Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Adaptation: How to Do It

As discussed in the last blog post, there are many forms of writing that can be adapted to film. Because the most common is novel to script, my example assumes you are moving from book to screenplay.

If you have a novel, there are three common ways of approaching adaptation to film. Each has advantages and disadvantages.

1) Follow the book beat by beat.


- Outline is there for you and YA length lends itself (Holes is a good example)


- It can come off crowded with characters, jerky and melodramatic (motivation doesn’t match action).

- You will have to cut the story down to 2 hours—at 1 page per minute

- You will likely anger some readers.

2) Work from key scenes.


- Pick most colorful, dramatic scenes.


- Scenes tied together artificially will not look like the novel.

- Again, you’ll anger some readers.

3) Construct an original screenplay based on the book.


- Nail down the premise, decide on an appropriate POV (maybe different than the book’s)

- Determine beginning/middle/end, write a treatment and first chapter (called a master scene script).


- Must start from scratch and reduce to filmable dimensions.

- Still you’ll get complaints from readers.

Despite all the reader belly-aching, the biggest box-office successes tend to be adaptations. Since Oscars began in 1927-28, more than 3/4 of the Best Picture awards have gone to adaptations of novels. William Goldman is proof that a script can be made from a book without being 100% true to the book and without disappointing readers or viewers. When adapting Marathon Man, his own novel, he kept only one scene from the book (Olivier in the diamond district). Stephen King didn’t like Stanley Kubrick’s handling of The Shining, but the movie is brilliant if you don’t connect it to the source material.

The moral of this posting: Choose the right story, learn the craft, and be flexible. Write a screenplay that keeps the soul of the book and you may touch many more people with your story. In my next post I’ll discuss useful steps to take as you prepare to turn a novel into a screenplay. Until then, keep your dialogue snappy and your directions brief. Don’t step on the director. Avoid dusk and dawn.         ----   From the Inkpot          (first appeared in the Writing From the Peak blog  July 19, 2011)

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