Tips on Adapting a Screenplay from a Book
Updated: Apr 27
Since the inception of the screenplay, many screenplays have been adapted from books. If you’re looking to adapt a screenplay from a book, there is an important set of tips you should follow to properly to do so.
Books are great to create screenplays from, but it’s an extremely difficult task. They’re filled with information, meaning they leave the writer with a daunting task of having to figure out what exactly makes their screenplay.
Bringing in the question of how true you should stay to the source material or if you should venture far away from the source material. It all depends on what you hope to accomplish with your script.
Outline the General Story
No matter the book you’re trying to adapt, be sure to outline the general story of the book. Be sure to jot down random B plots, character descriptions and aspects like that, but what’s most important is to outline the major points of the story.
For example, if a book is about a guy robbing a story you’ll want to look at why he’s robbing a store, him robbing the store, and the aftermath of it all.
If you don’t outline the basic plot of the book you’re adapting, then you’ll be far off from the source material. Which will only upset fans of the original work and have them be mad at you.
Read Into the Characters
Since the characters of your script are what’s going to drive your story, you’re going to want to read heavily into the characters of the book. Be sure to write down their physical descriptions, how they speak, what their goals are, and the conflict all of them deal with.
If you slack off on focusing on the characters, your script will be very weak. No one will want to read a script if the characters are boring or all sound the same. There needs to be an element of uniqueness to it. One great example of keeping the characters multi-layered and the narrative genuine is David Fincher's Gone Girl, based on Gillian Flynn's brilliant novel.
Photo credit: Time.com
Although adapting material from a book into a script is great because of the amount of information in the book, it’s a lot more difficult than you might realize. You don’t want your script to read like a book. Thus, the reason you’re going to have to cut a lot of information from the source material into your script.
Don’t just cut aspects to make room for your script, but read into the book and cut certain parts that aren’t necessary or don’t advance your story. A script needs to be constantly advancing in every part of the script.
If you can’t achieve that, then you’ll be dealt with a script that no one appreciates.
In conclusion, take the proper steps and time to adapt the book into a script. If you don’t, you’ll only be left with a script that isn’t anything of value.
You can’t take a great book and expect it to be a great screenplay. The screenplay still falls into your hands on whether it can be good or not.