BLOGWORDS – 10 April 2017 – NEW WEEK NEW FACE – GUEST POST – MARK DAVID GERSON
NEW WEEK NEW FACE – GUEST POST – MARK DAVID GERSON
So You Want to See Your Book on the Silver Screen, or Adapting a Novel for the Movies
by Mark David Gerson
It’s March 1995, a chilly spring morning in rural Nova Scotia. With notepad on my lap, pen in hand and a fire crackling in the wood stove, I begin the day’s work on my MoonQuest novel, grateful that this first draft is nearly finished. To my surprise, what emerges onto the page is not the usual third-person narrative. Instead, I find myself writing in the first person as Toshar, the main character.
It doesn’t take me long to realize that Toshar’s voice is the story’s voice and that I will have to rewrite the MoonQuest from scratch, from his perspective. To do it, I know I will have to delete many scenes, add many new ones and subject those that survive to wholesale revision.
My old editor-self would have approached the task as an exercise in left-brain mechanics. My new Muse Stream-self recognizes the need for a more right-brain approach.
(“Writing on the Muse Stream” is my technique for making writing easier than you can ever imagine it being! I write about it in all my books for writers. Look for them on my website, http://www.books4writers.com, on Amazon, http://www.amazon.com/author/markdavidgerson, or from major online booksellers in paperback or ebook. In short, Writing on the Muse Stream means writing with stopping—without stopping to correct, edit…or even think.)
Instead of forcing The MoonQuest into this new, first-person form, I decide to treat the story as its own sentient entity and let it tell me what is necessary and what is expendable. Instead of trying to figure out which scenes to retain and which to cut, I choose to let the story find its own telling.
If my early experiences with The MoonQuest helped me to trust in the wisdom of the story, I now allow myself to trust it even more. The result? The rewrite streams out of me with an ease and speed I never expected or could have imagined.
Why am I telling you this story when it has nothing to do with screenwriting? Because more than a decade later, I would use the identical strategy to adapt my MoonQuest and StarQuest novels into screenplays.
What does that strategy involve?
- Getting out of your own way.
- Silencing your critical and judgmental selves.
- Trusting that your story is smarter than you are, and surrendering to that superior wisdom.
- Listening to your characters. After all, it’s their story you’re telling!
- Focusing on story, not structure.
- Heeding the voice of your Muse and your intuition.
- Practicing discernment.
- Writing on the Muse Stream.
Yes, writing on the Muse Stream. Even though you are not writing an original screenplay, the Muse Stream remains your most effective conduit to the story’s essence. If you let it, it is that essence that will guide you as you translate the story from one form to another.
What follows are some basic craft considerations to bear in mind as you read and reread the novel and move forward with your adaptation.
Bear them in mind, but don’t worry about them as you write. Don’t even focus on them. Let them hover on the fringes of your awareness as you listen to the story and as you listen for the story’s best expression as a screenplay. Later, when it’s time for a new draft, you can add them to your revision checklist.
Adapting a novel involves more than stripping out all the novel’s description and copying-and-pasting its dialogue into Final Draft or your preferred screenwriting software. Not all the book’s dialogue will have a place in the film. Some speeches, for example, may run too long. With others, their point might be more eloquently expressed visually. Talk to your characters and and out from them what is necessary and what is superfluous.
In fiction, the presence of a narrator or narrative voice can reveal much to the reader about the story and its characters. Most films have neither a narrator nor a single narrative voice. As screenwriter, you will need to find alternative ways — visually and/or through dialogue — to give viewers the information they need.
Action & Description
You have limited space in your screenplay to paint the scenes and settings your novel can do at its leisure. Evocative, concise writing is critical.
Plot & Theme
Even a simple novel may have multiple themes and subplots. A complex novel will have even more. Unless you are writing a modern-day version of Erich von Stroheim’s Greed (a silent film that originally clocked in at close to eight hours), you may have to streamline your original story to focus on a core plot and theme. In doing so, you may find yourself eliminating subplots, characters and settings that are superfluous and altering or merging others.
One final note. If the novel you want to adapt is not your own, always make sure that there are no legal impediments to your screenplay version, even if the novel you want to adapt is in the public domain. Unless you are the novel’s author, secure the necessary rights before you start writing. If you don’t, chances are your script will never be produced — either because the rights are already spoken for or because the author has no interest in a film adaption.
Adapted from Organic Screenwriting: Writing for Film, Naturally. © 2014 Mark David Gerson. Look for Organic Screenwriting in paperback or ebook from major online booksellers or signed to you by author from http://www.organicscreenwriting.com
Author of more than a dozen books whose readers span the globe, Mark David Gerson electrifies groups and individuals around the world with his inspiring stories and motivational talks and seminars. Mark David’s books include critically acclaimed titles for writers, award-winning fiction and compelling memoirs. His screenplay adaptations of his Q’ntana fantasy novels are on their way to theaters as a trio of epic feature films, he is currently at work on a third book in his popular Sara Stories series, and his latest book for writers is Engage! Winning Social Media Strategies for Authors.
Known as “The Birthing Your Book Guru,” Mark David works with an international roster of clients to help them get their stories onto the page and into the world with ease.