Adapting a Novel to the Big Screen

My dream is to write a novel that becomes a movie. I’ve written screenplays, but I am in love with novels. I love reading stories, and I love writing them. Writing a novel is a big undertaking, but I’m excited for the challenge. At the end of the process, you have something that is absolutely yours. That is a special feeling.

However, writing a novel that will, hopefully, one day become a movie, requires a degree of forethought. As stated in the video, there has to be enough “story” in the story to make it interesting for viewers. Novels usually have a lot of internal dialogue and description. In a movie, internal dialogue has to be conveyed through actual dialogue, body language, and/or facial expression.

Similarly, in a book, describing the setting is free. But, on a movie set, creating the setting requires enormous amounts of money and man hours. It’s good practice to keep these things in mind as you write (or rewrite).

I think the following questions are helpful when creating a story you hope will be adaptable to the big screen:

1) Is there enough that actually “happens” in the story? Characters should be performing actions and speaking dialogue that reflect what’s going on internally. If you were to see the story’s events in real life, would they still be interesting?

2) If you are a new writer, would the story be economical to produce? Period pieces and elaborate space explorations are fabulous, but expensive. You increase the odds that a small or mid-range producer would be interested in the work if the price tag isn’t too hefty.

3) Are you able to write screenplays? This seems obvious. But some novelists don’t appreciate how much different a screenplay is from a novel. In a screenplay, less is definitely more. Flowery, beautiful language that appeals to readers doesn’t work for producers and directors. Of course, the studio could hire someone to write the screenplay – and they might hire someone else to rewrite the screenplay anyway – but it’s helpful, and potentially more lucrative, if you can do it yourself.

4) Will you be able to handle it, emotionally, when your story gets changed in order to make the story screen-ready? Novelists usually work alone. Screenwriters work as part of a team. The large sums of money and time involved in making a movie mean that lots of people have different opinions. The story will change – sometimes completely – before it makes it to the screen. Is this story your “baby?” If so, you might not be able to tolerate the development process. Pick a story that isn’t too personal, or develop a thick skin if you decide you still want to adapt it.

Adapting a book into a movie is not completely within your control, but there are things you can do to make it more likely. If that’s your goal, spend some time planning your story. A visually appealing story with lots of action, great characters, and snappy dialogue stands a good change of engaging both readers and movie-goers.

Good luck!

And, maybe one day we’ll see your name (and mine!) under the “Based on a novel by…” credit!

Peace and love,

Raven

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Making Time to Write

When you’re a beginning screenwriter, actually finding time to write can be the biggest challenge. You’re not getting paid for your writing at first, so you have to balance your desire to write with your need to make money.

If your job is incredibly draining, but you’re serious about being a writer, you might need to find a job that is more compatible with your writing. Or, you might have to commit to being a morning person – or a night owl – and get your writing done before or after work. I am naturally a morning person, and my job starts in the afternoon. So, the best part of my day is reserved for my passion.

“Iliad Bookshop” in North Hollywood, California

Once you decide whether you want to write before work, after work, or during your lunch hour, you must make sure you keep your appointment with yourself. My cell phone alarm has become indispensable. When a habit is new, the toughest part is remembering to do it. Having an alarm that pops us and says “WRITE!” is a great little tool to have.

For some people, writing on the weekends is the only time that will work. This can be challenging, since it’s easy for other things to pop up and challenge one’s commitment. You’ll have to be firm with everyone – friends, family, children, and your own laziness. The weekends are your writing time, period.

The other potential problem with the weekend is that you will have to binge-write. Instead of writing daily, which would allow you to stay in touch with your story throughout the week, you’re playing catch-up on the weekend. If this is your issue, all you have to do is read your story during the week for a few minutes. Even if you don’t have much time, reading parts of your script will keep you engaged until you can sit down and write on the weekend.  Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

Trees in Griffith Park, Los Angeles, CA

There is no right and wrong time to write. You may have to experiment with different days, times, and places to find what works for you. Don’t give up! Experimenting also helps you get to know yourself as a writer. I know I’m a morning person, for example, as I mentioned, and I prefer to have a block of time to write – at least an hour, preferably two. However, I can sneak writing in for a few minutes here and there if I’m writing a non-fiction piece. For fiction, I need time for my mind to wander without the pressure of the clock. I’ve learned this about myself over time.

I’ve also learned that threats and rewards can help me keep my butt in the chair. If there’s something I want to do (or eat, or watch), I tell myself that I will reward myself with it as soon as I finish x-amount of writing, or as soon as I write for x-number of minutes. This increases my motivation to start. Once I start, I’m fine. Or, sometimes, threats are more effective. If I fail to get x-number of pages written, I will smile and initiate conversation with (fill in the name of someone I really dislike), for example. Rewards tend to work better for me than threats. But just the thought of the threat is enough to make me do what I’m supposed to do!

Most writing gurus recommend that you write every day, but the best plan is whatever works. If Monday/Wednesday/Friday is a schedule you can do consistently, do it! It’s better than pressuring yourself to write every day and failing. Don’t beat yourself up if it takes a while to get into a regular flow. But don’t give yourself too much slack either. If you don’t hold yourself to your commitment, your dream will never become a reality. Once your book is published, or your script is optioned, you will be expected to continue producing lots of content. So you might as well get into the habit now.

Happy writing!

Have a blessed and beautiful weekend,

Raven

Helping Others Versus Self Preservation

Creating characters in fiction is a fun process. It involves part recall and part imagination. Most characters are based in part on real people, or composites of real people, that the author either knows or has heard of.

In real life, our own personal character develops in a more complex way. Some people believe in karmic destiny, in which we choose or attract the circumstances we are born into based upon actions performed in past lives.

I don’t believe in that exactly. I believe that, like everything else, we attract and are attracted to people and situations that reflect our attitudes, emotions, goals, fears, desires, past experiences, and future hopes. I believe that our parents’ state of mind at the time of conception has a lot to do with what type of child they bring into the world at that time.

This happy (or sad) accident of nature and fate determines a lot about who we will become and what we will experience in life. It’s rarely all good or all bad. Usually it is a generous mix of both.

My mother told me that, at the time of my conception, she had been earnestly praying for a child. Welcomed into the world in a prayerful state, I have always had a religious/spiritual bent. She ate little meat during her pregnancy as well. Perhaps, as a result, I have always had a complicated relationship with meat, giving it up for years at a time at various stages in my life.

But the children we get, and the parents we get, also show up to teach us something. Sometimes these lessons are hard and painful. Sometimes early experiences damage us for a lifetime. But if we observe ourselves carefully, we can figure out what our gift is to the world. If we know what rejection, harsh criticism, and neglect feel like, for example, we can become that much more sensitive to how we treat others. We can gain special insights from less than positive experiences and share those insights with people who may feel stuck in negativity.

But, sadly, there are those who never do learn from their poor upbringings. Rather, they become permanently unable to cope with the rigors of life. They may push away anyone and everyone who tries to help. They may blame others, live in a fantasy world, and fail to ever grow. It’s a sad thing to see a beautiful human being spend an entire lifetime trapped in his or her own negative thoughts, perceptions, and actions, but it does happen.

Helping these people without becoming overwhelmed by negativity is a balancing act. You want to help without enabling. You want to hold them up, but not allow them to sabotage the good in your own life. I have found that using my mind to “think up” the right way to help doesn’t work.

Rather, I have to use mindfulness to feel into the right balance between helping others and practicing healthy self-preservation. In other words, I don’t automatically shun “negative” people and their problems. But, at the same time, I am mindful that a panicked drowning person can inadvertently pull you under for good.

Sometimes the best thing we can do is love certain people from a distance, and cheerfully encourage whatever progress they make. This doesn’t make us cruel. It makes us wise.

May you choose your companions carefully this weekend and have a blessed time.

Peace and love,

Raven