Recent times have seen new trends emerging where writing is concerned. Earlier, the book was written first. The screenplay, based on the book came much later. Today, things have changed. It is script first, the book later. This is followed by the rewrite or the purchase of the original script that gave birth to the process. That’s right. Tables have turned.
More and more production companies are scouring the world of self-publishing for suitable material. This has led to screenwriters reaching for old screenplays that are collecting dust at the bottom of their drawer. Why? Because they too want to get onto the bandwagon of the adaptation game.
Let us look at the tips and hurdles you may face when you set out to adapt your screenplay.
How you can adapt
You may think that the answer is simple. All the screenwriter has to do is write a book. But is it really that simple? Tons of books will tell you how to do it. How difficult can it be? Think again! Any screenplay writer will tell a novelist that you need ‘screenplay sensibility’ if you are to pen down a professional screenplay. The same goes for screenplay writers writing a book. Cookie-cutter how-to books are not going to help.
You must know what lies ahead of you before you begin adaptation. This will prepare you for the pitfalls that lie ahead.
The basic mantra you can follow
- Keep things clear and simple
- As always, less is more
- Once you get to the emotional peak, venture forth
- Show, but be sure not to tell
- Move quickly. Avoid wasting time on things beyond what is needed
- Different worlds
Novelists and screenwriters perceive the world differently. So when you move from screenwriting to prose writing, the sensibility changes. It may even be difficult to assimilate. You can only accomplish this if you have other writers of prose critique your work. I can tell you, it’s not going to be easy. Novel-writing is a new skill that has to be learned. Make sure you search for the right guidance. Other screenwriters are not going to be of any help. Voracious readers are your best bet. Avoid film and TV aficionados.
The scope of narration
By narrative scope, we mean the intricacy of the story form. Where prose fiction is concerned, the novelist has quite a few areas he can select from. There is the novel, the novella, the novelette or the short story. As for screenwriters, they can choose feature films, series, or long dramas. Half-hour sitcoms too are very popular. Every screenplay format showcases its own needs and peculiarities; most screenplay writers are aware of this.
The same applies to novelists. However, screenwriters need to examine the forms of prose so that they can understand these quirks and demands before they being any form of adaptation. A screenwriter has to grasp which prose slot suits his screenplay best. It could be a novel, a novella or a short story.
Show and tell, or show and don’t tell?
Screenplays tend to put it all out there. As it is mainly a visual medium, there is only a bit of telling in the form of montages. Therefore the motto they go by is ‘show, don’t tell.’ Where books are concerned there is very little showing and more of telling. After all, it’s just words.
This difference can make it difficult for screenwriters who are used to rejecting long exposition and storytelling that is not visual. A whole new thinking process has to be employed in learning how to make use of longer exposition.
You can do this!
- Screenwriters are trained to narrate their stories cinematically. This makes the stories a very fast read. This ensures that the reader keeps turning the pages. Believe me; this skill comes in handy when you want to translate your work into an amazing novel.
- The attention span of people today is minuscule; it might as well not be there. That is why many readers reach out for short fiction and novellas so that they can be done with it in just a sitting. With shifting trends, you as a writer should explore all avenues to stay ahead of the game.
- Another advantage is that once you dig deeper into your tale, you may just discover new characters. There may be an allowance for a sub-plot or a whole new angle. This can be dragged back to your original script when you do the rewrite. This will make the story richer by far.
A final bit of advice. Not all screenplays make great novels. So before you start, make sure your screenplay has the potential of a great book. Your story should make the reader want to get engrossed in the workings of the minds of the characters; much longer than a two-hour movie.