Part 2 (of 2) of a Guest Post by Art Holcomb
Click HERE to review Part 1… then hurry back here for the pay-off.
We’re talking today about adapting novels into screenplays. Last time, we talked about the basics of the art of adaptation that I use with my students and professional clients. Today, let’s dive right into the meat of the subject – actually writing the screenplay.
#1 – Getting ready to write:
• You need to identify and write out the Story Beats, using Larry’s model of the story (see previous Story Fix posts on these points). This will help you see the novel as a whole unit. Every screenwriter has to be INTIMATELY familiar with the structure of the story, perhaps more so than a novelist because of the limited size of the screenplay.
• Now it’s time to sketch out the Character Arcs for the Main Characters. Pay particular attention to these three questions:
o What does each character want? (Goals)
o What/Who is standing in his/her way? (Obstacles)
o What will happen if they don’t get it? (Stakes)
Understanding the motivation of the characters is paramount. Remember: character and plot are two side of the same coin. One cannot exist without the other.
• Now for a bit of fun. Take one of the copies of the book you bought and start tearing it apart. Identify the parts that you want to use and put those pages in one pile, and take the remainder and set it aside. During this process, you are asking yourself whether you need any specific diversion, back story or deeper character development. At the end, you will have the skeleton of the adaptation in your hand. Don’t be surprised if it is very small – remember the limited word count of a screenplay.
#2 – The Writing Process:
• Your first draft will be overwritten, perhaps by a lot. Don’t worry. The single most important thing in the entire adaptation process is this: Get the First Draft DONE!! Remember – Nothing can ever be made better until it is first on the page.
• As in novel writing, the second draft is all about the cutting. Use all your skills here.
• Next, give it to someone you trust to read. Pay particular attention to where they say the movie fails to make sense or drags – these can be the most important bit of info anyone can ever give you.
(NOTE *** Larry can be a great help here. Just as you would send him your outline or first draft of a novel, the same rules for structure apply to a screenplay. Larry has an extensive knowledge of film structure as well and he can review your work and keep you on the right track. Email him for particulars: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
• A table read is the next step and can be a lot of fun. Gather some of your friends and have them read through the screenplay aloud. You can gain valuable insight by hearing the words out loud read in a voice other than your own. Listen closely to their comments as well.
• Here’s a key lesson I’ve learned about the final draft. Remember that, regardless of the size of your audience, every screenplay is a communication between just two people: the writer and a lone reader. Always write directly to one person – this will keep your writing intimate and personal, a real advantage when you send it out to busy agents and producers.
#3 – After the final draft:
• Now it’s time to register your work with the Writer’s Guild of America (www.wga.org). Like a copyright, a WGA Registration can protect your work against claims of theft. Remember to show the work as an adaptation and credit the source material’s author CLEARLY and often. That can help keep you out of trouble down the road – believe me!
After this is the step you’ve been waiting for (admit it) – Selling the screenplay – but that is the subject of more than one blog post.
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.
Adaptation can be a great deal of fun and is a good way to enter the world of screenwriting. Never be afraid to give this a try, but remember to choose a work for which you have a real passion. And drop Larry or I a line and let us know how it goes.
And above all, always keep writing!
Art Holcomb is a screenwriter and instructor. His most recent play is THE PERFECT BRACKET and his new TV pilot is entitled THE STREWN.