Converting a Script to a Novel
- By: Jessica Faust | Date: Sep 22 2015
Anyone who has ever taken a look at a script knows that script writing and novel writing are two completely different beasts. Writers complain that query writing is different, try a script.
At BookEnds we represent books, not scripts. We don’t have connections in the film industry, we have agents we work with who have connections in the film industry. They’re the ones who pitch the books or have the scripts created for us. I think it’s important in life to know that you can’t do everything and I can’t do scripts (nor do I want to).
At a recent pitch appointment a writer sat down to tell me about her script. She hadn’t written a novel, but wanted to pitch her idea first to see if it was worth converting from a script to a novel. I’m not good at hiding my feelings and I can only imagine the incredulous look she saw on my face. As if you can sit down and quickly whip that novel out. You can’t. I guarantee you can’t.
When pitching to anyone be careful about the words you use and the casualness with which you use them. An agent is going to have a hard time taking any writer seriously who thinks she can simply whip something out. As if writing a book is just that easy.
Years ago I had a book optioned by a small, independent film company. They asked me if I was interested in writing the script. It was an excellent lesson in not agreeing to do something you know nothing about. For me, writing a book is all about starting with a bare skeleton of an idea and adding the flesh, muscle, and sinew that gives life to the story. I learned that writing a script entails stripping away every bit of flesh, every tendon, and all the viscera until you find the pure skeleton. I absolutely cannot write a script. It’s not in my makeup to take something I’ve created and flay the meat from the bones. And that book has never been made into a movie.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a script (at least, not since I was in the 4th grade play “The Jungle Book” – and I’m sure that doesn’t count!). I’m happy to admit I know nothing about them and, truth be told, I have no interest in learning. I like writing novels.
It’s amazing how many people think writing a novel is a piece of cake. Or that getting an idea is the hard part. How wrong they are!
I’ve heard stories of people pitching novels that aren’t written because they want to find out if the book will sell before they spend the time writing it. I don’t think they really want to be writers – they probably think they’ll be the next JK Rowling or EL James! I write because I have too – otherwise the characters in my head will drive me nuts. I love to write. It’s that simple.
Jessica Faust is absolutely right about screenwriting and novel writing being two completely different monsters, but for those of you who have done both, it can be quite helpful.
Your descriptions in a script have to be so quick and concise, you train yourself to include description in your action while drafting your novel. Since a script doesn’t include a character’s inner thoughts you improve your ability to write dialogue because a screenplay stresses character reactions to dialogue. Screenwriters have to get into a scene late and exit early; and every scene must serve a purpose. This habit forces a novelist to do the same with every chapter.
Meanwhile, novelists train themselves to know their character’s life story, this translates into a three dimensional character in your screenplay. Novelists need to “hook” their readers much faster than the estimated tenth page of a screenplay’s inciting incident.
A good manuscript reflects a change in your protagonist (and possibly your antagonist),
that habit helps a screenwriter create a better movie.
It wasn’t easy, but both of my novels are written in screenplays. The ability to write both novels and screenplays has been very helpful to me.
Good point. Anytime you take time to learn a new style of writing it can only help everything else you’re doing.
This is so true! I was working with a client last month who’d been a screenwriter and now was writing a novel and there was a whole set of basics that he didn’t have: from dialogue tags to description to exposition. He’s learning, but he’s got his work cut out!
Help me turn a compelling screenplay (true story) into a BEST selling Novel.