Screenwriting : From novel to script by Maryam Sullivan

Maryam Sullivan

From novel to script

Hey everyone! New here and I really would love some feedback on adapting a novel into a script. I am a educator and novelist of 5 books with a MFA. I teach creative writing for a living. But I have finally garnered some interest from some investors in one of my novels and they want me to write the script. It's not a hard task at all, but condensing a 340 page story that I wrote (and enjoyed) into 30-45 pages (short film), feels excruciating. I am worried about pacing, fluidness, and losing some of the strength of characters. Is there a method to the madness? How do I break apart my own story and still keep intact in the script?

Dan MaxXx

Fire yourself and hire an unbiased Screenwriter of the material.

30-45mins movie length is weird. Too long for short and too short for feature. How do you or the Investors plan to make money?

Craig D Griffiths

My Bro is 100% right. Hire someone. A short film has a direct line through the story, which is exactly opposite to a novel which needs complexity etc.

Pierre Langenegger

I agree with Dan, you need someone else to condense your work, and yes, that length is odd.

Maryam Sullivan

There is a director and producer already on board.In fact, they approached me about the project. We have some investors and the rest we will crowdfund later this year. But the budget is set already without any room to wiggle. The director is working on other projects and the producer is an over-worked adjunct like myself. Certainly, they will assist with the edits once the script is complete. But in order for this to move forward,, I have to write the script. Writing isn't the issue. Taking off my author's hat and chopping down my baby into 30 minutes is my issue. Can't really speak to time of the film. As this point, I am just taking orders and trying to fulfill them. Overall, I am hoping to learn and write a great script that will open a path to the next project...

Robert Franklin

Adaptations are big in HW! I am in the same boat. Or, you can write it yourself. Although my story is 102 pages.

Erik A. Jacobson

You need a fresh set of eyeballs for this project, not your own. I would recommend Linda Seger's "The Art of Adaptation" for whoever tackles it. However, I've never heard of a potential market for 30-45 minute films. What similar adaptations of that length are you aware of that have recouped investors' money? Someone told you the budget is already set? That's totally bogus! You can't have a realistic budget without a completed script.

Babz Bitela, President/Silver Bitela Agency/WGA

yes yes and yes a novel IS NOTHING like a script. A script is bones. A script is not set dressing. READ DESCRIPTION and Voice by Martell and finally for your own perhaps sanity, hire a pro to do it and take the story by credit instead. The spec writer owes nothing to the novelist except, as Syd Field says, "the essence of the story"...oh my I do respect your desire to do it! But urge you to walk away and let someone else do it. just my nickel's worth BUT IF YOU DO do it? ENJOY the journey of it.

Dan Guardino

I have adapted over a dozen novels into screenplays. I am sure it can be done but if the book was successful it seems like a big waste to turn it into a short film instead of a feature film.

Maryam Sullivan

Thanks everyone. Will check out the books suggested!

Jody Ellis

I second what everyone else said. Hire someone. And 45 minutes is a very weird length. Either make it 15 or make it 80-90 mins. You say writing a script is the easy part, but you've already found that condensing a book into a script is NOT necessarily easy. It's an art and a craft that takes time, work and experience. And while writing a novel is certainly a worthwhile endeavor, it is not the same as writing a script. The two are very, very different. So unless you've written scripts before, you might want to rethink your notion of it being "easy".

Dan Guardino

Who is the producer and are they paying you to do this?

Danny Manus

Dan and some others are right. unless its a tv pilot, 30-45 pgs is a very odd length and theres no money in shorts. so id double check on what their gameplan is ans their intentions. in terms of actually adapting it, IF you are going to do it yourself, take your basic concept, thene, and the basic A to B of your story and throw the rest out. pretend like youre not adapting but instead writing a whole new short story. steal a couple lines if dialogue or character arc beats or a scene or 2 that exploits your hook the best, but start as if youre writing a totally new story, because you are.

Amber Greenlee

When they made the 1941 version of The Maltese Falcon, the director (John Huston) literally told his secretary "write the descriptions, write the dialogue. We don't know what the characters are thinking, no voice over." And that was the script.

It was the third making of that story so far, with a silent and a talkie version prior, both of which bombed.

Write the descriptions. Write the dialogue. Keep it simple. Good luck.

Myron DeBose

You write novels so a 45 page screenplay is nothing. I also know people who shot shorts and features. Their scripts are usually not to industry standards. I would check out an hour long drama's tv pilot that is similar to your novel's material. I'm a novice so take this with a grain of salt but if a Director wants you, you 're good.

Jeff Lyons

Danny is right. Shorts are for people trying to break into the biz ... maybe this producer is trying to do that, but the investors will lose their shirts. Nothing wrong with shorts, but they are a means to an end, not and end in themselves. There's no market for them other than film festivals and no distrib channel (other than a new "TV" channel but no money there). Stick with writing books, you'll be a lot happier and actually make some money.

Dan Guardino

Jeff. I agree but I don't know who the producer is. She didn't say. I never was interested in making short film but I thought most people just volunteered and did it on a shoestring. I sure think it is a waste to adapt a good book on one assuming it is a good book.

Myron DeBose

A short may be the way to market the project to investors to fund the feature.

Bill Costantini

Man.....there must be at least 20 or 30 shorts that were later made into feature-length films...and a whole bunch of writers and directors who got their starts making shorts. I know...I know....there are still long odds in making that happen....but there are still long odds in making a hot dog stand become profitable, too.

That is of course going to be a hard task for you to accomplish, Maryam, and I wish you the best!

Danny Manus

Bill, if you go out in LA at 1-3am, youll see a different hot dog stand on every corner, and they all make money. sure, its because theyre wrapped in bacon and theyre only $4, but theres hundreds of them and they all make money. So i guess the lessons here are 1. Bacon sells. 2. If you wanna make money and get attention in hollywood, youre better off making a hot dog stand than a short film.

Bill Costantini

Danny: I'm not a fan of late-night hot dog carts, and know that Pink's is still the L.A. hot dog standard for excellence, but I love Vicious Dogs, across the street from the Laemmle's in NoHo. Bite for bite....Vicious has some seriously great hot dogs. They close kinda early, though. Sniff-sniff....I miss my NoHo.

Danny Manus

hmm never been to vicious. may have to check that out. tbh, 15 years and ive never been to Pinks either. ill take $4 street meat anyday lol

Lindsey Novak

Writing a script is very different than writing a book. I've reviewed scripts and unnatural dialog can turn a good story into a laughable piece of XXXX. You will not be able to include every graphic detail as you might have in your novel, but get your dialog down so it's real and fill in your scene descriptions. Find a movie you like that has a similar story to yours and watch it until you have a feel for what's necessary and what can be omitted. When you feel comfortable with it, the script will flow.

A. S. Templeton

Write both script and novel of the same story. One always improves the other, and you double your fun and chances of getting the story out there.

David E. Gates

Why not try and reduce the 340-page story to a short-story first? Then you'll have the framework for the short film.

David P Perlmutter

I have a few people who want to write the script for one of my books, a true story called Wrong Place Wrong Time which is currently #1 in UK and Australia. How does one choose the correct one and if they see the huge potential in the film, should they ask for a fee in advance?

David E. Gates

If someone wants to option, they should pay you for it.

A. S. Templeton

Really, David P., buy some time from a lawyer who specializes in the entertainment industry, otherwise you're bound to get screwed. Except for such legal expenses, money should flow to you, not from you.

And as an author, you need to retain the rights to your characters, sequels etc. Or, as David suggests, screenwrite your own adaptation. Your craft can only benefit.

Patricia Zell

I came back just to answer your question:

1.) Start a new file for your condensed novel.

2.) Go through and eliminate every ounce of description, both physical and emotional. All you should have left is action and dialogue.

3.) Obtain a beat sheet from "Save the Cat" by Blake Snyder and review it (along with researched hints) until you understand what the beats are and how they work together.

4.) Go back to your condensed novel and match events in your story with the beats from the beat sheet.

5.) Google "Beat Sheet Calculator" to find a tool to help you line up the beats to the pages of your script. One page of script equals one minute of film. (By the way, I tried to copy a link to a calculator, but it wouldn't work.)

6.) Since you are working from your novel, I would advise you to not include any descriptions at all in your script. I would think the actors, director, cinematographer, set designer, costume designer, etc. would be reading the novel for the setting.

7.) You will probably cut and cut your dialogue. Remember, an actor can express a feeling in one look that would take a paragraph of dialogue to describe. Example: Joe raised his eyebrow vs. "I just can't believe you said that. Where are you coming from? What are you thinking? ..."

Your challenge is finding the gist of every conversation and letting go of the fluff.

8.) If you find there are still too many pages, start cutting out any action that does not directly impact the main conflict of the story. Try to hit as many of the beats as possible.

I think that comparing Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" with both the BBC version of the adaptation and the Joe Wright version might help you grab hold of condensing an expansive story into a much shorter film.

Elizabeth Orr

I've adapted novels into screenplays. Give me a call: 408 455-2893.

Bill Costantini

Glad to see Patricia Zell back!

Dan Guardino

I've adapted a dozen novels to screenplays. I am not looking to do anymore but I would find someone to maybe team up with that has some experience. I would give Elizabeth a call.

Senate Ewah Blakspirit

pat. good stuff, nice breakdown. Channel your mind on the tit beats ushered by pat, really resourceful.

Peter Venema

I suggest you try the 'Snowflake method', please check it out (Google). I've just discovered it and love it!

A. S. Templeton

Or try the String of Pearls technique

Amanda Toney - Stage 32 Next Level Education

Hi everyone, just wanted to chime in that we've had a couple of really great webinars about this: (taught by Jim Young who's made 2 films over the last years based on books) and (taught by Lane Shefter Bishop who's sold over 20 book to screenplay pitches to studios and networks), thought you might want to check them out.

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