Adaptation Series: From Screenplay to Novel, Part Four: The Transformation Had Begun

Now that I have the nuts and bolts figured out (for the most part) I’ve begun the actual writing of the MS. The first draft of the first chapter is completed, encompassing the first two scenes of the screenplay. I had Raul take a look at a portion of it, and so far, it meets with his approval. With a grin on his face he said, “It’s really good. It’s weird, but good.”

So here, in screenplay and novel format, is a portion of the first scene so that you can see the comparison. I’m excited to hear your thoughts. Enjoy.

SCREENPLAY FORMAT

EXT. SUBURBAN STREET – DAY
Three men, ZACHARY, MICHAEL, and CHRISTIAN, casually walk along a sidewalk. Each have similar long hair, dark clothing and overcoats.

CHRISTIAN
Okay, take the chorus.
Christian sings without effort to the tune of “Ironic” by Alanis Morrisette.

CHRISTIAN (CONT’D)
‘It’s like ray-ee-ain on your wedding day.’ There isn’t a goddamned thing ironic about that.

ZACHARY
Why not? It could be ironic.

CHRISTIAN
Yes, it could be, but without more information it isn’t. If they purposely held the wedding in the fucking desert so that it wouldn’t rain, and it rains out there for the first time ever, then, yes, it’s ironic. Seattle in April? Not very ironic.

MICHAEL
You can’t write all that information in a song.

CHRISTIAN
No shit. So, don’t use the example. Next line, ‘It’s a free ride when you already paid’. What the fuck is that? If you pay somebody for a ride and it was supposed to be free, that’s called being ripped off not being ironic.

ZACHARY
What about the first line of the song? About the old guy winning the lottery and then dying. That’s definitely ironic.

CHRISTIAN
Yes, it is. I’ll give you that, but that line is a case of excess information. ‘An old man turns 98. Wins the lottery, dies the next day.’

MICHAEL
What’s wrong with that?

CHRISTIAN
There are three factors here where using only two would have been much more effective. One, the guy’s 98 years old. Two, he wins the lottery. Three, he dies the next day. First of all, 98 is really fucking old for a person. The average guy would have died 20 years ago.

ZACHARY
But it says he turned 98, which means he won the lottery on his birthday, then died the next day. That’s ironic no matter how old he was.

CHRISTIAN
Okay, but why make him 98? That’s all I’m saying. Wouldn’t it be so much more ironic if the guy just turned 21? In the prime of his life, just got married with a baby on the way, and boom! He wins the lottery on his 21st birthday. Suddenly he has a fucktillian dollars. Security for him and his family for the rest of his long life. No more worries. This guy is on top of the world. Then, fuckin’ biggetty-bam! He gets hit by a bus and dies. That, my friends, has ironic impact.

ZACHARY
Well, the fact remains. The guy was 98. Deal with it.
They continue walking, unnoticed by anyone else around them.

CHRISTIAN
Okay, the guy was 98. But why did he have to die the next day?

MICHAEL
That’s what makes it ironic. What have we been talking about for the last hour?

CHRISTIAN
That’s what makes it ironic for the 21 year old, but think about a 98 year old. He worked his fingers to the bone his whole life to support his family. They got by alright, but he always wanted more for them. Now he has out lived them all, watched his wife and children die, all his friends. He has no one. He lives in a nursing home and can no longer walk or take care of himself. He needs a machine to breathe. He wishes he would die, but he doesn’t. He plays the lottery every week as an unconscious habit and this particular week, he wins. He’s too old and broken for the money to bring him any joy and he has no one to leave it to. He still wishes he was dead, but he doesn’t die. Not for a few agonizing years.

ZACHARY
Shit, Chris.

CHRISTIAN
Well, I’m just saying.

As they continue walking, another man with long hair and dark overcoat, DANIEL, trots up and joins the walking trio.

DANIEL
How about the guy who gets on a plane for the first time and it crashes.

MICHAEL
Daniel to the rescue.

ZACHARY
Hey, Dan.

DANIEL
Sorry I’m late.

ZACHARY
You’re always late.

DANIEL
I know, but I’m always sorry.

CHRISTIAN
He’s right. The plane crash guy is the one ironic example in the song. I can’t argue with that one. One in the whole goddamned song.

NOVEL FORMAT

The thing about Minnesota autumn is if you blink, you’ll miss it. A few weeks of cool breezes and flame-licked trees – then the rain comes. Once the rain starts, winter is right around the corner. Minnesnowta.

On their way to a job, Zachary walked with, but slightly behind, Michael and Christian along a back alley sidewalk – empty except for the occasional enthusiastic speed walker. Zachary buttoned the front of his overcoat as a breeze snaked around his body. Bulbous clouds moved above them and darkened the sky. A damp, earthy scent filled Zachary’s nose.

Blink. Gone.

Great.

The others didn’t pay it any mind, but Zachary hated the rain.
Christian tilted his head back and sang in a perfect tenor, “It’s like ra-ee-aain on your wedding day…”

Michael chuckled. Zachary shook his head.

Like an expert dancer, Christian spun on his toes to face Zachary, continuing his walk, backwards. “You know, there isn’t a goddamned ironic thing in that song. I mean, ‘rain on your wedding day’?”

“It could be ironic.”

“Yes, it could be, but without more information it isn’t. If they purposely held the wedding in the fucking desert so that it wouldn’t rain, and it rains out there for the first time ever, then, yes, it’s ironic. Seattle in April? Not very ironic.”

Michael shoved Christian out of the way of an oncoming jogger. “You can’t write all that information in a song.”

“No shit. So, don’t use the example.”

Zachary stepped off the sidewalk. “Incoming.”

Michael moved out of the way, but Christian continued on – a child’s grin playing on his face. Michael moved to grab him, but didn’t reach him before a young woman with long black hair and a Pekinese in her arms passed through his body, as though passing through a thick patch of fog, unfazed.

Christian shuddered.

Michael rolled his eyes. “Chris…”

“What?”

Zachary positioned himself between them. Being the tallest of the three, his presence was usually enough to stifle an argument. “What about the first line of the song? About the old guy winning the lottery and then dying. That’s definitely ironic.”

“Yes, it is. I’ll give you that, but that line is a case of excess information. ‘An old man turns ninety-eight. Wins the lottery, dies the next day.’”

“What’s wrong with that?”

“There are three factors here where using only two would have been much more effective. One, the guy’s ninety-eight years old. Two, he wins the lottery. Three, he dies the next day. First of all, ninety-eight is really fucking old for a person. The average human would’ve died twenty years ago.”

“But it says he turned ninety-eight,” Michael interjected, “Which means he won the lottery on his birthday then died the next day. That’s ironic no matter how old he was.”

“Okay, but why make him ninety-eight? That’s all I’m saying. Wouldn’t it be so much more ironic if the guy just turned twenty-one? In the prime of his life, just got married with a baby on the way and boom!” Christian threw up his arms. “He wins the lottery on his twenty-first birthday. Suddenly, he has a fucktillian dollars. Security for him and his family for the rest of his long life. No more worries. This guy is on top of the world. Then, fuckin’ biggety-bam! He gets hit by a bus and dies. That, my friends, has ironic impact.”

A wave of heat wafted over Zachary, cutting through the pre-rain chill. A man with dark, wavy hair combed masterfully over his forehead fell into step behind them and smacked Zachary on the back.

“How about the guy who gets on the plane for the first time and it crashes?”
Michael glanced over his shoulder. “Daniel to the rescue.”

“Sorry I’m late.”

“You’re always late.”

“I know, but I’m always sorry.”

“He’s right. The plane crash guy is the one ironic example in the song.” Christian tilted his head to the left, stroking his chin. “I can’t argue with that one. One in the whole goddamned song.”

Notice that I didn’t keep the entire conversation. It was a little long and didn’t translate well into the action. There are things that can be shown in a screenplay (i.e. no one noticing the trio walking on the sidewalk) need to be demonstrated through action in a novel, so I added a bit as well. So far, this is turning out to be one of the most difficult, but most interesting projects I’ve ever taken on.

Adaptation Series: From Screenplay to Novel; Part Three: The Cast

As promised, following is an email I sent to Raul and his responses to my questions regarding character:

Me: Alright, basically I need a breakdown of the characters. Physical descriptions and their personalities. If you could, I need the most information about Zachary, Jacqueline, Michael, and Daniel. You have a lot of background information on Zachary in one of the scenes, but I need more. Tell me what kind of person (angel) he is. What are his limits? What does he believe in? What are his greatest weaknesses? Greatest strengths? If you were to have a conversation with him about ethics, would he be more cynical or optimistic? What is his biggest secret?

These are just some questions to get your brain moving. Anything you want to tell me about them will be helpful.

Once you get this back to me, I’m going to do a “test” chapter. I’ll write a scene in prose form and I’ll need you to let me know if I’m making the characters act or think a way that is outside of the way you imagined them. I want to be as consistent as possible.

Raul: Ok, physically, all the angels and demons appear to be mid 20’s to early 30’s. They are all fit and slightly above average height, except for Levi who is much taller and more muscular than all of them. If they are all around 6′, Levi is 6′ 8″. They all have darkish long hair. Zach a lighter brown and Dave is dirty blond. No pony tails or curls. Think pre Darth Vader Anakin for length, but more grunge band, less blown dry.

They all wear darkish clothes and dark over coats, as if to hide wings, but there are no wings until they want them.

Zach and Dave are scruffier in the face than the rest who are clean shaven, except for Levi who has a painted-on looking beard and mustache. Michael should look like a rich, upscale version of the rest of them, and Dave would seem a little poorer and more disheveled than the rest.

I will leave you with that for now and think on the rest. Writing for what people see is much more shorthand than really writing so most of my answers will not have existed before you asked the questions. I just have to revisit the script and see where it takes me.

Raul (In a later email): Jacqueline is in her mid twenties, sandy blonde. Very fit and pretty but sportier than girly. I see her as a community college girl who has some sort of office job that is beneath her brains. No relationship or much dating. Has fun with her friends while working toward some kind of career. She questions everything and could probably be a lawyer, but her aspirations aren’t quite that high.

Zach and Mike have always been best friends. Still are, but Zach started feeling sorry for himself some since getting demoted and it affected the friendship a little. I would say for plot’s sake that Zach’s biggest weakness is sympathizing with humans rather than just doing his job. That could also be his greatest strength if you tilt your head to the left a little. [This little gem is why I’ve been telling him he should write prose, too. He has a talent for metaphor.] He believes in doing what’s right, even if he gets in trouble for it.

I see the angels as living solely for the job of keeping our fates in line. Their limited spare time is simply spent quietly admiring the world, and humorously discussing things they observe about us, like in the opening scene. I think of that scene in CITY OF ANGELS where you see all the angels on the beach just watching the sunrise. Kinda like that, but mixed with being modern and having a sense of humor. The job is really all there is for them.

Dan is purposely an enigma for obvious reasons. We shouldn’t know much about him except that he is easily bored and seems to get along well with angels. I see him almost salesman-like in the way he jokes and tells the angels things “on the down low”. He is liked by the angels he hangs with, but they notice that quality about him. They just figure it’s a demon thing.

That’s all I got, and its more than I needed the movie watcher to know, so, if you need more, feel free to interpret anything deeper however you see fit, and hit me with anymore questions as they come up.

So far, the most interesting aspect of this whole process is the difference in the character development process. While screenwriters (Thanks, Paul for clarifying) have a limited need for development as long as there is a solid character arc for the protagonist to follow, other fiction writers require a solid character background. You could even say we over develop – some, if not most, of the background we make up for our characters never make it into the story, except to provide a hidden justification to their actions.

Now that I have a character basis, a sample chapter is soon to follow. I’ll be sending it to Raul to ensure that I’ve gotten the tone and his vision correct, then pass it on to you kind people to massacre.

To be honest, I’m a little nervous about it – the writing, not the massacre. I’m used to those. It should be noted that I am keeping in my head the fact that this screenplay is someone’s baby. As a writer, I understand the anxiety that comes with someone picking apart your work. So, my cuts will be made swiftly and with a sharp blade. It’ll hurt me more than it hurts him. I hope.