Book to Screenplay Adaptation

Adapting a novel into a screenplay requires requires diverse skills in writng. But where does the writer begin when converting a novel into a movie script?

The Difference Between a Screenplay and A Novel

Before embarking upon such an adaptation, the writer needs to understand the differences between the two and to have sound knowledge of how to write a screenplay. The differences are as follows:
The screenplay is a visual and an auditory medium. It cannot convey the inner thoughts of the protagonists’ minds as within novels, unless there is a narrative in the form of a voice-over, as in the Goodfellas and Field of Dreams. However, such a tactic must be used with care, as it can be often be overused and may not be the best way of conveying inner thoughts.

There must be no literary prose within the screenplay. With only ninety minutes or so of storytelling, there is little scope to describe in depth the protagonists’ background and biographical details.

On average, the novel can be anything from 60,000 to 500,000 words long, and depending upon the font used, the size of the book will differ vastly too. The screenplay has strict guidelines, demanding a particular font (courier), with the ideal full-length screenplay being between 85 to 125 pages long. This is because one page equals one minute of screen time.

How to Adapt a Book into a Film

Because of these differences, most of the novel will be cut out. The most important aspect of the screenplay adaptation is deciding what to keep in. The following pointers require noting after reading the novel.

  • The pivotal scenes
  • The seven or so most important characters
  • The dialogue that fuels the plot.
© Rachel Shirley 2010
Guide to Screenwriting

My other site allaboutwritingscreenplays covers everything the writer needs to know about screenwriting. However, the first things to dispense with are descriptions, minor characters and lengthy build up. Sometimes, combining two characters and scenes will be necessary. The editing process can be brutal, but with the bare bones, the writer will gain a clearer picture of what to do with the story.

Plotting the Screenplay

With the essentials of the story, the writer can plot out the main scenes of the story onto pieces of paper, move them around and decide which will form the opening of the story, the main conflict and the resolution. In movie-terms, this is known as acts 1, 2, and 3. Plotting the screenplay requires much thought.

The Structure of a Screenplay

The ideal screenplay should consist of short sentences and paragraphs of action, intermixed with essential dialogue. Long reams of text will not look good on the screenplay.

The first ten pages are the most important part of the screenplay, as this forms the shop window from which agents and publishers will view. The beginning of the novel need not form the opening of the screenplay. The following pointers might help in this decision.

  • Look for the most dramatic scene in the novel and begin there.
  • Consider combining scenes in the novel to create a new one in the screenplay
  • Invent a new scene if one does not present itself within the novel.

Screenwriting Software

Agents and film producers are quite particular about the appearance of the screenplay and demand that it is presented immaculately and  in the appropriate way. BBC Writersroom keep archives of film scripts to give the novice an idea of what a screenplay should look like. Downloadable software known as Scriptsmart Gold is also provided for the aspiring screenwriter.

From Novel to Script

As can be seen, there is much involved in converting a book into a film. The many different aspects in screenwriting, from character conception to plotting the screenplay are covered in my other site.