Monthly Archives: June 2014

Turning Your Novel into a Screenplay, Part 1

A guest post by Art Holcomb

Part 1 of 2.

In June, I’m speaking at the Greater Los Angeles Writer’s Conference on how to adapt a novel into a screenplay and I’m really looking forward to it. A good part of my practice, both with students and professionals, comes from taking a story from one form and telling it in a different form so as to increase both its sales potential and the fan base of my writers. This is the nature of a burgeoning field called transmedia, which offer writers like you a multitude of possible ways to get your stories out there.

Since most of you are novelists and want to find a greater audience for your ideas, I wanted share the highlights of my talk and experiences with you.

So, today, let’s go over the things you need to know before you start screenwriting – and next time, we’ll dive into the actual process of adaptation.

#1: Basic Understanding:

• A screenplay is a VERY DIFFERENT THING than a novel. First of all, screenwriting is a minimalist form, taking roughly 5000 word to tell a two-hour story. The main challenge of adaptation lies in the fact that novels contain between 5 -20 times more information on theme, mood, setting, plot and character development than a film ever could (regardless of what Peter Jackson, director of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings might have you believe). Your job as an adapter is to find the gems moments and quotes within the story that bring forward the real voice and essence of its characters and plot.

• Movies are very much a VISUAL MEDIUM and screenwriting really only has dialogue and description as tools to tell any story. The exciting part here is that film has so many ways of communication your message even within those constraints– through visual action, sounds, music, and cinematography – that you can actually discover new ways to bring your story to life.

• Structure is paramount – so learn all you can: Here is where you, as reader of StoryFix, have an incredible advantage: the principles of structure that Larry teaches in Story Physics, Story Engineering and the great posts here online, contain everything you need to know to get started. Learn and embrace Larry’s concepts of plot points, pinches, set-up, confrontation and resolution and you’ll be farther along than 99% of other adaptors at this point.

• Invest in some good screenwriting software: The film industry currently likes the FINAL DRAFT and MOVIE MAKER products, but you can find others to your liking as well. These programs make the screenplay form easy to emulate and many have apps built-in that make the process simple. They can cost a couple hundred dollars but are well worth it, because bad or incorrect format – usually found when writers try to use programs like WORD to write their screenplays – can get your work tossed out by script readers after the first few pages.

• Read lots of scripts: Just as reading novels makes you a better novelist, reading scripts will incredibly improve your chances of success as a screenwriter. Learn as much as you can about the art – I CANNOT STRESS THIS ENOUGH. A great place to start is at Scott Myer’s site which not only has more than 80 free screenplays for you to download and study but also many hundreds of pages of great advice on the craft.

• Watch lots of movies: A love of movies can be the single most important part of being a good screenwriter. It always comes out in the writing! A good practice: watch any single movie a couple of time: once for pure enjoyment and then again with a critical eye for structure and content.

#2 – Securing the Rights:

• I suspect that most of you are interested in adapting your own novel into a screenplay. If so – no problems. US Copyright laws grant you the right to do so, no different than your right to write the novel in the first place . But if you want to adapt someone else’s novel, you’ll need to execute an OPTION or PURCHASE AGEEEMENT with them to do so. They’re not complex documents and I can write about in another post if there’s interest, or you can contact me directly at for more information.

#3 – Do Your Prep Work:

When I get ready to do an adaptation, I start with the following:

• Buy or get ahold of at least three (3) copies of the book. You’re going to physically cut a couple of them up, discarding the sections that you can’t use in the screenplay, and keeping what remains for the next step.

• Read the book at least twice, even if you are the author – you want to look at the material as if you were seeing it for the first time. This is essential, because the mind will fill in parts of any story that you’re intimately familiar with. You need to see the material for what it is – something you have permission to mold and shaped into something new but with the same spirit and feeling of the original.

• Close your eyes and ask yourself “What is this story really about?” As you go through the book, think about what is the core story that you’re trying to tell and what will not translate well onto the screen. Always be thinking about what you can cut.

• Remember, film is a visual medium. Pay particular attention to the passages in the novel that describe strong visual moments – these gems will likely make up some of the vital structural parts of the film. I personally find that most authors have painted great visuals for the Inciting Incident, Midpoint, Act Turns and Climaxes, in part because these are the target point of the acts.

That’s it for now. Next time we’ll briefly go into that actual process of writing the screenplay. Remember that this is just a brief overview. There are some excellent books on the subject as well as wonderful classes available on the process.

See you next time.


( Click HERE to go to Part 2 of this series.)

Art Holcomb is a screenwriter and instructor. His most recent play is THE PERFECT BRACKET and his new TV pilot is entitled THE STREWN.



Filed under Guest Bloggers

Case Study: This is What SUCCESS Looks Like

I’m delighted to share a WIN this time.   A middle-grade Young Adult novel in the making.

Can we learn from a case study that models a solid grasp of concept, premise and the First Plot Point?  That sets up a story with the inherent dramatic tension and drama, conceptual appeal and heroic arc that will result in a manuscript that has a genuine shot out there?

Of course we can.  The more you know about these principles, the quicker you’ll recognize them at work in this writer’s responses to my Kick-Start Concept/Premise Analysis process.

What to Notice

Notice how he nails the concept, that it isn’t yet a premise, which is exactly how it should be.  It defines a compelling notion, a proposition, an arena, that offers up a rich story landscape.  Any number of stories could be written from this concept – the hallmark of a great concept, by the way — without actually going there… yet.

First things first, we should establish why readers will want to jump into this story world.  Concept is where that happens. Young readers will be drawn to this idea, even before a protagonist and a dramatic arc enter the picture.

This is the type of pitch that sells the story, even before telling the story.

Then, when he spins it again with a “what if?” context added, look what happens to it then: it begins to grow into a dramatic proposition, unlocking the potential for drama, yet remains focused on the conceptual energy that will drive it.

Then, check out his premise.  It’s solid.  Bullet proof.  This opinion from a guy (me) with plenty of bullets at the ready.

Notice how clean and simple, even how short, these answers are.  And yet, the story itself isn’t simplistic.  This what happens when a writer really understands what the CORE STORY is, and why it will work.  If you need paragraphs to simply deliver a snapshot of the story world and its hero’s quest, you’re not ready to write it.

Notice how perfectly positioned the story is for its identified reader demographic.  Just the right level of fantasy, just the right nuance of theme and adventure.

Check it out here: Model Concept and Premise Document.

Many thanks to this writer for allowing me to share his work.  It’s inspiring, I hope you agree.

And, as we work on our own stories at the Big Picture level — precisely where we should start, by the way — it becomes a model of what success looks like.  I say… bravo.

It’s no accident, either, that this author is an established pro in the field of middle grade/YA television programming, and at the big league level (if you have kids, then his shows have been in your home).  I’ll let him introduce himself here, in the comment thread, if he chooses…  but it illustrates a point: knowledge begets success, because knowledge is required.


Would you like your story concept, premise and major dramatic spine evaluated, using this same Questionnaire?  Click HERE to learn how.  I guarantee you, it’s the best $95 investment in your story, in the three to 24 months it will take you to tell it, that you’ll find anywhere in the industry.

Because if it doesn’t work here, there is no chance it’ll work when spread out over 400 pages of your draft.  That, too, is a guarantee.





Filed under Case studies