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June 30, 2021

5 Steps to Adapt Your Novel into a Screenplay

Writing a novel and writing a screenplay are two completely different ways of telling a story. That shouldn’t stop authors with a completed, or an uncompleted manuscript, to write the same story as a screenplay. It just needs discipline in working between the two writing formats.

Step 1: Set yourself up for success

The first impression of your script is vital and should follow the industry-standard professional FORMAT which is easy to follow in software like Arc Studio.

  • You won’t have to worry about what font to use or how to lay out a screenplay format. Simply follow Arc Studio as it guides you through writing your screenplay.
  • Keep in mind that the PAGE COUNT rule of thumb to follow is feature film screenplays should be between a minimum of 75 pages and a maximum of 120 pages. TV script series should ideally be between 25 to 75 pages.
  • Just as the first page of a book is important to hook the reader to continue reading, equally the first page of a screenplay tells the film producer or actor if they want to be involved in the story. For a screenplay, it really could be the make or break of selling the story to a film production company. It’s the first 10 pages or so that have to grab the film producer, or they won’t read further.

Step 2: Screenplay elements

  • In this video, Arc Studio explains that there are four main elements to a screenplay format:
  • Scene Heading
  • Action
  • Character
  • Dialogue

Watch the video to see how your screenplay page is laid out. The elements speak for themselves in that scene headings are where your story is taking place, action is what is happening, character is who is speaking, and dialogue is what they are saying. Pretty simple so far!

Step 3: Dialogue is the most important element

Screenwriting experts believe that dialogue is the most important part of scriptwriting.

  • You need to write good dialogue, in your screenplay adaptation, and it’s important to make it sound realistic.
  • You must convey your book adaptation story to the audience by what the characters are saying. These characters become the actors when your screenplay adaptation is optioned for film.
  • In a novel, you can rely on description and action to help tell the story but in a screenplay so much comes down to the dialogue in your screenplay.
  • With screenplays, everything has to be on the screen. You can’t write about what the character is feeling or thinking. Instead, you have to show it through visuals, character behavior, actions, and dialogue.

Step 4: Description is action

When writing a book or a short story, the audience expects description. In some cases, writers go wild and give you page after page of description. For script writing, however, you only need to give basic action lines between the character dialogue.

  • Don’t give long descriptions of what a character is wearing. There will be a lot of creative people who will work on your script if it gets to production, and they are the ones who will make those small details important.
  • As for what your character is feeling, that is the actors’ jobs!
  • For you, as the screenwriter, it’s important to keep things general and let the creative minds roll out their expertise. Instead of two pages of character description that you would use in a novel, you only get two lines or so in a screenplay.

Step 5: Characters

For each of your main characters, including the protagonist and antagonist, show the four vital elements of storytelling, which are:

  • What does your character want, why do they want it, what obstacles are stopping them from getting it, what is going to happen if they don’t get it – all these are the same vital elements of planning and writing a novel.
  • As with writing a novel, you need to establish the minor and major conflicts of the story and show why and how this plays out in your adapted screenplay.
  • Again, as with a screenplay you will start the story with a compelling character, either a heroine or a villain but most likely the main hero of the story who is someone the film producer and actors will care about almost straight away. They must capture their attention, so they engage with the character and they continue reading to see what happens to the character.

Good luck with your book adaptation!

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5 Steps to Adapt Your Novel into a Screenplay
Paula Sheridan

Paula Sheridan is the award-winning entrepreneur of nine business awards and won The People’s Book Prize for her debut novel, The Grotto’s Secret. She writes and publishes under the pen name of Paula Wynne. Paula is founder of Page Turner Awards, which includes the Page Turner Screenplay Award.

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David Wain

For decades I've been searching for a seamless screenwriting app and and everything has come up way short – until Arc Studio. Writing and collaborating is easier than ever and it gets better every week. Well done!

David Wain
Writer/Director "Role Models"