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 "Novel to Screenplay" 
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Joined: Mon Sep 13, 2010 1:47 pm
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Post "Novel to Screenplay"
Title: Novel to Screenplay: The Challenges of Adaptation. Some basic
steps when adapting a novel to the screenplay form.

Author: Lynne Pembroke and Jim Kalergis

Article:

ADAPTATION 101

Brimming with confidence, you’ve just signed the check
purchasing the rights to adapt John Doe’s fabulous, but little
known novel, Lawrence of Monrovia, to screenplay form. Suddenly,
panic sets in. “What was I thinking? How the devil am I going to
convert this 400-page novel to a 110-page screenplay?”

The answer is: “The same way you transport six elephants in a
Hyundai… three in the front seat and three in the back!”

Old and very bad jokes aside, how does one pour ten gallons of
story into a one-gallon jug?

In this article, we’ll take a look at this challenge and a few
others that a writer may encounter when adapting a novel to
screenplay form.

CHALLENGE NUMBER ONE - LENGTH
Screenplays rarely run longer
than 120 pages. Figuring one page of a screenplay equals one
minute of film, a 120-page screenplay translates into a two-hour
motion picture. Much longer than that and exhibitors lose a
showing, which translates to fewer six-cent boxes of popcorn
sold for $5.99 at the refreshment stand. It took the author of
your source material 400 pages to tell the story. How can you
possibly tell the same story in 110 pages, the ideal length for
a screenplay by today’s industry standards?

And the answer to this question is no joke. “You can’t! Don’t
even try!”

Instead, look to capture the essence and spirit of the story.
Determine the through-line and major sub-plot of the story and
viciously cut everything else.

By “through-line” I mean, WHO (protagonist) wants WHAT (goal),
and WHO (antagonist) or WHAT (some other force) opposes him or
her? It helps to pose the through-line as a question.

“Will Dorothy find her way back to Kansas despite the evil
Wicked Witch of the West’s efforts to stop her?”

The same needs to be done for the major sub-plot.

“Will Dorothy’s allies achieve their goals despite the danger
they face as a result of their alliance?”

One workable technique is to read the book, set it aside for a
few weeks, and then see what you still remember of the story’s
through-line. After all, your goal is to excerpt the most
memorable parts of the novel, and what you remember best
certainly meets that criterion.

In most cases, everything off the through-line or not essential
to the major sub-plot has to go. Develop your outline, treatment
or “beat sheet” accordingly.

CHALLENGE NUMBER TWO - VOICE
Many novels are written in the
first person. The temptation to adapt such, using tons of
voiceovers, should be resisted. While limited voiceovers can be
effective when properly done, remember that audiences pay the
price of admission to watch a MOTION (things moving about)
PICTURE (stuff you can SEE). If they wanted to HEAR a story
they’d visit their Uncle Elmer who drones on for hour upon hour
about the adventures of slogging through the snow, uphill, both
ways, to get to and from school when he was a kid, or perhaps
they’d buy a book on tape.

The old screenwriting adage, “Show, don’t tell!” applies more
than ever when writing an adaptation.

CHALLENGE NUMBER THREE - “LONG-THINKING”
Some tribes of
American Indians had a word to describe those of their brethren
who sat around thinking deep thoughts. Literally the word
translated to, “THE DISEASE OF LONG-THINKING”. Quite often, lead
characters in novels suffer from this disease.

“Mike knew in his heart that Judith was no good. Yet she caused
such a stirring in his loins, he could think of nothing else. He
feared someday he would give in to this temptation named Judith,
and his surrender would surely bring about the end of his
marriage!”

If adapted directly, how on Earth would a director film the
above? All we would SEE is Mike sitting there, “long-thinking”.
That is not very exciting to say the least. And as mentioned
previously, voiceovers are rarely the best solution.

When essential plot information is presented only in a
character’s thought or in the character’s internal world, one
solution is to give this character a sounding board, another
character, to which his thoughts can be voiced aloud. Either
adapt an existing character from the novel or create a new one.
Of course as always, you should avoid overly obvious exposition
by cloaking such dialogue in conflict, or through some other
technique. Even better, figure out a way to express the
character’s dilemma or internal world through action in the
external world.

CHALLENGE NUMBER FOUR - WHAT STORY?
Mark Twain is quoted as
saying about Oakland, California, “There’s no there, there“.
Similarly, some novels, even successful ones, are very shy on
story and rely for the most part on style and character to
create an effect. Some prose writers are so good at what they
do, that their artful command of the language alone is enough to
maintain reader interest. Such is never the case in
screenwriting.

Successfully adapting a “no-story-there” novel to screenplay
form is a daunting task. One approach is to move away from
direct adaptation toward, “story based upon”. Use the brilliant
background and characters created by the original author as a
platform from which to launch a screen story. In fact, if for
any reason a screenplay doesn’t lend itself to screenplay form,
consider moving toward a “based upon” approach, rather than
attempting a direct adaptation.

Congratulations! You’re now an expert on adapting novels to
screenplay form! Well maybe not an expert, but hopefully you
have a better understanding of how to approach the subject than
you did ten minutes ago. And if the subject still seems too
daunting, you can always get professional help as outlined on
our web page http://www.coverscript.com/adaptation.html

Copyright © 2004 Lynne Pembroke and Jim Kalergis,
Coverscript.com

About the author:
Lynne Pembroke is a writer, poet and screenwriter. Over 18 years
of experience in screenwriting and screenplay analysis, helping
individual writers and a variety of areas within the industry.
Services include screenplay, TV script and treatment analysis,
ghostwriting, rewriting and adaptation of novel to screenplay.
Jim Kalergis is a working screenwriter experienced in the art of
adaptation. Visit http://www.coverscript.com for details.

This article was re-posted by permission.

[Note: Due to space restrictions, the title of this article had to be truncated. Appologies to Lynne Pembroke and Jim Kalergis. - Admin.]


Tue Jul 10, 2007 7:46 pm
 [ 1 post ] 

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