Writers now aspire for more, and almost every author dreams of seeing their book reworked into a movie or a screenplay in the nearest future. While most writers successfully engineer this transition on their own, most others tend to get a tad discouraged by the technicalities involved in screenwriting
Writing a novel and writing a screenplay involve two completely different writing styles and structures, but both can be proficiently mastered with proper guidance, dedication, and practice. Whether you are the author of the book you are adapting into a screenplay, or you are reworking another author’s project, there are some essential questions you should ask yourself. The answers to such questions will aid you in your journey towards writing an entertaining and engaging movie script.
The pertinent questions, in no particular order, are as follows:
Do you understand the technicalities of screenplay writing?
The technicalities that come with screenplay writing might be confusing to someone who is primarily a book writer. Books tend to tell more generally, while screenplays focus on showing more. Thus, you can have the leisure of communicating the inner thoughts of your characters in books, which is not easily obtainable in movies.
Make yourself familiar with the formatting process of a screenplay, the length, the dialogue process, and, most strikingly, the less expository writing style that comes with screenplay writing.
You can make the formatting process easier by getting a screenplay writing software to take away the burden of having to go through the arduous formatting process involved. Nonetheless, even with the software, you still need to make yourself familiar with the screenwriting formatting process just as an added skill.
Do you have the permission and the legal backing to go ahead with the adaptation?
This might not seem like an important question, but it can save you a great deal of trouble. Most people would feel that books and movies are consumed in distinctly different ways, so they reason that adapting a few best-sellers wouldn’t really hurt. However, doing so without the appropriate permission could land you in a legal hot soup, especially if the book is copyrighted. You can lose the rewards of all your efforts, or even more.
A lawyer is usually required to help you straighten out all the legal blurred lines before you proceed with such adaptation. I would advise working with an entertainment lawyer. That field is a unique specialty on its own and has a lot of tricky aspects that require a very specialized set of skills.
Also, if the story you are adapting is a true-life story that is not originally in a book form, there are other processes involved. You might need to explore the aspect of acquiring what is termed “Life Rights” before you can wholly proceed with your adaptation. You can also come upon some free online sites that will help you with details of how to go about obtaining these life rights.
Does the book come with an already established fan base or brand?
This is another vital question to consider before delving into adapting a book into a movie. Popular adaptations like The Maze Runner, Twilight, The Lord of the Rings, and the likes come with the advantage of an already established fan base. If the book you are adapting is a popular one, then you can easily expect an already available audience for the screenplay. This, however, can also come with its disadvantages too.
For one, most fans would expect you to capture their favorite moments of the book in almost the same manner in which they pictured them when reading the book. As we well know, perception varies from person to person, and you most definitely cannot please everybody. Also, if the book is a lengthy one, you might be forced to cut out some parts to fit into the usual run time for feature-length movies. Some avid fans of the book might not also take this so well, but there isn’t much you can do about it.
Most importantly, if the book is one that has wide acclaim and numerous high profile reviews, you might see yourself struggling to meet up with some lofty expectations. Of course, if you do your job well, then this shouldn’t be a problem, and the positive reviews and feedback will come naturally.
Are you adapting the book into a one-off movie or a series? With the continued growth and increased dynamism in the entertainment industry, it is not surprising to see demands for books or even movies getting expanded into sequels or even TV series. If your adaptation is just a one-off movie, then the process will be less complicated than if it were a three-part movie or TV series.
A one-off film can focus on resolving the main plot of the book in one take. However, for you to adapt a book into a sequel or TV series, a lot of factors come into play. You will consider questions like the following.
Is the storyline vast enough to be expanded into a series?
How long will the series run (how many sequels or seasons)?
What will be the length of each episode if it is a TV series? Etc.
Most TV series have the distinct feature of the addition of new plots and storylines based on the original plotline. Some others also come with entirely new plotlines as the case may be. The addition of new plots will be dependent on the length of the episodes and the entire series, as decided from the jump. However, some TV shows are known to be scripted as the series progresses. This procedure gets even more complicated (think of Game of Thrones). The original book, A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin, is still in publication even though the TV series has ended. The processes involved in the adaptation and the scripting would have required an inherent creative edge to sustain.
Whichever way you wish to proceed with your adaptation, be ready to come up with expanded plots, new characters, and intriguing twists that will drive the keep plot entertaining every step of the way. Most importantly, learn how to leave cliffhangers at the end of each movie or episode to keep people looking forward to the next.
Is the story interesting enough to make an intriguing movie? And if so, what is the most interesting part of the book? The screenwriter can make sure the plot is exciting, with twists and plots that liven up the narrative and keep your audience glued to their seats.
What are the major striking points of the story, and what are its unique features?
We need to identify the major conflicts in your story and discover the most important characters that drive the conflict. We also need to determine if the story has the right features that make for an intriguing adaptation such as the following.
A unique time in history
Any unusual setting
A surprising plot twist,
A memorable and satisfying ending
If any of these is significantly lacking in the story, you might need to find a way to introduce them to strengthen your screenplay.
Is the book structured chronologically?
This is another tricky aspect of a movie adaptation. Most books, especially memoirs, are written randomly as the author recalls the events. You can have an event mentioned way before another that precedes it or even narrated in half, then completed later on in the book. This is because, in such books, the authors tend to focus on the most vivid memories first, before delving into the less significant ones. It is then your duty as a scriptwriter, to pinpoint which events come before others and give the script a chronological flow that your audience can follow and understand.
Note that the subplots being referred to here are not flashbacks, which are also essential features of movies. The main point here is to make sure that there is a story being told, and not just some random scenes that have no direct correlation with each other. Robust and coherent narratives drive movies, and you should endeavor that your script has one if you are to fully engage your audience.
Does the book size measure up to movie adaptation requirements?
If the book you are adapting into a movie is a short one, then you will have to add more plots and characters that will translate into more scenes and screen time. Except, specifically requested, your movie should have an average run-time of between one hour, twenty minutes to one hour, forty-five minutes. Most movies extend to the two-hour mark, but these are usually high-budget movies.
On the other hand, if the book you are adapting is significantly long, then it is time to whip out your writing ax and chop off all subplots. Your target will be those parts that do not directly move the narrative forward or have any vital relevance to the story. This can be a confusing process that demands an element of strictness, as all subplots might seem critical at the onset. However, with a clear understanding of the main plot of the book, you will notice the unnecessary parts, and you will ultimately let them go.
A clear example is The Lord of the Rings trilogy adaptation. Anybody that has read the books and seen the movies can testify that there were a lot of omitted parts in the final screenplays. However, the screenwriters did such an excellent job that one can satisfactorily enjoy the movies without arguably feeling too bad about the omitted scenes.
With these questions in mind, and with satisfactory answers provided, you will find that your book to screenplay adaptation process will be a relatively straightforward one. The next step will be to write the treatment for the adaptation. The treatment contains the logline, a character summary, and finally, the three-act summary. The treatment is a vital aspect of screenwriting, It is what will serve as your primary marketing tool in the long run. This is quite important when you are not the one producing the movie, and you need to send over some materials to studio houses for consideration.
The treatment has to be as concise as possible while highlighting all the significant points of the script. The logline itself needs to be catchy and interesting enough to arouse interest in any reader. The characterization also has to be vivid and practical. Each character is better off having their own unique voice and agenda/conflict, which will also get intertwined as the story develops. The three-act summary should mostly follow the structure of an introduction/setup, the confrontation, a climax, and finally, a resolution.
What this means is that if the story you are adapting does not satisfactorily answer the questions mentioned earlier, then it is back to the drawing board for you. Your narrative at the end of your adaptation should comfortably satisfy the ideal story structure.
When we have adequately provided satisfactory answers to the questions listed above, we will be ready to write the actual screenplay for your book to screen adaptation. Even as your screenwriting progresses, the answers you have provided to these questions will ensure that you stay on the right track as your script develops.