Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Column: Screenwriting – Adaptation: How to Do It by Karen Albright Lin

As discussed in the last blog post, there are many forms of writing that can be adapted to film.  Because the most common is novel to script, my example assumes you are moving from book to screenplay.

If you have a novel, there are three common ways of approaching adaptation to film.  Each has advantages and disadvantages. 

1)  Follow the book beat by beat.


Pro:
  -   Outline is there for you and YA length lends itself (Holes is a good example)

Cons:
  - It can come off crowded with characters, jerky and melodramatic (motivation doesn’t match action).
  - You will have to cut the story down to 2 hours—at 1 page per minute
  - You will likely anger some readers.

2)  Work from key scenes.

Pro:
  - Pick most colorful, dramatic scenes.


Cons:
  - Scenes tied together artificially will not look like the novel.
  - Again, you’ll anger some readers.

3)  Construct an original screenplay based on the book.

Pros:
  - Nail down the premise, decide on an appropriate POV (maybe different than the book’s)
  - Determine beginning/middle/end, write a treatment and first chapter (called a master scene script).

Cons:
  - Must start from scratch and reduce to filmable dimensions.
  - Still you’ll get complaints from readers.
           
Despite all the reader belly-aching, the biggest box-office successes tend to be adaptations.  Since Oscars began in 1927-28, more than 3/4 of the Best Picture awards have gone to adaptations of novels.  William Goldman is proof that a script can be made from a book without being 100% true to the book and without disappointing readers or viewers.  When adapting Marathon Man, his own novel, he kept only one scene from the book (Olivier in the diamond district).  Stephen King didn’t like Stanley Kubrick’s handling of The Shining, but the movie is brilliant if you don’t connect it to the source material.   

The moral of this posting: Choose the right story, learn the craft, and be flexible.  Write a screenplay that keeps the soul of the book and you may touch many more people with your story.  In my next post I’ll discuss useful steps to take as you prepare to turn a novel into a screenplay.  Until then, keep your dialogue snappy and your directions brief.  Don’t step on the director.  Avoid dusk and dawn.

About the Writer: Karen is an editor, ghostwriter, pitch coach, speaker and award-winning author of novels, cookbooks, and screenplays. She’s written over a dozen solo and collaborative scripts (with Janet Fogg, Christian Lyons and director Erich Toll); each has garnered international, national and regional recognition: Moondance Film Festival, BlueCat, All She Wrote, Lighthouse Writers, Boulder Asian Film Festival, SouthWest Writers Contest, and PPW Contest. Find out more at www.karenalbrightlin.com.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Karen. I agree with your approaches to adapting a novel to screen with #3 being my favorite choice. Take what's good about the novel and build a story around it. An adaptation is still an original work.

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