Screenwriting : How does one adapt a 1096 pg novel to a 120 pg spec script? by Cynthia B Ainsworthe

Cynthia B Ainsworthe

How does one adapt a 1096 pg novel to a 120 pg spec script?

My agent would like me to write a spec script of my novel (1096 ms pages). I have the software Final Draft for the formatting. I'm at a loss as to what to cut and what to keep. The novel is Front Row Center. Any and all help is appreciated.

Graham Rhodes

get a freelance script consultant or screenwriter to have a look at it

Cynthia B Ainsworthe

Thanks for the info, Graham. I think what I have, is a huge mountain to climb.

Dawn Chapman

Yikes, defo a huge task. It is pretty difficult. My first attempt landed at 93 pages and it hadn't even got past 3 chapters. Take the real bare bones, Make a very decent synopsis, 3 acts and take it from there. Don't copy whole parts, but totally re-write them.

Cynthia B Ainsworthe

Thanks, Dawn. You've been very helpful. This is a 40 chap novel with subplots, Evidently, I'll have to figure out what are the most important parts of the novel. I can see I have to think out this process very clearly in my mind.

Travis Byford

maybe break it into a series or trilogy.

Cynthia B Ainsworthe

That's a good idea, too, Travis. Something like a mini-series? Of course, a mini-series means a teleplay, right?

Travis Byford

what is the average page count for novels in your novel's genre. i'm guessing yours is on the higher end?

Cynthia B Ainsworthe

The average for suspenseful romance is 400 ms pgs. I'm well over that, but the story has so many twists and turns, murder and such, that it just kept evolving. Of course, for every problem I created, there had to be a resolution.

Travis Byford

so if you break yours into 3, you'd have an average page count of 365. much easier to put 365 into three acts than 1096. remember you can trim out a lot of non-essentials elements like appearance, clothing, descriptions, etc...for example: you don't have to write "Victoria was wearing a red sequin dinner dress and diamond earrings". what actors wear in the movie is determined by wardrobe specialist not screenwriters, if that makes any sense at all.

Cynthia B Ainsworthe

Travis, Thanks for the tip. Most of my novel is dialogue driven with inner thought. I know that inner thought will have to go. The dialogue has to carry the story.. My agent never did like long descriptive paragraphs. She guided me to write "up-fiction", and not a literary style. Thinking in the terms of 365 pages to be trimmed down to 30 or 40 pages of spec script is a bit easier.

Travis Byford

best of luck. keep us posted.

Cynthia B Ainsworthe

Thanks, Travis. I know it will be a slow uphill climb.

Dawn Chapman

The biggest problem with novel to screen, is you want to put everything in. You simply can't. And to be fair would a mini series work as a suspenseful romance? That might take some pulling off. However, if you think more about the genre of romance, and what goes into films these days, research some that match your novel, then you will get an even better handle. If your agent is requesting it as a script. Then you're ahead of most people, that is a good thing. But there will still be elements that they'll be looking for. Sometimes it is so formularic it sucks. But, there is some wiggle room for creativity.

Mark Ratering
Mark Ratering

Dan Guardino is a great person to ask he's doing it right now, I had to do it for my film flower's in the attic. You take the story elements that have to be and weave them together with a stop watch. Cloud Atlas just came out, it's from a book, 2 hours 43 min. You have to just gave the meat of the story.

Cynthia B Ainsworthe

Dawn & Mark, Thank you for your advice. Those ideas do tend to erase the amount of cobwebs of confusion regarding this subject. Another question: in a spec script, do I use FADE IN and FADE OUT for every scene change? I read somewhere, that a spec script should have minimal direction cues. Also, can I use minimal direction within the parentheses?

Dawn Chapman

No, you don't need Fade in and out after every scene change, it uses up valuable screen space. I'd also not worry too much about page length for your first try. Anything under 100 will be much better. Romance stuff, tends to be around 90 pages, unless you already have a specific market and audience. So aim for around 100 ish and you'll be good to go. 120 is really for sci fi and other epic stuff. Don't use parenthesizes unless you absolutely have too, i.he's hugging his girlfriend 'I love you' and in para 'rolls his eyes' etc etc. The bare minimum stands for everything. Description, action lines, dialogue. Best piece of advice. Hit every scene running. Get in as late as you possibly can, and out as soon as you can. Need anything else, just shout. :)

Mark Ratering

do not do direction cues the producer director will take care of that

Cynthia B Ainsworthe

Dawn & Mark, Thank you so much for those tips. I'll start deleting all those FADES and parentheses. Also, I read that on the last page I should type "THE END'. Is that the industry standard? All these things I question is what I read in the book, "The Screenwriter's Bible" by Trotter. This book is a few yrs old, so I wasn't certain if his info was dated.

Dawn Chapman

His info shouldn't be dated, but he does have a new book out. Dr Format, and that is a good read too. You might find most of the standards are the same, just slight variances and that will also depend on the style you choose to write in yourself. You'll find your feet, don't worry.

Cynthia B Ainsworthe

Dawn & Chris, Your tips are invaluable to me! I never gave a log line a single thought. The blurb for the novel, on the back cover, reads: "Their attraction was electric, their affair explosive, and their love--devastating to the lives of others." Would that do? Or, is the log line something else? Timeline notes seems to make this process easier.

Cynthia B Ainsworthe

Chris, Ahhh, something like a two sentence synopsis?

Cynthia B Ainsworthe

Lyse, Thank you for that wonderful resource! That process would get me to the meat of the novel, with the bare essentials; a streamlining, if you will.,

Jack Teague

Take into account that everything you write in your screenplay must be able to be shown, heard or spoken. That'll boil away a lot of the prose from your novel.

Cynthia B Ainsworthe

Thanks, Jack for that insight. Authors are instinctively involved with description and inner thought of a character; this is a real change of focus for me. Dialogue and action must carry the day. I read that I souldn't allow more than four typed lines for the action. Is that the general rule?

Anthony Crociata

My first concern would be, why? If your agent thinks it's possible to sell your novel to a studio as a film, there should be no reason for you to put in all of that work for nothing. You already have a story and your agent should first pitch it to studios as a possible adaptation for a film and secure an option deal.

Cynthia B Ainsworthe

Anthony, She represents screenwriters as well as authors. I think she feels that I would tend to be more true to the novel than someone else. Maybe she feels that there is more profit if I write the spec script, though she didn't mention that to me.

Jack Teague

Cynthia, I'd agree that four typed lines for the action description are a good rule of thumb. If there's a scene where the action is the scene you could legitimately deviate. Remember that each page of the screenplay translates to a minute on film. If you absorb too much of the page with an action description you'll struggle to stay within the 120 pages. Additionally, you'll be writing a masterscene screenplay rather than a shooting script. Directors need to see enough to create a visual in their head but don't try to direct on paper, let them do their job. Remember it's a collaborative process.

Anthony Crociata

Cynthia, even if you do right the script the studio will still have to option your novel in order to move forward and there are no guarantees that you will be kept on as the screenwriter (happens all the time). The spec market is pretty tough. It's actually easier to get a book optioned than it is to sell a spec considering the fact that it's already been published, read and hopefully, positively reviewed - Studio execs are much more open to something if it comes with an audience already following it. Your agent can always include you as the initial screenwriter in the option agreement. The benefit in optioning a novel is that your credit cannot be taken away from you and you own your story and characters, as a screenwriter, that isn't always the case. You might want to discuss it in depth with your agent before going any further. Although if you do decide to tackle it, my advice would be to have your agent hook you up with a seasoned screenwriter as a partner. They'll be more inclined to cut the fat and "kill your darlings" than you alone might be.

Anthony Crociata

Something you might find helpful. It's geared toward television, but they do hit on some key points. http://www.nerdist.com/2012/08/nerdist-writers-panel-51-book-to-tv-series/ one of the best podcasts for all you aspiring television writers out there!

Cynthia B Ainsworthe

What wonderful assistance you all have given me!!! My mind is in overdrive at the moment, sorting all these golden threads of advice. Treatment? Beat sheet? I'm clueless on those two items.

Cynthia B Ainsworthe

Dan, I have never written a screenplay before. This is something my agent requested. I did purchase "The Screenwriter's Bible" by Trotter as a start. I'm a complete novice.

Mark Ratering

Cynithia many good writers here Dan is adapting a novel as we speak. I also adapted a novel "Flower's In The Attic", Novels are tricky to screenplay.

Mark Ratering

Anthony if the novel numbers were not great maybe the studios did a pass and the agent figures try the back door?????

Mark Ratering

No Cynthia logline straight to the point no flowers. "Bill Short a New York Cop needs solves a murder so his brother won't be killed." Simple cooked down to the bone. Someone can look and know your story 100 per cent. It's hard.

Mark Ratering

No Cynthia logline straight to the point no flowers. "Bill Short a New York Cop needs solves a murder so his brother won't be killed." Simple cooked down to the bone. Someone can look and know your story 100 per cent. It's hard.

Mark Ratering

Oh Cynithia if it were really the end !!!! I'm on my eleventh trwrite on one of my scripts and the producer want's more changes !!!! Putting "The End" is up to you correct either way

Rob Parnell

Do what William Goldman suggests - read the book and spend a month working out what you think what the book is about - then write your screenplay. Whatever you do, don't follow the book scene by scene and don't try to make the book into a movie. Find the story - and then write the screenplay without referring to the book again!

Mark Ratering
Mark Ratering

That's right Rob that's why I've always said for many producers it's about the idea of the story not that all i's are dotted and tees crossed.

Timothy Spearman

Cynthia, I am a screenwriter and can help you out if we can come to an arrangement. Contact me at apollospear@yahoo.com if you are interested in receiving help from a professional.

Chuck Dudley

Cynthia -- for now -- your first draft, forget about all the mechanics and be a WRITER FIRST. What is the central idea or theme that you are trying to convey. What's the CORE of your story. Your protagonist goals, antagonist goals... write a rough draft. If it's 150 pages so be it. You can clean up on your rewrites. When you're done you should have a solid story that adheres to the screenwriting format and structure. But start with STORY first and the rest will follow. Good luck!

Cynthia B Ainsworthe

Mark, Rob, Timothy and Chuck, I appreciate all your wonderful advice, which is invaluable to me. I'm beginning to think that I need to work with someone on this project, as I did with an editor to helped me grow as an author; no, she didn't write one word of my novel, but critiqued my writing and advised when my POV was wobbly or I slipped into talking-heads, etc. If anyone is interested, here's my book trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qhK7prWYxhk

James Holzrichter

I hope you don't mind me adding my two cents in, I'm not a writer but from an audience point of view, people who love your book, will look for things that are in the book. Stephen Kings, "The Stand" is a good example, the story is huge, not everything that was in the book made it to the miniseries. From my point of view as an audience member :) I would love to see the whole story. If it's in more than one movie so be it, I still want to see the whole story. Another great example is, "Fellowship of the Ring" There was an animated movie done a long time ago where a lot of stuff was not in it. The newer movie series where it was much more inclusive was much better. Just throwing in my view :) As to how to do it? I have no idea.....lol

Cynthia B Ainsworthe

Yes, James, that's the whole conundrum of book to screen. Since my novel is 1096 pages, it has to be cut to the bare bones; a very tough feat indeed!

Robin Chappell

Strip it down to the bare essentials. Take it down to barebones outline and, yes, find the core of the story. Either eliminate or combine characters, especially if there are many. Without any other particulars, that's all I can give you. Besides a hearty,,, Good Luck. (Break a Key.)

Rafael Hernán Gamboa

As to how to distill the story, you have to figure out which story to tell. Watch movie adaptations of books, particularly the really good ones, like No Country For Old Men, and watch with an eye for what story they decided to tell from the source material. A lot of people think movies are just like Cliff Notes versions of the books they're based on, but the reality is you have an opportunity to tell a different story, one that you could only tell on the screen, and in doing so finding something new to say. I strongly recommend a book called The Screenwriter's Bible, which not only exhaustively covers formatting rules, but also provides all sorts of guides and worksheets to help you figure out how to make your stories work within the limitations of cinema.

Cynthia B Ainsworthe

Rafae;. Thank you for your words of experience. I do have "The Screenwriter's Bible" by Trotter. and found it to be useful. That's one reason why I purchased FD software. I didn't want to have to worry about the formatting. I guess I'll have to re-read it and glean more treasures.

Max Keanu

I've written a number of novels. -First edit down the novel to skeleton form, but leave dialogue alone. -Go back and edit dialogue down to reflect your main thematic point of view (not character pov, but overall story pov) -Do not start a script until you've scoured the novel and cleaned out all the non-essentials. A 1000+ page novel is far too long, unless the novel is by Thomas Pynchon, Tolstoy or Thomas Mann and unless you are scripting something like Herman Wouk's, 'The Winds of War', and you're creating a multiple-episode drama with it. -I would try to edit novel down to 300-400 pages before I started a script. The little edits (see below, numbers 3 through 8 below) will probably cut word count down by half. 1.) get -http://editminion.com/ 2.) buy -https://www.autocrit.com/ 3.) Remove passive tense, replace with active tense (unless it is a flashback - use your common sense) Most films are in present tense. 4.) remove generic words (which are weak words like: really, nice, very, almost, suddenly, a little... etc.) 5.) remove the word 'that' & 'just', then go back and add them to dialogue where needed. 6.) remove 80% of the adverbs (but do it carefully regarding dialogue) 7.) Eliminate clichés/redundancies, except in dialogue, but beware. 8.) Eliminate overused words, phrases, repeated pronouns and remove redundant/repeated information (location, character, plot descriptions and narrative voice ramblings) 9.) Determine the story arc, the final denouncement, and mark the STRONG pacing points that takes the audience to the end (some writers call these beats) 10.) Determine who your audience is. Write to a place a notch below the educational level of your main audience ( use Flesch-Kincaid or other readability algorithm if necessary) 11.) many times chapters contain numerous scenes and you want to mark all the scenes per chapter- don't assume a chapter is one scene 12.) take meticulous notes about character emotions. Underline the keywords in these notes. 13.) Determine narrative voice, narrative framing device, narrative timeline and an action timeline. 14.) Don't limit yourself to 120 pages. Aim for 200-300 pages or more, then take a break and then do the edits towards 90-150 pages. Now your ready to start your script. Go for it.

Cynthia B Ainsworthe

Wow, Max, thank you so very much for your guidance. Your instruction does help to separate the meat from the bone. Yes, Herman Wouk is heavy reading, and I've read Winds of War, and War and Remembrance. It boggles my mind how he was able to write that script for a mini-series. Mentally, I'm already doing some streamlining of my novel. I do have a number of scenes that can be deleted; those scenes are necessary to flesh out a character, but I don't think necessary for a film. I'm keeping all these great tips in a folder.

Chuck Dudley

And Cynthia if you hire a screenwriter to write your spec, that screenwriter will have their own interpretation of your story and add and remove elements accordingly. A good screenwriter should return a draft that will address your notes all while adhering to the central idea of your story. But... you have to have the stomach for this and allow the screenwriter to do their job.

Cynthia B Ainsworthe

Chuck, I completely understand about the necessary surgery that is needed for my baby. That is a necessary evil; cutting the umbilical cord, so to speak. The essence is of a forty-five year old woman becomes involved with a famous singer, tries to remain faithful, that doesn't happen. Then has to decide which life she wants to lead, etc. Her choice leads to murder and a brief bout of alcoholism. That's less than the bare bones, more like down to the marrow.

Mark Ratering

What Rafeal said is the 100% problem that book authors gave with screenwriters. They have different idea's of "what the story is". And I have told stories on this site being on more than one set where the book author almost punching each other out. Can you image waiting till film is going through the camera and fighting about the "story" that late in the game.

Rob Tyler

Pick your best 5 chapters and create your screenplay. That's really how its done.

Mark Ratering

James that is a great point. Word of mouth is the most important reason we see films. If a fan does not like the way the movie came out they will bad mouth your work. This is a hard road making everyone happy producers studio fans new fans I've been there it's hard.

Mark Ratering

Cynithia if you ever say something "is what it is" take it down and do it over again. Be proud and 100% happy with your product. Your dealing with super pros, some on this site, come on you know who you are !!! When I got to Hollywood I was blown away with the 100% professionalism and 15 hour days from really great artististic minds. Your dealing with a different crowd now, If you need help give a ring.

Mark Ratering

These trailer's can be dangerous. My old screenwriting professor would drive home "you have to like ome lead a lot and you'll like the film" your main is a tramp, and a cheat. Do I like the husband? A trailer does not let me get to know anyone. It may lead me to wrong idea's about your wprk. The trailer is too long. Just trying to help.

Cynthia B Ainsworthe

Mark & Rob, You bring out great points. I would think that all the fine points should be resolved between author and screenwriter before filming. Guess, people are people. Getting hostile could very well put an axe into the entire process. My book trailer? It was meant to create curiosity, and need to learn more, to want to read a review and possibly purchase the book. The leading lady is mesmerized by the adoration of a famous singer, both start out as very moral, lots of sexual tension. She's going through menopause, not rational. Makes a very bad choice that causes her husband to be murdered. Then the fat really hits the fire, investigation, suicide by another character, heard attack for the leading lady that reveals her possible short future.

Cynthia B Ainsworthe

Mark, Thank you so very much for your advice. I did edit my comment about my book trailer. My humble side was showing in that previous comment, and I didn't realize how others might interpret my words. That was too shortsighted of me.

Mark Ratering

I made t.v. ads wrote and directed for 35 years. I worked for some of the old horror film directors that did great trailers for their next films T.V. Mikels. Just like a logline your trailer should suck you in 45 to 60 second, Some film-makers put down us Ad directors but it taught me so much about time. How to catch a person's mind and respond to info. It taught be about writing and getting to the point to the bone. You are a humble person now be bold.

Max Keanu

http://www.thenextbigwriter.com/ About $15 and three months should bring you down to 400 pages, if you want that. Review jack the knife , dags, Lucy Rice, quickwork, seabrass, Memphis, Ann Everett, others - They are all published novelists and they will give you the feedback you need to bring your novel to essential levels. Go to forums for novel advice and marketing eBooks. Good luck - måx Are you on Goodreads?

Cynthia B Ainsworthe

Mark, Thank you for pointing me in the right direction, and giving me so many ideas for improvement. We all can improve in one fashion or another. I'll try to be bolder. I am proud of what I've accomplished. When most people are thinking of retirement, I've embarked onto a new career path---writing, and I love it!! Max, Thank you for the link. I will check it out. Yes, I'm on Goodreads, and Amazon.

Mark Ratering

Your on a great track Cynithia I made a "chick" film it made 169 million dollars and my mom read a novel like yours one a day. But tou don't see a lot of novels like yours made into movies. The authors want to stay in their realm so "cheers" to you. Like I said I was head of a million dollar Ad company. Make a small ad 29 sec's out of the material tou have and run it late night. You can get spots as cheap as $10 a spot nation wide. It will help with the novel and producers.

Jonas Daniel Alexander

The best advice that I can give, having adapted a story into a film, is find your own voice with it (Even if it is your own novel!) take everything that is the essence of the novel, cut anything that may be deemed unnecessary (Characters, locations etc). and, obviously, make it all that more cinematic. Think about what would draw in a cinematic audience from thew novel. Consider every element of the story.

David Miller

Check out how Ray Bradbury wrote the screenplay for Moby Dick. Here's a rather lengthy URL for the article: http://cinefantastiqueonline.com/2008/03/interview-ray-bradbury-on-adapt...

Cynthia B Ainsworthe

Mark, Thank you for that great advice. I have no idea how to place a TV spot, let alone create one. Someone else put my book trailer together. So, I really don't have the tech knowledge---not very savvy in the IT arena. Jonas, Thank you for your wonderful insight. Last night, mentally I cut my characters down to four, when I was composing a brief synopsis: Larry (famous singer), Taylor (married woman he wants), Paul (Taylor's longtime husband of 25 yrs). Cutting to the chase: Larry sees menopausal Taylor in the audience at one of his concerts. They fight the mutual attraction. A murder and suicide ensues. I've left a great deal out, but this is down to the marrow. David, Thanks for the link. I'll check it out. I so appreciate your help and the time you spent in finding that link. Moby Dick is a very meaty novel and I'm sure was no easy task to put it to film.

Max Keanu

RE: Moby Dick... a meaty novel, har-har-har. Sorry, couldn't resist that pun. Melvill's novel reflected a fascination of the time... the adventure of whaling, as whaling lit up the world in lamps and threw back the night. Reading this book now is a tedious process as no one in their right mind cares about the minutiae of whaling or the processing of blubber. The simple inner story, the main conflict deals with out of control ambitions, which reflects the the dark side of capitalism and earthly desires — and this is what makes this a classic. I still say, work your novel to a short a perfect novel and then do the screenplay.

Cynthia B Ainsworthe

Max, I couldn't resist the pun, either. I like your idea, cutting to the main conflict and subplot. That's far more manageable. Thanks for giving my conundrum serious thought.

David Miller

I was suggesting that reading Ray Bradury's account of the process he used to write the screenplay for the John Houston film version of of the book could be of some help to Ms. Ainsworthe.

Cynthia B Ainsworthe

Thank you, David, for that advice. I'll have to check it out. What a great resource.

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