Doing and Saying. Characters do things, and characters say things.
Like a book, like any good story, movies have plots and subplots that tie into the same question: what does the protagonist want and what keeps him/her from obtaining that want? In the quest to see how this story ends, characters do and say things.
Why am I repeating this and why is it important to know—especially in regards to seeing your book visually for the screen?
Check out one of the many free scripts at Simply Scripts. One thing that you will not notice in a screenplay is heavy exposition, pages upon pages of description, of characters’ thoughts and feelings, of minute detailing that brings a story to life in a book but would weigh a screenplay down in the worst kind of way.
In a screenplay, writers are quick to give just enough definition, description, or setting of the stage, but primarily, they are concerned with telling a story by speech and by action. The vast majority of a book is exposition; the vast majority of a screenplay is dialogue/action. Long passages in which a character is musing do not necessarily make for great movie entertainment. Because of this, we need to rethink our printed book for the visual screen.
Adapting a book into a screenplay is not just about moving from a book format to a script format. It’s about examining your book with screen eyes to discern what parts make for visually-stimulating moments for the screen, which parts have strength in character action and speech, which sections do not and if vitally needed, how can they be changed in order to be visually appealing. We need to realize that 1) movies and TV shows are a part of visual media and 2) you need to see how your book can become a part of that visual media.
How can we do that? First, print a copy of your book (or you can read on the computer if you don’t want to kill trees) and start to parse the manuscript. Read through it, making note of visually-appealing scenes/moments, making note of scenes/moments that aren’t visually appealing and figuring out if they are needed for the story and how to make them visually appealing if they are needed, and going through all the exposition to discern, if needed, how to make it visually appealing and make it fit into the action and speech that are vital to good visual storytelling.
At this stage, we are not concerned with order or structure or how the book will be a screenplay. We are concerned with looking at the artifact and figuring out if it has the goods to be a screenplay. Not every book is made to be a movie, and this is a great stage to look at your book with screen eyes to see if this is a story best kept in print or if it has the chops to be developed for the screen.
When you read your book with those screen eyes, try to read, to see the story as a movie goer, not the writer of the book, which I know is hard as the literary parent. Is there enough action in the story? Is there enough strong dialogue that reveals characters and moves story along? Can the exposition and description be trimmed for the screen or made into visually-appealing components? Start thinking like a movie goer and not just a book reader.
Here’s a bit of homework: It’s always a good idea to see how others have successfully gone from book to screen. Below are links to three books (and their adapted screenplays) that have won the Academy Award for Best Screenplay Adaptation. What's cool about one of the examples is that the script was developed from a short story—not a novel. This exercise will allow you to see differences in formatting books and scripts, to analyze the adaptation process itself, and to begin to see how you might begin the adaptation process with your own novel.
- Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire // screenplay by Geoffrey S. Fletcher (book: http://amzn.to/Z0AgYB; script: http://bit.ly/1u8sOXY)
- Brokeback Mountain, a short story by Annie Proulx // screenplay by Diana Ossana and Larry McMurtry (book: http://amzn.to/XRhnWM; script: http://bit.ly/1uMIDlS; a book that details the experience of adapting Proulx’s award-winning short story: http://amzn.to/1v2lnOZ)
- Sideways by Rex Pickett // screenplay by Jim Taylor and Alexander Payne (book: http://amzn.to/1r8GU9e; script: http://bit.ly/ZvZ4HQ)
|Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator, whose biggest joys are writing and helping others develop their craft. She has published both creatively and academically and interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her author website, and you can get information about her editorial services at CLG Entertainment.|