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Tips for Adapting Your Screenplay into a Novel


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Have you thought about turning your screenplay into a novel?

It probably comes as no surprise to hear that Hollywood still craves adaptations, and producers are always looking for good IP.

If you’ve written a screenplay, you have the structure, characters, and story worked out and – essentially – an amazing outline for a novel. So why not turn your screenplay into IP that you can potentially use to get attention and make inroads to the industry? Two irons in the fire are better than one.

Evaluate what you have and what you need

The first thing to think about is how much story you’re starting with. Does your screenplay provide enough to sustain a novel? And if you need to build out more story, where and how will you tackle that challenge?

With a novel you have the opportunity to get inside the characters’ heads and roll around in their thoughts and feelings. That’s one way to come at fleshing out the story (and characters), since screenplays are limited in that regard.

You might also want to expand on what’s already there, perhaps giving more detail where you weren’t able to in the screenplay. Maybe you add non-linear timeline chapters or flashbacks to provide context for the A-story.

Another angle to consider is supporting characters and subplots. For example, decide if you want to add subplots, expand a supporting character to drive his or her own line of action, spend more time and attention developing a relationship, etc. In any case, a good rule of thumb is to keep subplots on-theme, just as you would in a screenplay.

Think about point of view

We get so used to writing in screenplay style that it’s easy to overlook the questions of point of view and tense. But in a novel, you have choices to make and you’ll want to think about the best way to tell your story.

You get to decide whose point of view you tell the story from. You can mix it up and jump or alternate between characters. You can even use an external narrator who isn’t a character in the story’s events. Tell it in first person if you want. Use an unreliable narrator. Past or present tense.

Maybe the number of decisions feels overwhelming? When in doubt, set the unusual options aside for now and write in the style that feels natural. And if that still doesn’t work (like if you can’t shake the ol’ screenwriting habits), pick up a favorite novel to remind yourself what you enjoy reading, and then try it in your own writing.

Identify a writing process

What’s the actual process of turning your screenplay into a novel? As with screenwriting itself, your process will be unique to you.

Maybe you want to outline the whole story, each subplot, and every scene before you start writing. Or, maybe you’d prefer to use the screenplay as a guide and jump right into writing prose, filling in gaps as you discover them.

Or maybe you’ll try a middle-road strategy. Perhaps come up with the major plot points or springboards for each plot / subplot and then weave those together into one chronology so you have a roadmap to follow but plenty of room for exploration along the way.

Other factors to think about:

  • When will you write? Days, times, and duration.
  • How much will you write in each session? For a set period of time, or to achieve a word count?
  • How will you reward yourself? For each session? Each word count milestone?
  • Mindset: Prepare to feel uncomfortable. Prepare to feel like you don’t know what you’re doing and may even be doing it badly. Prepare to push through anyway. You can’t rewrite a blank page, so get the words out first and worry about how pretty they are later.

Coming up with some kind of strategic plan – even if you decide to try something else later – will lend a bit of momentum to your writing process when you’re just getting started. And that can be important since trying something new can feel daunting or confusing, and that can lead to giving up. We don’t want that.

Because whatever you decide to do with it when you finish, writing a novel based on your screenplay has benefits in itself. You’ll stretch your writing muscles. You’ll discover knew things about your characters and story. And you may just have a finished work you can share on its own and use to further your screenwriting career.


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