has to be big enough to narrow it down to a reasonably sized screenplay in the end.
13. Decide if your book has a specific “brand” – think Marvel Comics – and whether you’ll need to develop a brand for yourself. It could be something such as “spicy female-led thrillers,” or anything else you’d like to specialize in.
14. Determine if there will be any legal problems with bringing the story to life. Even if the story is 100% fiction and you wrote it yourself, it is best to check with a lawyer before writing your screenplay.
15. Take a look at your choices for “framing” the story. Do you want to start off with the end of the book and then tell the rest of the story in flashbacks? There are different ways to frame your story, and they make the adaptation much stronger.
16. Consider whether the book will make a good movie in the first place. Is the story really good enough to be portrayed on film?
17. Determine if your book has the right structure to turn it into a play. Even though the book has a lot of information in it, you’ll only use part of it when writing a screenplay. Make sure the book has enough structure to make that happen.
The Professionals Offer Many More Important Tips
Of course, as with other types of writing, learning screenwriting from experts in the screenwriting process is the smartest thing you can do. Screenwriting is different than any other form of writing, so when adapting a novel into a screenplay, some professional tips include the following:
18. Show the audience what is happening, don’t tell them. You can go into more detail about the characters in a book, but a movie requires more visual information to be successful. Get the point across by showing the audience what is happening in each scene.
19. Don’t be hesitant to make huge cuts. If your book is 400 pages long, the only way you’re going to end up with a 100-page script is if you cut out certain characters and scenes. Stick with the most important parts of the story and just forget about the rest.
20. Determine what the most important part of the book is – that is, the narrative arc. Every book has one, and you have to center the entire screenplay around that arc or storyline.
21. Beware of characters with a long thought process. You can’t show what someone is thinking in a movie, so if that thinking is important to the script, make sure you give another character that voice or allow the original character to think “aloud” in that particular scene.
22. Try not to do a “voice over” for your film. This can be a crutch, and it indicates to some viewers that you aren’t able to write well enough to let the scenes do the talking for you.
Some Familiar Concerns When Turning a Book Into a Screenplay
Of course, there are also a lot of practical, hands-on tips that get to the gist of writing a screenplay that is based on a book. After all, this is a very unique and detailed writing style, and if you’re looking for a few more tips, here they are:
23. The ideal screenplay is 100 to 120 pages long or less, so again, you’ll have to feel comfortable cutting scenes and characters from your book. Keep in mind that on average, one page of a screenplay translates into one minute of film time.
24. Only include scenes that can be visualized on the screen when writing your screenplay. Even a character’s internal struggles must somehow be laid out in visual form.
25. Don’t be hesitant to add scenes or even characters to the story. When you’re adapting a novel into a screenplay, sometimes it enhances the story to add minor characters or even sub-plots to make things more interesting.
26. Don’t be too verbose. When writing descriptors, a general rule of thumb is to make it no more than four lines long. Anything longer than that can complicate the story.
27. Consider the possibility of changing the ending of the story. Books sometimes have less-than-interesting endings, so change the ending of the story whenever you feel it is necessary.
The Language and Grammar of Screenplays
Much to no one’s surprise, grammar and language in screenplays is unlike grammar and language contained in a novel. If you try to be too “formal” when writing your screenplay, dialogue in particular can sound unrealistic and stiff. Remember that people, when conversing with one another, don’t always speak in complete sentences. They don’t always use proper grammar, and they even interrupt others periodically.
If you’re curious what this means, pay attention to some of your conversations with other people, and you’ll have a better understanding of this concept. In the meantime, here are some additional tips that will make writing a screenplay a lot simpler:
28. Use foretelling and foreshadowing to increase the tension and interest. This is when a screenwriter lets the audience know what is about to happen. Foreshadowing is symbolic and foretelling is obvious to the viewer, but they both have the same effect.
29. Seek constructive feedback from others. Your screenplay might make perfect sense to you, but others may notice inconsistencies or things that just don’t make sense. If you’ve missed anything at all, other people will let you know.
30. Make sure the screenplay is formatted correctly. There are certain rules that need to be applied when correctly formatting the play, and there are also software packages that can help. Just like editing your book, formatting your screenplay is crucial.
31. Re-edit and revise. Just like writing your book, you’ll need to revise your screenplay until it is perfect. This includes rewriting scenes, upgrading the quality of your dialogues, and deleting any lines or scenes that aren’t absolutely necessary to the screenplay.
32. Become “one” with your screenplay. Read it and reread it so that you know the characters and the plots intimately. This way, when something needs to be improved, you’ll know about it immediately.
33. Decide on the point of view for your screenplay. Adapting a novel into a screenplay doesn’t mean the point of view has to be the same in both of them. You can change the point of view for the screenplay if you wish. Just be careful not to have too many points of view because it can be confusing for the viewers.
34. Make sure the screenplay has a beginning, middle, and end, just like your novel does. These sections need to be recognizable, just like they are in your book.
35. Always treat the screenplay as an entirely new story. Don’t think of it as an extension of the book. Instead, treat it like it’s a brand new story altogether.
Some Final Thoughts
Adapting a novel into a screenplay isn’t difficult if you know how to get started and you’ve learned some basic do’s and don’ts of the process. Reading actual screenplays is a great first step, and online information and certain software can make it even easier. There is no such thing as learning too much about screenwriting, especially if you accept the fact that editing and revising are going to be necessary to have a great product in the end.