Sunday, July 25, 2010

10 Keys for Turning Your Book into a Movie

Here's an article I wrote on adapting a book into a screenplay that got syndicated on a screenwriting how-to website.

I hope  you find it useful. Click Here to read it.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Distinctive Dialogue

 Each character should have their own voice, that is, a distinctive way of speaking that reflects who they are as a person. Each thing they say should be so distinctive that only they could have said it in your story.

A cynical, mature college professor from New York city will speak differently than a naive freshman from the Midwest. 

A down-on-his-luck carpenter will speak differently than a real estate tycoon, even though they're in the same industry. They will have different vocabularies and attitudes. Someone who is positive, on top of the world will say things that reflect his world view. The same is true for the carpenter who is worried he won't make the mortgage.

One problem with many newbie scripts is that everyone sounds the same and just about anything they say could be said by any other character.

Make your characters SOUND different, distinctive and you're on your way to a more sellable script.


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Don't Novelize a Screenplay

One of the mistakes that beginning screenwriters make is the tendency to "novelize" in the descriptive passages.  That its, they use the methods found in novels. For example:

When John looked at Allison he remembered all the other women he had been with. Some had hurt him and some had loved him. But he was willing to continue trying to make it work with her.


When Mary looked at the boat, she realized  it was the most beautiful one she had ever seen. She knew she had to have it, even though it was out of her price range.

How can you possibly show those things on the screen?

A screenplay can only contain what the audience can see and hear on the screen. Unlike the novel, you can only reveal character and backstory (history) through action and dialogue.

This is the challenge. To take what you know about your characters and reveal it on the screen, ONLY through action and dialogue, without resorting to long passages of one person describing themselves and their history. Boring and amateurish.

Let's look at how you might handle John's situation. Please note, the following are NOT in proper format.


Allison's remark stings. John hesitates before replying, then he looks into her cold eyes.

I never thought you'd talk to me that way.

What? No woman has ever talked to you that way?

No, that's happened before. More than one said something like that.

So now we're all evil harpies?

I didn't say that. Some were very kind -- like Judy.

I told you not to bring her up again.

I don't love her any more. I love you. And I'm
willing to try again, to make it work with us.


Allison's last statement also reveals something about the couple's past -- John's past relationship with Judy is still a sore point with her.

So as you're adapting your book into a screenplay, look out for the places where you might tend to "novelize" and instead use screenwriter's methods of revealing information.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Powerful Images & Story Telling

 Watched Kurosawa's "Ran" last night, which is a retelling of King Lear in feudal Japan.

One thing that I like about his directing style is his striking use of images, especially the countryside and sky. They become almost a character in the story, much as John Ford did with the American West.

One thing I don't like with "Ran" is that the director seems too removed from his characters, both visually and internally., He's using one of Shakespeare's greatest tragedies, but most of the characters seem one-dimensional. 

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Should You Outline First?

To outline or not to outline, that is the question. There are two schools of thought.

Because screenplays must adhere to a three-act structure, in a limited amount of pages, many writing coaches advocate creating a complete outline first.

Then there is the other school, which includes me, that takes a more free-wheeling approach.

Whenever I try to outline a story, it seems to block the flow of ideas. I like to start with an idea, with a general sense of the characters and see where it takes me. Many writers prefer the free-flow of ideas and the freedom of using an idea when it hits them.

Tolkien said at the beginning of the Rings trilogy, "The story grew in the telling."

Bottom line, there is no right or wrong way, there is only what works for you.


Sunday, July 11, 2010

How to Write for Independent Movie Companies

No matter how much we love movies, it's important to remember that the operative word in Show Business is Business.

Movies cost a lot of money to make. A LOT!

And the more characters, extras, scene locations, special effects and so on that your screenplay has, the more expensive it will be to produce.

If you want to have your book turned into a movie, it is often easier to break in with the smaller, independent companies.  But one reason they are smaller is that they have access to less money than the big studios do. So anything you can do to lower the cost of making a movie out of your book, the  better.

For example, having a lot of locations in your story increases the cost of production. It's very expensive to move around the actors, crew and equipment from place to place. It also increases the number of days necessary for shooting.  Many indie companies rent cameras, booms, props, etc. The more days they have to rent them because of moving around, the more expensive the production becomes.

One way to decrease the cost is to reduce number of locations in your screenplay adaptation. For example, if your story has a couple that fights a lot -- in the bedroom, in the kitchen, in the living room, etc., consider having several of those altercations occur in the same location.

Think My Dinner with Andre vs Avatar.

The former had two main characters and if memory serves, a single location.

Now think about Avatar -- huge cast, lots of characters, state-of-the-art special effects, a huge crew and some very ugly monsters. Those monsters don't work for union scale, either. They want top dollar.

So if you're thinking of approaching an indie company with your adaptation, you might want to consider dinner for two.

Want help adapting your screenplay? Want to work with a produced writer? Learn more here