How To's | Screenplay Doctor | Screenwriting

Ask the Screenplay Doctor: Bringing Novels to Life

1 Mar , 2012  

Written by Susan Kouguell | Posted by:

Screenplay doctor Susan Kouguell gives you the questions to ask and the software to use when faced with transforming a 500+ page novel into a 120 page screenplay. E-mail screenwriter@newenglandfilm.com to have your screenwriting question answered in an upcoming issue.

A reader asks:

Which is the best style (or software) to change a book written manuscript into screenwriting?

Okay, my point here is… I’ve written almost 20 manuscripts and after finally getting it through my head, I realize… I’ve been creating MOVIES in book form. The details I’ve been included in them overwhelm the readers, however would become invaluable to a director…

So… It would be within the people of this company to jump on-board here and steer me in the right direction. I await a certain reply to this question. Thank you.

Screenwriting Software

There are numerous screenwriting software products to choose from, such as Final Draft and Movie Magic, but Movie Outline might be the most useful for assisting in adapting because it has more specific tools, such as outlining and templates http://www.movieoutline.com/movie-outline-software.html.

(Readers, take note – if you have other screenwriting software recommendations, please let me know and why you recommend it.)

While screenplay software provides assistance with script formatting and offers tools specific to what individual writers are looking for, in the end, the screenwriter must write the screenplay — the software doesn’t write in place of the screenwriter.

Top Ten Tips for Adapting a Novel into a Screenplay

As a writer-for-hire I have adapted several novels into feature-length screenplays. It can be a daunting task especially when the novel is lengthy — like 500 pages or more! Keep in mind that one page of a screenplay equals about one minute of a film, so a 120-page script will equal (approximately) a two-hour film.

Following are some basic tips when adapting a novel into a screenplay.

  1. It’s important to get to the core of your source material. Answer the following: What is your novel about? Use the answer to this question as your guidepost to determine the major storyline of your plot.
  2. Ask for feedback from friends, colleagues, and so on, and ask them: What do you think my novel is about? This will help you gain more objectivity.
  3. For your main plot, determine who your protagonist is, his or her goal, and who the antagonist is, and why he or she is opposing the protagonist from achieving this goal.
  4. For your subplot answer the following: How does your protagonist with the help of alliances (friends, family, and so on) achieve goals despite the antagonist’s opposition?
  5. Decide whose voice the plot will follow. Most novels are written in the first person voice, but you should avoid using voice-overs unless absolutely necessary. Also, avoid flashbacks or dialogue that is heavy on exposition. Keep in mind that flashbacks and voice-overs are scrutinized by story analysts and film executives because they are often overused and unnecessary, slow down the pacing, and can take the reader out of the story.
  6. As the famous screenwriting adage goes: Show don’t tell. Critical plot information and backstory should be revealed in dialogue or through visual storytelling. Convey characters’ feelings and conflicts through dialogue and actions. Film is a visual medium and the viewing audience will not know what the character is thinking, as opposed to a novel where there are pages upon pages to describe the internal worlds of each character.
  7. Write an outline or beat sheet that follows the key plot points and your protagonist’s journey.
  8. Cut all extraneous subplots, characters’ inner thoughts, and lengthy set descriptions. Then cut some more. And then cut even more.
  9. Consider cutting down the number of characters in your novel by first briefly describing the purpose they are serving. This will enable you to determine if each character is necessary to include in the script and if several characters can be compiled into one character.
  10. Make every word of your screenplay count; this applies to both dialogue and action paragraphs.

Susan Kouguell’s new book SAVVY CHARACTERS SELL SCREENPLAYS! A comprehensive guide to crafting winning characters with film analyses and screenwriting exercises is available at a discount price of $1.00 off by clicking on www.createspace.com/3558862 and using DISCOUNT CODE: G22GAZPD. To read an excerpt from the book, go to: https://www.createspace.com/Preview/1089452.

Susan is also the author of The Savvy Screenwriter: How to Sell Your Screenplay (and Yourself) Without Selling Out! (St. Martin’s Griffin) and is an award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker. Susan teaches screenwriting and film at Tufts University, and is chairperson of Su-City Pictures East, LLC, a motion picture consulting company founded in 1990 where she works with over 1,000 writers, filmmakers, and film executives worldwide. ( www.su-city-pictures.com; su-city-pictures.blogspot.com).

Follow Susan at Su-City Pictures, LLC Facebook fan page and SKouguell Twitter page to receive more Savvy Tips.

Related Article: Ask the Screenplay Doctor: Adaptation


Susan Kouguell’s new book SAVVY CHARACTERS SELL SCREENPLAYS! A comprehensive guide to crafting winning characters with film analyses and screenwriting exercises is available at a discount price of $1.00 off by clicking on www.createspace.com/3558862 and using DISCOUNT CODE: G22GAZPD. To read an excerpt from the book, go to: https://www.createspace.com/Preview/1089452. Susan is also the author of The Savvy Screenwriter: How to Sell Your Screenplay (and Yourself) Without Selling Out! (St. Martin’s Griffin) and is an award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker. Susan teaches screenwriting and film at Tufts University, and is chairperson of Su-City Pictures East, LLC, a motion picture consulting company founded in 1990 where she works with over 1,000 writers, filmmakers, and film executives worldwide. ( www.su-city-pictures.com; su-city-pictures.blogspot.com). Follow Susan at Su-City Pictures, LLC Facebook fan page and SKouguell Twitter page to receive more Savvy Tips.