Brimming with confidence, you've just signed the check purchasing the rights to adapt John Doe's fabulous, but little known novel, Lawrence of Monrovia, to screenplay form. Suddenly, panic sets in. "What was I thinking? How the devil am I going to convert this 400-page novel to a 110-page screenplay?"
The answer is: "The same way you transport six elephants in a Hyundai . . . three in the front seat and three in the back!"
Old and very bad jokes aside, how does one pour ten gallons of story into a one-gallon jug?
In this article, we'll take a look at this challenge and a few others that a writer may encounter when adapting a novel to screenplay form.
CHALLENGE NUMBER ONE -- LENGTH
Screenplays rarely run longer than 120 pages. Figuring one page of a screenplay equals one minute of film, a 120-page screenplay translates into a two-hour motion picture. Much longer than that and exhibitors lose a showing, which translates to fewer six-cent boxes of popcorn sold for $5.99 at the refreshment stand. It took the author of your source material 400 pages to tell the story. How can you possibly tell the same story in 110 pages, the ideal length for a screenplay by today's industry standards?
And the answer to this question is no joke. "You can't! Don't even try!"
Instead, look to capture the essence and spirit of the story. Determine the through-line and major sub-plot of the story and viciously cut everything else.
By "through-line" I mean, WHO (protagonist) wants WHAT (goal), and WHO (antagonist) or WHAT (some other force) opposes him or her? It helps to pose the through-line as a question.
"Will Dorothy find her way back to Kansas despite the evil Wicked Witch of the West's efforts to stop her?"
The same needs to be done for the major sub-plot.
"Will Dorothy's allies achieve their goals despite the danger they face as a result of their alliance?"
One workable technique is to read the book, set it aside for a few weeks, and then see what you still remember of the story's through-line. After all, your goal is to excerpt the most memorable parts of the novel, and what you remember best certainly meets that criterion.
In most cases, everything off the through-line or not essential to the major sub-plot has to go. Develop your outline, treatment or "beat sheet" accordingly.
CHALLENGE NUMBER TWO -- VOICE
Many novels are written in the first person. The temptation to adapt such, using tons of voiceovers, should be resisted. While limited voiceovers can be effective when properly done, remember that audiences pay the price of admission to watch a MOTION (things moving about) PICTURE (stuff you can SEE). If they wanted to HEAR a story they'd visit their Uncle Elmer who drones on for hour upon hour about the adventures of slogging through the snow, uphill, both ways, to get to and from school when he was a kid, or perhaps they'd buy a book on tape.
The old screenwriting adage, "Show, don't tell!" applies more than ever when writing an adaptation.
CHALLENGE NUMBER THREE -- "LONG-THINKING"
Some tribes of American Indians had a word to describe those of their brethren who sat around thinking deep thoughts. Literally the word translated to, "THE DISEASE OF LONG-THINKING". Quite often, lead characters in novels suffer from this disease.
"Mike knew in his heart that Judith was no good. Yet she caused such a stirring in his loins, he could think of nothing else. He feared someday he would give in to this temptation named Judith, and his surrender would surely bring about the end of his marriage!"
If adapted directly, how on Earth would a director film the above? All we would SEE is Mike sitting there, "long-thinking". That is not very exciting to say the least. And as mentioned previously, voiceovers are rarely the best solution.
When essential plot information is presented only in a character's thought or in the character's internal world, one solution is to give this character a sounding board, another character, to which his thoughts can be voiced aloud. Either adapt an existing character from the novel or create a new one. Of course as always, you should avoid overly obvious exposition by cloaking such dialogue in conflict, or through some other technique. Even better, figure out a way to express the character's dilemma or internal world through action in the external world.
CHALLENGE NUMBER FOUR - WHAT STORY?
Mark Twain is quoted as saying about Oakland, California, "There's no there, there". Similarly, some novels, even successful ones, are very shy on story and rely for the most part on style and character to create an effect. Some prose writers are so good at what they do, that their artful command of the language alone is enough to maintain reader interest. Such is never the case in screenwriting.
Successfully adapting a "no-story-there" novel to screenplay form is a daunting task. One approach is to move away from direct adaptation toward, "story based upon". Use the brilliant background and characters created by the original author as a platform from which to launch a screen story. In fact, if for any reason a screenplay doesn't lend itself to screenplay form, consider moving toward a "based upon" approach, rather than attempting a direct adaptation.
Congratulations! You're now an expert on adapting novels to screenplay form! Well maybe not an expert, but hopefully you have a better understanding of how to approach the subject than you did ten minutes ago. And if the subject still seems too daunting, you can always get professional help as outlined on our web page http://www.coverscript.com/adaptation.html
Copyright © 2004 Lynne Pembroke and Jim Kalergis, Coverscript.com
Lynne Pembroke and Jim Kalergis
About the Authors:
Please see details below for Lynne Pembroke. Jim Kalergis is a working screenwriter experienced in the art of adaptation.
Please scroll down to leave a comment below...
Contact the AuthorLynne Pembroke
Lynne Pembroke's web site
- Advertising Your Home Business On A Budget
- Understanding The Difference Between Network Marketing and Pyramid Schemes
- Are You Ready for a Brand Name Blowout?
- What Does Gratitude Have to Do With Career Change?
- How Do You Become The Divine Feminine Leader Of Your Business?
- Business Etiquette: Claiming You Are the Best
- Etiquette for International Business Success
- International Protocol: Cultural Differences in Business
- Is Your Niche Hot...Or Not?
- The Magic of Niche: It's Not What You May Think
- Do You Have The 'Emotional Mindset' To Sell Big Ticket Programs?
- What's in a Brand? Only Your Small Business Success!
- How Good Is Your Small Business Brand?
- Branding Strategy - Live Your Brand
- Any woman small business owner can create celebrity status in her industry
- Niche Marketing: Are You Specialized Enough?
- Business Coach’s Tips on How to Handle Sticky Money Situations in Business
- Finding Your Brand – Three Key Brand Marketing Strategies
- Branding Strategy: Creating a Powerful Brand Using Archetypes
- How Much Do You Need to Know Before You're an Expert? Part 1 in a 2 Part Series
- How Much Do You Need to Know Before You're an Expert? Part 2 in a 2 Part Series
- Line Up Your Services For Branding Power
- What Ducks Can Teach You About Branding and Business Success
- 3 Reasons Why You Better Know Your Customers...or Else
- How Branding Can Lead to a Business's Success...or Failure
- The Secret Behind Successful Branding (and No, It's Not About a Logo)
- How Your Personality Can Grow Your Business
- Why are you in the business you are in?
- It's Not Business, It's Personal
- People Collector
- Are You Aching to Claim Your Business Goddess Bigger Game?
- 5 Essentials You Need to Know to be a Go-To-Goddess
- Does Your Brand Have a Voice in Social Media? 5 Ways to Online Success
- Company Naming vs. Company Branding
- Naming Strategies for Consulting Companies
- The Three Keys to a Successful Brand Strategy
- Does Your Brand Have a Voice? With the Advent of Social Media Now is the Time to Speak Up!
- Branding and the Coming Mobile Market Revolution
- How Much Does It Cost to Name a Company?
- Seven Signs It's Time to Rebrand Your Company
This article has been viewed 52130 time(s).
Upcoming IgnitePoint EventsIgnite your light, life and faith at an upcoming live IgnitePoint city event. Also find out how you can become a speaker at one of these events!
IgnitePoint - Atlanta
IgnitePoint - Salt Lake City
Imagine a TEDxR-style event where you can mention God, Jesus Christ and tell your faith-promoting stories! Learn more here.
Looking for a fun and entertaining keynote for your next meeting or sales training workshop? Poker will get their attention; professional poker player, poker mindset coach, and motivational speaker Donna Blevins will keep it. Meet Donna...
You can be featured on our site! Ask How!
Light the World: How Your Brilliance Can Shift the Planet
As a planet, we stand at a crossroads. One path leads to darker days. The other leads to freedom and light. ''Light the World: How Your Brilliance Can Shift the Planet'' details how you can leverage your life experiences and insight to take your place as a Light Bearer in this new age.
Trust Your Heart: Building Relationships That Build Your Business
25 entrepreneurs share their most powerful relationship marketing lessons used to massively explode their businesses! Filled with valuable relationship-building tips for the newbie and seasoned entrepreneur alike, Trust Your Heart: Building Relationships that Build Your Business will inspire you to tap into the synergistic power of relationships to catapult your business to the next level.
Trust Your Heart: Transform Your Ideas to Income
True accounts of 19 entrepreneurs who overcame the odds and created their own profitable businesses from scratch! Filled with valuable success tips for the newbie and seasoned entrepreneur alike, Trust Your Heart: Transform Your Ideas Into Income will inspire you to take the leap of faith and pursue sculpting the business of your dreams.