Friday, November 16, 2012

Screenwriting – Ready to Adapt?


In previous postings I discussed what to consider when deciding whether or not to adapt your story into a screenplay, various forms of story that have been successfully remade for the big screen, the upsides and downsides to turning book to script, and methods that are commonly used to do so.

Are you ready to take the next step?

Preparing adequately will make the screenwriting process go more smoothly. If you are adapting another author’s work, seek rights first. Consider the budget, audience and attached stars (if you are lucky enough to have them lined up). Then prepare. Whether it’s your work or someone elses, there are several useful steps to take.

1) Read the book over and over until you are infused with its spirit.

2) Ask what the story is about.

3) What scenes stick in your mind and why? (Ted Tally, who adapted The Silence of the Lambs, usually latches on to 6-7 scenes.)

4) Reduce each event to a 1-2 sentence statement; be sure it’s a story well-told.

5) Who’s the main character? You may change the POV – The Silence of the Lambs had three other POVs, but Tally considered it Clarice’s story.

6) What’s the ending? Can you make it more visual? Add unity with it? Maintain sympathy for the protagonist?

7) Can you make the beginning grab the audience? The novel The Silence of the Lambs starts with Clarice Starling heading to learn her assignment. The movie starts with her on the training range – showing she’s a dedicated trainee.

Now prepare to reinvent.

1) Reorder events in proper time line.

2) Cut, combine, and create scenes as needed.

3) Turn internal into external.

4) Decide which characters to keep (7 or so).

5) List key dramatic action scenes.

6) Find the powerful dialogue that drives the plot.

7) Be aware of where the passion is.

What needs cutting?
1) Facts unnecessary to the less complex plot.

2) Incidents (Clarice’s confrontation with Senator Martin in The Silence of the Lambs).

3) Some subplots (Detective Crawford’s dying wife in The Silence of the Lambs).

4) Minor characers (or combine characters).

5) Meld several scenes into one.

6) Flashbacks.

7) Philosophies and over thematic content.

8) Pare unnecessary verbiage.

9) Preserve only the best bits of business.

Can you tell I like the adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs?

Do not remove feeling and humor.

What needs to be expanded?

1) Build up certain characters or add some.

2) New scenes to tie bits together (but scenes shouldn’t look like they are there just to fill holes).

3) Missing information that builds your story.

4) "If you need something for the story MAKE IT UP!” – Syd Field

5) Expand character development and subplots in a shorter work like Stephen King’s The Shawshank Redemption.

As you can see, adapting a story is a complicated undertaking. Typically a writer can’t simply transcribe from a novel to a screenplay. Fidelity in adaptation – how faithful you are to the original – varies. But one must accept that the author’s original vision is typically altered in order to suit the cinematic format.

Best of luck in changing your book to a screenplay. Let us all know when it hits the big screen! In the meantime, keep your dialogue snappy and your directions brief. Don’t step on the director. Avoid dusk and dawn.

---- from the Inkpot

(first published on the Writing From the Peak blog August 16, 2011)

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