Post image for Extras | Books: ADAPTING A BOOK TO A SCREENPLAY

by Lisa Montalto on January 22, 2024

in Books,Extras

There has never been a better time to think about turning your book into a screenplay. It doesn’t matter if whether you’re a professional or an amateur writer, the world of adaptation has broken wide open and anything goes!

Some of the greatest films in history have been book adaptations, such as Stephen King’s The Shining, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Thomas Harris’ The Silence of the Lambs, and Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club. The film industry can do amazing things to add more life to a book than what’s already in the imagination.

There are several things to consider and explore as you take the leap into adapting your book into a screenplay. One of the most important things you can do is to familiarize yourself with screenplay structure. Scripts are written differently than books, and knowing all the pieces that make up those differences will give you a leg up. Another great place to start is by reading books that have already been adapted into film so you can learn the differences.

Reading the original material and then watching the film gives you an analytical view of how the written word translates to the screen. Look for genres that are of specific interest to you which will be more relevant to your own adaptation. Hollywood studios are always hungry to find original material that they can turn into motion pictures.

Sometimes it starts with a studio or production company optioning your book. This means they pay a portion of what the screenplay is worth and will have a certain amount of time to produce the movie, or the right reverts back to you. You can also sell your book outright for an adaptation if you’re lucky enough to find a studio or production team that believes in the story. However, in most cases, it’s up to you to adapt your book and try to option or sell the screenplay.

The best place to start is with an outline of an existing film adaptation and then try to fit your story into that same outline. This will help you understand film structure and the intricacies that can make or break an adaptation. It’s important to note that not all books make good movies. Some books have so much material within their pages that it can be difficult to translate to film. When reviewing your book, think in terms of plotlines and scenes. The more time you spend structuring your outline, the easier the adapting will be.

Film is a visual medium, which means you will use different story-telling techniques that wouldn’t work in a book. Even though film takes the story on a cinematic adventure using actors and sets and very notably, music, it has limitations that you need to understand. When writing a book, you have more freedom, such as giving the reader insight into the protagonist’s internal dialogue. In a screenplay, you have to show everything.

Sometimes, in the screenplay version, you may have to lose some of the main characters or break down backstories, to ensure the proper thrust of the narrative. This is why movie-goers often feel the book is better than the movie, or they don’t like how different the movie is from the original novel. If you want to break that cycle, pay attention to maintaining the story.

Once you’re ready to adapt your book, it’s a good idea to invest in screenwriting software that will format your characters, dialogue, scene headings, and more. While there are free versions that work well, such as Celtx and WriterDuet, Final Draft is the industry standard. A screenplay written in a Word document will be seen as amateurish.

All this being said, if you’ve had thoughts about adapting a book into a screenplay, you might want to consider hiring a professional to do it. Even though you may be a professional writer, if you’ve never written a screenplay, it can be daunting.

One of the reasons most authors who want to adapt their books prefer to write it themselves is because they want to be listed as the screenwriter. But did you know there’s a way to get your book adapted and still get all the credit? A ghostwriter will work behind the scenes and adapt your book while giving you full credit for the screenplay.

Finding a reputable ghostwriter who specializes in adaptations will take some research, or you can use a ghostwriting services company such as Ghostwriters Central, Inc. This company has been around since 2002 and fully vets its ghostwriters, and will help you select the best writer for your project. Some ghostwriters specialize in specific genres and styles, and Ghostwriters Central will carefully match you with the writer who will make your work shine.

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