How to Turn Your Book Into a Screenplay
Congratulations on writing your book! It has been selling, people love the story, and they start to drop hints that “ this could be a movie.” This sparks a light inside of you (I know it did for me when Skip Prichard gave me a review where he said, “it reads cinematically”). You think it’s time to turn this book into a movie! The new question that comes is, how do I actually do that?
WARNING!! There is no proven pathway to the process, but you can at least start with turning your book into a screenplay. It is a great time to take your idea to the industry and consider adapting your story for television or film.
Here are six tips to make this happen.
Tip # 1 Read!
Read books about screenplay writing. If you are not familiar with the adaptation process, here is something to know: novels, memoir, and nonfiction writing are completely different than Screenplay writing. So, get familiar with it!
Here are some books I have found helpful along the process: Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, Story: Style, Structure, Substance, and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee, and The Screenwriter’s Bible: A Complete Guide to Writing, Formatting, and Selling Your Script by David Trottier.
Tip # 2 Study Movie Structure
Watch some movies! Read, ask questions, educating yourself on film structure. Remember that films have constraints because of time and money. Think about your story and key elements or movements, and functions of the story that push the story and will need to be there for the movie.
Think about the film versions of a book you are familiar with. What was altered and enhanced by visual storytelling? Once you have thought about that, look at some of the film’s technical aspects and elements: lighting, cinematography, panning views, beats, close-ups, and sweeping views. These things can help you to visualize how your story would shine in the theater.
Tip # 3 Outline Existing Films
Grab your pen and paper; it is time to get writing! Watch a film and write out the outline of the movie as you are watching it. Look at the elements and favorite features to see if anything like this could be added to your story and visually captured in film. Through outlining, you will see the plots and subplots visualized. It is the magical part of screenplay writing.
Tip # 4 Scenes and Acts
Take a look at the chapters you have. Break your story into different sections and see what scene and acts are starting to form. Before you begin the film adaptation process, it is a great idea to map out the story and the major plot points. You have to discover what is the real purpose of the story. Can that be visualized? If not, keep searching until you can find it. Once that is found, the chapters will suddenly jump off as scenes and acts.
Tip # 5 Loglines
What is a logline? It is a short description of your main character and premise. Why do I need one? The Logline will make or break the chance to see this story become a major film production. You need to have a descriptive and concise logline that packs a punch. You might only have 10 seconds to make an impression of the thousands of stories that go across their desks.
Next to the story itself, the logline is the most crucial part of the project. It is about two sentences in length. You are screaming, “how can I reduce my story into two sentences?” Practice. It can be the make or break moment if your story becomes a movie. Start writing, rewriting, editing, revising, and working it until you have a catch that no one can put down.
Tip # 6 Hire a Screenwriter or a Coach
Screenwriters really have their work cut out for them. They have to sift through novels, memoirs, etc., to find the connecting story that will bring them the plot, logline, story, beats, scenes, and acts that will be visualized up on the screen. For myself, I hired a screenwriter, Catherine Shefski. Her skills took Pinpoints of Light from my story of escaping the abyss of abuse into a screenplay. We have worked collaboratively, and the process has taught me so much. (These six top tips for starters).
If you feel like you are a great writer and want to adapt your own screenplay, I would highly recommend Catherine for this process. Her coaching skills help another fellow writer, Mackenzie Flohr, take her fantasy books to become a TV series.
To wrap it all up, remember that there is no proven process to turning your book into a movie, but these six tips will get you started in the process. Practice your loglines, visualize your story, reach a coach, and get to work.
Good Luck, everyone, and “we’ll see you in the movies!”