Is my novel ready for the screen?

i.e. Is My Novel ready to be turned into a screenplay?

by Jennifer Heins

August, 2017

Have you published a novel that you're dying to see on the big screen? Or perhaps you're in the midst of writing one but believe it may be better suited as a screenplay? There are a few important things to think about before you transform your prose into a script. 

First and foremost, it is important to remember that novels and films are two different mediums. Ever hear someone say, "I liked the movie but it was so different from the book!"? Well, yes. A movie is different from a book. This might sound like an obvious bit of information but it's easy to forget that some of the best, most amazing parts of your book will never make it to a screenplay simply because these two mediums want two different things. 

Novels want to create images in the reader's head. They dive into a character's innermost thoughts and feelings. In short, novels use words to communicate. Screenplays use images. If you find that most of the information in your book is communicated through thoughts or dialogue, it might be a challenge to transform this into a script. A screenplay should communicate 80-90% of all information visually. We see the character do something which tells us what we need to know. The rest of the information can come verbally, through dialogue. 

Then there's the matter of length. It's doubtful that a 400 page book will fit into a two hour movie. Some plot points, subplots, and side characters may not fit into a script (if you want your script to be a tight, well-paced story, that is).  

However daunting it may seem to transform a story meant for the page to one meant for the screen, don't be discouraged. Even if your story may look and feel a little different, it's still your story. It can still have all the compelling, jaw-dropping, heart-breaking moments that your novel does. Start with the big pieces. Figure out which elements are most vital to your overall plot then go from there. Keep an open mind and don't give up!

A great place to start is to pick your favorite movie and look up the original screenplay. Many scripts can be found online for free. Here is The Departed screenplay written by William Monahan.