Adapting A Screenplay from Literature

How to adapt a book into a script

Photo by Thyago

There is a constantly growing supply of plays, novels, and short stories that might adapt well to the screen. Good literature can however be a quicksand if you assume that the story will make an equally fine film. Effective adaptation may actually be impossible if you can find no cinematic equivalent for the author’s writing style and literary form. A story that relies on a subtly ironic storytelling voice, for instance, might be a bad choice because there is no such thing as ironic photography or recording.

Most of the criteria for judging material for an adaptation remain the same as those used to assess any script:

  • Does it tell its tale through externally visible, behavioral means?
  • Does it have interesting, well-developed characters?
  • Is it contained, specific, and affordable in its settings?
  • Are the situations interesting and realizable?
  • Is there an interesting major conflict, and is it externally dramatized rather than internal?
  • Does the conflict imply interesting metaphors?
  • Does the piece have a strong thematic purpose?
  • Can you wholeheartedly identify with its theme?
  • Can you invent a cinematic equivalency for the story’s literary values?
  • Can you afford to do it?
  • Is the copyright available?

Excerpted from Directing: Film Techniques and Aesthetics, fourth edition. Copyright ©2007, Michael Rabiger. Published by Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.

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1 Comment
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