Adaptation Series: From Screenplay to Novel, Part Two: First Obstacles

Welcome to part two of my effort to adapt the screenplay “Guardians,” written by Raul Fernandez, into novel form.

Over the last couple of days, I gave the screenplay a first read through – making notes on nearly every page about questions I have regarding scenes, where chapters should end, and what I’ve discovered about the characters as I’m reading. During the read through, I determined my first three big obstacles:

First:

I had no idea who the protagonist was until the inciting incident occurred, which was the screenplay equivalent of almost three chapters in. Atrocious, right? Well, not really. Screenplays aren’t meant to be read. They’re meant to be watched. So, while the protagonist, Zachary, made his appearance in the first scene – a must as far as prose is concerned – his role of protagonist was unable to be determined just from reading dialogue. But, if this were to be watched on the screen, camera angles and usage would show the audience right away who the protagonist is.

Solution: An appropriate POV. I’ve decided on third person omniscient for this project for a few reasons; the first and most important being that the protagonist is not in every scene. So, first person was not an option. Zachary will, of course, be given the POV character role in the scenes where he appears.

Second:

Flashbacks. Perfectly acceptable, and highly effective in screenplays; not so much in a novel.

From The Writers’ Companion by Carlos J. Cortes and Renee Miller:

“We advise avoiding flashbacks whenever possible. Not only does a flashback hinder the pace, it stops the story action by taking the reader back in time where events are finished. Going back in time can never have the immediacy of the present in the story. In addition, there is nothing worse than wasting five minutes reading something that has absolutely no relevance to the active progression of the story.

Of course, there are times when flashbacks enhance the story and can’t be avoided. But if we do need to use them, we must try to the limit the flashbacks to one or two per novel.”

“Guardians” has an entire scene devoted to flashbacks of Zachary’s tasks as a Guardian. While the editor in me screams “get the axe!” the information contained in the flashbacks is important to the understanding and development of Zachary’s character. He commits a pretty big act of rebellion, and not for the first time, so the reader must be given a chance to understand his way of thinking – why he would act the way he does.

The solution to this one will take some thought. I can safely say that at least one flashback will remain, but I will have to determine which is the most necessary and how I can distribute the information contained in the others through different avenues.

Third:

These are not my characters. While I can make assumptions about who they are based on how they interact with each other and on their own, I cannot be certain that these assumptions are correct. Should I need to add events/interactions/conversations (which is more likely than not) I will need to know that the characters would indeed act that way.

Solution: An interview with the writer. Watch for my next post for the entire transcription of the interview.

So far, an eye opening process. I hope you’ll continue to follow me through my journey.

Adaptation Series: From Screenplay to Novel, Part One: The Bones

There are two writers in my immediate family: myself, and my stepfather, Raul. The difference between us (well, the biggest besides DNA) is that he’s a screenwriter and I’m a short story writer. Anyone familiar with either of these animals knows that they are different breeds, entirely.


A screenwriter concerns himself with dialogue and the bare bones of a situation. I.e.:

CHRISTIAN enters. He’s angry.

CHRISTIAN

What the fuck, Miriam?

A short story writer, or novelist for that matter, concerns himself with everything else: setting, mood, internal dialogue…

Arms clenched at his sides, Christian kicked in the door of the piece of shit apartment he shared with Miriam.

Not for much longer, good for nothing bitch.

When she didn’t come running to see what the bang was, Christian went looking for her. It wouldn’t be hard. She wasted her life away in front of the television in the bedroom.

The glow of the television flickered on her face, but she didn’t acknowledge his presence.

“What the fuck, Miriam?”

See the difference? 179 words difference, to be exact. The scene is, at its bare bones, the same. But the screenplay version leaves room for interpretation by the producers and director who will work on the movie. The prose version shows you what you would’ve seen in the movie. I read a blog by an author who writes screenplays BEFORE his novels… he called screenplays “the bare bones” of a novel. In essence, a form of an outline. This, to me, was an interesting idea.

Why this blog series? I’m taking on a project. I will be adapting a screenplay written by my stepfather into novel form. Mostly, I just want to see if I can do it. But also, the story for this particular screenplay is my favorite of all that I’ve read of his work. The characters are solid, the plot has no holes, and the story is believable.

This series will be my account of all the problems I come up against (I’m a realist. There WILL be problems), the successes I have, the questions I come across, and the overall process of adapting a screenplay to a novel. Let the games begin!

I Spy With My Little Eye…


The single greatest tool in a writer’s toolbox is observation. The best writers could moonlight as a P.I. or a stalker (and in the case of certain Canadians, some do). After all, how can you expect to write about people and situations if you don’t take in the people and situations around you?

Today, we’re going to play a little game purely for my amusement.

Take a little while after you read this and be a keen observer. Take note of everything, no matter how mundane and trivial it may seem. Then, write down the 5 most interesting (or uninteresting) things you observe and come back to share them with all of us.

I’ll start:

I spy with my little eye…

1) the dog’s whimpering that raises in pitch in direct correlation to how far away my footsteps are

2) bumper sticker on the back of a truck that says “I love My Wife” directly underneath another sticker that resembles a n S&M couple

3) an Indian couple arguing outside an office building peppering their speech with the occasional expletive

4) plucking individual pieces of fuzz from my black tights because the only tape we have is cheap and won’t pick it up

5) the distinctly floral scent emanating from a burly construction foreman

Your turn!

Classic Author Spotlight – Prisoner C33

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”

Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde [say that five times fast] (October 16, 1854 – November 30, 1900) was an Irish writer and poet known for his wit, cynicism, and dry, “fuck you,” writing style, and is a personal favorite of mine.

His two most well known works of prose are: his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), in which Wilde expresses his ideas on the supremacy of art and beauty; and the play, The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) – one of his four society comedies.

At the height of his fame, while The Importance of Being Earnest was still on stage, Wilde sued the father of his then lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, for libel. The subsequent trial brought to light evidence which led to Wilde dropping his charges and being arrested himself on charges of gross indecency with other men. He was convicted and sentenced to two years hard labor.

After Wilde was released, he left for France and never returned to Britain. While in France, he wrote his final work, the Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898), a poem commemorating the harshness of prison life and is authored, “Prisoner C33.”

He died destitute in Paris at the age of forty-six of cerebral meningitis. The epitaph on his tomb reads,

“And alien tears will fill for him/Pity’s long broken urn,/For his mourners will be outcast men/And outcasts always mourn.”

While I undoubtedly would’ve hated Wilde had we gone to high school together, pompous ass that he was, there is also no doubt to his talent. Reading his society comedies is like reading the smirk on his face as he witnessed Victorian life around him. A master of sarcasm and blatant insult, Wilde’s work is, to the observant reader, insightful and entertaining.

If you’re a Wilde virgin, I recommend picking up The Picture of Dorian Gray. Wilde spends a lot of time on the soapbox in this novel through the character Lord Henry Wotton, but it’s worth reading. For you e-book whores, it’s usually free through Amazon/Kindle. Now you have no excuse. I expect a report.

Wham, Bam, Thank You Ma’am – America Loves Short Stories


Confession: I am not a novelist.

What? I feel so… betrayed, Katrina! I thought you said you were a writer?

Writing myth # 813: Novelists are the only breed of fiction writer.

I’m a short story writer.

Edgar Allan Poe defined the short story as a fiction medium in which “one should be able to read in one sitting.” There are several classifications of short story including the “traditional” short story which ranges from 2000-9000 words, flash (or micro) fiction which totals at 1000 words or less, and the drabble which is a form of micro fiction told in exactly 100 words.

The earliest versions of the short story, as developed from the oral fables and anecdotes of the 13th and 14th centuries have been labeled “tales.” These tales like Edgar Allan Poe’s “Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque” (1840) and Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle” (1819) paved the way for the “modern” short story.

The period following World War II saw the greatest boom in short fiction in the US. Magazines like The Atlanta Monthly, The New Yorker, and The Saturday Evening Post published short stories in each issue. Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” (1948) brought the strongest response the New Yorker had seen to date; and when Life magazine published Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea,” in 1952, the issue sold almost 5.5 million copies in two days.

But, that’s all in the past. Today’s society is ruled by technology, and the e-book is the King’s cousin by marriage plotting to overthrow the monarchy and take the throne for its own. The touchpad, iPad, Kindle, Nook, and smart phones all offer the reader a more “modern” and “cooler” way to read. America loves its trends, but the one thing it loves more is instant gratification.

Americans know that our attention spans have drastically reduced in proportion to how many new technological “toys” are on the market. We want to read. We want to feel like we’re educating ourselves in the way of literature. We’re cultured, too, dammit!

Enter the short story, once again.

Interest in flash fiction is on a steep rise, as are online literary magazines like Every Day Fiction and Smokelong Quarterly. It allows the public to ingest fiction in small gulps when they feel they don’t have “time” to absorb an entire novel.

Americans are also stingy and cheap. Why buy a novel when they can read a collection of short stories online for free? (Granted, I do not agree with this sentiment, but if a writer wants to get anywhere, they give the people what they want. We’re all masochistic tools).

Short story authors may never become recognizable names on the tongue of the Joe Blow until they publish a novel, but our work will always be in demand. A comforting thought in spite of the forth coming changes in the publishing industry. See Renee Miller’s blog: Dangling on the Edge of (In)Sanity for predictions on these changes.

Welcome to the Jungle

Usually, when I tell someone that I’m a fiction writer, the reactions fall within two categories: 1) “That’s great. Will you read my book?” and 2) “Writing’s not really ‘work.’ You just put something on paper and publish it, right? Then you’re rolling in the money like Stephen King or Nora Roberts. I should write a book.”

*Collective writer cringe*

Those who give the second reaction aren’t trying to impale my heart-shaped-facsimile with a rusted cake knife – they’re just ignorant. The antidote to ignorance is, of course, education. So here you go, nitiwits. Behold – your education.

Let’s start with the statistics:

There are approximately 288,355 books published in the United States every year. Seems like a lot, right? Everybody must be getting published.

Wrong.

This figure includes editions and non-fiction as well. So we can safely cut this figure in half and say that 150,000 new fiction novels/short story anthologies are published in the US every year. That number doesn’t look as pretty. Wander around Barnes and Noble for an afternoon and see how many authors have multiple books to their credit. Then, see how many names you recognize. Hell, look at the NY Times Bestseller list and see how many names you recognize. Publishing a book does NOT immediately make you a household name.

But for sake of argument, let’s say that you do publish a book. Congratulations. Have a party, crack open that bottle of Gentlemen’s Jack that you’ve been saving, but don’t quit your day job. A full time (we’ll define “full time” as writing at least 200 words of publishable prose an hour for 25 hours a week) writer (fiction and non-fiction included) makes an average of $7,500 a year. That’s 85 cents an hour. Only 10% (and this is a generous figure) of writers who set out to make a living with their writing actually succeed.

Oh, dear. I’m getting ahead of myself. First, you have to have something worth publishing. Let’s explore that.

Step 1: Pick an idea from the idea tree* located in the heart of the lost city of Atlantis.

*If you’re googling “idea tree” in another browser tab, your journey ends here.

Step 2: Develop, nurture, and nurse your idea into an outline and first draft. (For tips on outlining and how to approach your first draft, see The Writer’s Companion by Renee Miller and Carlos J. Cortes. It has everything. Seriously. Go now.)

Step 3: Edit your draft. This is probably the most important step in the process, and the most arduous.

Step 4: Walk away for at least a week. You’re going to have to edit again, so for your sanity and to give yourself a fresh perspective, you need to put it away.

*Note: If you’ve been doing this correctly, you’ve spent at least a few weeks, if not months on this WIP already without being paid for it. Fifteen cent Ramen noodles are also sounding incredibly appetizing at this point.

Step 5: Edit again.

Step 6: Send out to Beta readers for a thorough thrashing.

Step 7: Edit a third time. (Noticing a trend?).

By this point, you should have a polished MS ready to send to agents for rejection. (You will be rejected at least ten times, on average, before some blessed agent will ask you for a partial. If you can’t handle being rejected, then you’re not ready to publish). I have a mantra I like to repeat with every rejection I receive (this includes being rejected by flash fiction magazines): 50, 40, 30. Say it over and over again. 50 years between Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey, 40 years old is the age at which one of my favorite authors finally published his first novel, and 30 is the number of times Carrie by Stephen King was rejected before his wife fished it out of the trash to be resubmitted.

Months (or years) of work for no pay, no recognition, and inevitable heartbreak.

Yup. Easy.