I love adapting prose to screenplays. It’s like having a story foundation before writing a word of your script.
Not every writer can easily switch between the two. They are different in style and technique. As with everything else though, a bit of practice goes a long way :).
Get started turning your prose piece into a screenplay with these four quick tips:
1. All Your Ideas Matter
Put all the ideas you can think of down, even if some don’t exist in your story. Take note of the seemingly dumb ones, the outrageous ones, ALL the ones! The idea is that if you’re writing for a series for example, you can never have too much material. So all that “plot fodder” you chose to cut out of your novel? Keep it for potential story arcs. You’ve no clue what you might end up using in the end.
Example: I wrote a sci-fi series based on a manuscript a while ago. Series’ production was halted due to budget restraints. It sucked cause I loved writing it and seeing it unfold over many months of production. Fast forward to now. I’ve been able to take ideas from that old series and use a few bits and bobs in a new one. The cool thing is, this new series is better developed and has more moving parts (that work) than the old one did.
2. Do What You Gotta Do
Don’t think of your novel/short story/*insert type of prose here* as untouchable. You may need to slash and burn plot events, characters, etc, to get your screenplay in tip top shape. That’s a fact I’ll let you sit with for a while.
Ready to continue? Okay, let’s do this…
Example: I wrote a YA fantasy novel and pulled a pilot episode from little more than the main characters and their backgrounds. I added tons of world elements you don’t find in the story itself, and introduced characters who had smaller roles or weren’t featured at all.
If I’d chosen to use, let’s say the first couple chapters for my pilot, it wouldn’t have worked as well as it does now. This isn’t to say that some stories don’t lend themselves to this kind of thing. Take the first season of Game of Thrones for example. I legit felt like I was reading the book as I watched. This method just wouldn’t have worked for this particular prose to screenplay transformation and I had to be okay with that.
3. Use Description Sparingly
Keep your descriptive pen in check. When you’re writing live-action, you don’t need to fill in every blank – except of course if it’s animation. Just put enough that readers can properly visualise the scenes. This allows story flow without needing to describe everything in detail as a writer needs to with prose.
Example: Taking an excerpt from my story Praesidium’s Orphans where MC Luca’s waiting to be attacked: The wendigo’s charge and build-up to the inevitable gave Luca unwelcome goosebumps.
If I was scripting this exact moment, there’d be no need to write about Luca’s goosebumps. Why? Cause the reader doesn’t know what he’s feeling unless they see it. Instead I’d probably just put something like: The wendigo charges… Luca braces for attack.
Simple and done.
Important notes: 1) If you’re writing animation, you’ll need more description for your storyboard artist to see everything exactly as you want it. 2) MC means main character.
4. Software’s Your Friend
Consider scriptwriting software to help you get into it. I know prose writers often use software like Scrivener and Google Docs. Call me old-fashioned, but I still use Microsoft Word despite it giving me the middle-finger at times lol.
For screenplays I knew I wanted to use something else. As screenwriting wasn’t initially my forte, I wanted to find software that was easy to navigate. It would also help if it wasn’t outrageously expensive. I tried a few, but now use Arc Studio.
This software makes it easy to outline, plot, and so much more, even if you’re new to scriptwriting. You could literally create all your story’s character cards, locations, etc, before you’ve even started writing a lick of script.
Example: By doing all the groundwork like this, it’s been easier for me to keep track of characters, arcs, timelines, and so on. When it’s all compiled, I can also better decide what I’m keeping from the original story or not.
Note: I am not being paid to promote or advertise Arc Studio, I just enjoy using it :).
This list has helped me to turn prose into scripts. I’ve moved on from just writing scripts from my prose too and can wrangle ideas straight into screenplay form. I even did the opposite and turned a screenplay into a short story… But that’s another post :).
The next Pages Unforgotten post is on Aug 26. Until then try more posts on my Blog.
This is my fourth year as an Ink & Insights’ judge and throughout its duration, I’ll share a connected post once a month. Learn about the Ink and Insights’ writing competition