It's tough. It's hard work. That's usually what you hear from writers converting their novel to the pages of a screenplay. Jennifer Irwin, author of "A Dress the Color of the Sky," recalls how she took her novel from manuscript to actual script. She struggled at first but with the help of screenwriter Stephanie Keuhn, Jennifer learned how to navigate the world of adaptation screenwriting.
This past year, I sold the film rights to my manuscript, A Dress the Color of the Sky. After I had signed with a literary agent, she mentioned to me that I had a gift for writing dialogue. "You should write the screenplay," she said.
A few months later, I ran into a television writer friend at a party. "No doubt you should write the screenplay," he said. "After all, no one knows the story better than you." He advised me to purchase a screenwriting program and to free up a wall in my house for laying out the storyboard.
One morning, at an exercise class, I met a screenwriter named Stephanie Kuehn. We got to talking. She had some experience, represented a younger generation and saw the incredible opportunity in this pro bono project. We talked about the differences between writing a screenplay versus a novel. A screenplay tells the story through images and dialogue whereas a book shows the story through description and dialogue.
Stephanie, helped me see my manuscript in a whole new light. How would the story unfold on the big screen? We had to break down the book into parts, choose the most critical scenes and put them together in three acts. I wrote more impactful dialogue because every second on film costs a massive amount of money. After writing thirty pages, Stephanie informed me we needed to cut it in half!
I realized our goals of making the screenplay entertaining and memorable were the same goals I had for my novel. The screenplay contained all the entities one would find in a book; cliff-hangers, character arcs, try/fail cycles, and character flips. Our screenwriting needed to be captivating because we only had a few minutes to grab the producer's attention. Stephanie added to the scenes, wrote the outline and laid out the camera angles with the same goals in mind.
It is not easy to break into the film industry. Often, it feels like a game of risk and luck. I've grown accustomed to dreams being made and broken within twenty-four hours. You have to love what you do to reconcile that happening over and over again; you have to love your stories. When Jennifer and I initially discussed her project, I felt curious, which I believe is the best place to begin work. I was excited to read her novel, "A Dress the Color of the Sky."
Adapting a book into a screenplay is difficult; synthesizing an over two-hundred-page novel can be an arduous process. Imagine taking out pieces to a puzzle, reshaping the edges, and putting it all back together. With that daunting image, it wasn't arduous at all. Our writer's dates were fluid, cohesive and fun. Work was intermittent with talk about relationships, work, love, sex, politics, philosophy, and current events. Our discussions served as good fodder for the story. The entire process took two months.
Now, we are waiting to hear back from the producers. Regardless of their response co-writing scenes for "A Dress the Color of the Sky" was a labor a love, and a project I am proud to have been a part of.
Adaptation's no easy task but it’s one that every screenwriter or writer should try. Pay homage to a novel that inspires you, see where the characters you know and love take you in your writing process. See how adaptation can help you hone your craft.
It is not an easy process in the least but you have to keep in mind why writers chose to adapt in the first place. Being able to pull inspiration from a world already created is the perk of adaptation. Here are the characters, the story and the concept, now go, run with it.
Personal challenge? Pick your favorite book. Now find your favorite chapter. Adapt that into a scripted scene. See where it takes you. You never know where you'll end up.