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Thread: When at what point does a screenplay morph into a novel

  1. #1
    Fear is a only a barrier max929's Avatar
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    When at what point does a screenplay morph into a novel

    So, I have been trying to break into the movie industry and after writing a few scripts (about a thousand times each) I had a great idea for a movie. I starting writing it and realized there is no way in hell I can squeeze this into 120 pages....not even close

    Enter problem: I have never considered writing a novel until today but I am not sure how to translate script writing into novel writing. I get the general principles: scripts are story telling on the Atkins diet where as a novel is a detailed oriented Odyssey. So am terrified about destroying a great idea because of a learning curb.

    Has anyone done this, converted a script into a novel?? or known someone who has...Feedback would be so helpful...you never know, you might be saving yourself from reading a terrible book by intervening before the atrocity can occur.

  2. #2
    A woman said to write like a man. Plot Device's Avatar
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    For me, it happens when I absolutely KNOW that the story arc will be too complex to squeeze into 120 pages.

    I usually do my very best to avoid the fateful decision to grab the hammer, smash the glass, take hold of the lever which activates the unsealing of the doorway into the emergency escape hatch, and then proceed to evacuate myself out of Planet Screenplay via that one-way-no-turning-back teleportation onto Planet Novel.

    Part of the mind game I play with myself during those initial subconscious efforts to avoid leaving the comfortable familiarity of Planet Screenplay includes trying to revision the intended movie as a 12-hour mini-series. (As if such a script might have a snowball's chance of ever getting produced.) At least THEN could I remain safely in the more familiar environment of Planet Screenplay. But then when I face up to the reality that a 12-hour teleplay will never in a million frigging years get sold, then I again play some mental gymnastics and pretend I can write my script as a first movie with sequels to follow. But if the story arc isn't quite so slice-able-up-able (like the Star Wars saga), and ESPECIALLY if the first film installment isn't able to be written as a stand-alone story capable of selling itself independent of the rest of the tale, then I try to justify writing the script as a graphic novel -- a satellite world to Planet Screenplay, a small moon orbiting the more vast world of Planet Screenplay. Just a quick shuttle trip is all. Same sunlight, and artificial gravity makes it feel the same as the Mother World.

    But even then I usually realize it ain't gonna happen. So I force myself to make that terrible life-changing decision, enter the teleporter, and off I go to Planet Novel. Totally different world. Different atmosphere. Gravity is different. Predators are different. Everything is different --heck even verb tense is different!

    But you eventually acclimate. And soon you're at home (even with that crazy shift in verb tense!).

    And my expereince has been that I usually come to this conclusion while I am still outlining the screenplay. So I can fortunately avoid the horror of writing 500+ pages of screenplay before I realize it'll never make it as a screenplay and then have to start from scratch with a novel version.
    Last edited by Plot Device; 12-18-2012 at 02:18 AM.
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  3. #3
    Fear is a only a barrier max929's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Plot Device View Post
    For me, it happens when I absolutely KNOW that the story arc will be too complex to squeeze into 120 pages.

    I usually do my very best to avoid the fateful decision to grab the hammer, smash the glass, take hold of the lever which activates the unsealing of the doorway into the emergency escape hatch, and then proceed to evacuate myself out of Planet Screenplay via that one-way-no-turning-back teleportation onto Planet Novel.

    Part of the mind game I play with myself during those initial subconscious efforts to avoid leaving the comfortable familiarity of Planet Screenplay includes trying to revision the intended movie as a 12-hour mini-series. (As if such a script might have a snowball's chance of ever getting produced.) At least THEN could I remain safely in the more familiar environment of Planet Screenplay. But then when I face up to the reality that a 12-hour teleplay will never in a million frigging years get sold, then I again play some mental gymnastics and pretend I can write my script as a first movie with sequels to follow. But if the story arc isn't quite so slice-able-up-able (like the Star Wars saga), and ESPECIALLY if the first film installment isn't able to be written as a stand-alone story capable of selling itself independent of the rest of the tale, then I try to justify writing the script as a graphic novel -- a satellite world to Planet Screenplay, a small moon orbiting the more vast world of Planet Screenplay. Just a quick shuttle trip is all. Same sunlight, and artificial gravity makes it feel the same as the Mother World.

    But even then I usually realize it ain't gonna happen. So I force myself to make that terrible life-changing decision, enter the teleporter, and off I go to Planet Novel. Totally different world. Different atmosphere. Gravity is different. Predators are different. Everything is different --heck even verb tense is different!

    But you eventually acclimate. And soon you're at home (even with that crazy shift in verb tense!).

    And my expereince has been that I usually come to this conclusion while I am still outlining the screenplay. So I can fortunately avoid the horror of writing 500+ pages of screenplay before I realize it'll never make it as a screenplay and then have to start from scratch with a novel version.
    I love it, I thought I was the only person to face this flux in the space/line continuum. The arc is definitively to complex to get it quite right in the allotted maximum for visual media. It would absolutely have to be at least a three series movie and I don't know it it could be pitched a single installment alone.

    I guess I should start packing for my trek into the unknown worlds surrounding my own. Good lord, am I really going to try and write a novel???....

  4. #4
    Let's see what's on special today.. Bufty's Avatar
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    Good luck, max929.

    The techniques and approach for screenplay and novel writing are poles apart but I wish you well, and Welcome.

    There is a separate Forum for Screenwriting where you may find you can get other ideas from folk involved in the movie industry on how to at least consider how you might surmount your conviction that you cannot get your script idea to work because of the apparent story complexity.
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  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by max929 View Post
    So, I have been trying to break into the movie industry and after writing a few scripts (about a thousand times each) I had a great idea for a movie. I starting writing it and realized there is no way in hell I can squeeze this into 120 pages....not even close

    Enter problem: I have never considered writing a novel until today but I am not sure how to translate script writing into novel writing. I get the general principles: scripts are story telling on the Atkins diet where as a novel is a detailed oriented Odyssey. So am terrified about destroying a great idea because of a learning curb.

    Has anyone done this, converted a script into a novel?? or known someone who has...Feedback would be so helpful...you never know, you might be saving yourself from reading a terrible book by intervening before the atrocity can occur.
    In other words, the novel you want to write can never become a movie because no screenwriter can tell the story you want to tell in 120 pages?

    Funny, but I've never read a novel that couldn't be turned into a movie, and I've never known a screenwriter who said, "Nope, sorry, there's no way I can turn that novel into a movie, even if you offer me ten million dollars."

    Ideas don't make books or movies. Execution does. There is no such thing as an idea that can't be turned into a great book or movie, and no such thing as an idea that can't be ruined by poor execution.

    If the idea you have can't be written as a 120 page script, it can't be written as a novel, either.

  6. #6
    A woman said to write like a man. Plot Device's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jamesaritchie View Post
    In other words, the novel you want to write can never become a movie because no screenwriter can tell the story you want to tell in 120 pages?


    ...


    If the idea you have can't be written as a 120 page script, it can't be written as a novel, either.
    Yeah. That Peter Jackson is such a hack. (You know who I mean -- the Kiwi dude with the Oscar on his mantle.)



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    A woman said to write like a man. Plot Device's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Plot Device View Post
    Yeah. That Peter Jackson is such a hack. (You know who I mean -- the Kiwi dude with the Oscar on his mantle.)
    Oh, and I totally forgot to mention his hack-predecessor and mentor-by-proxy, Professor Tolkien, named "Author of the Century" in the UK back in 2001 for his insanely long and impossible-to-do-as-a-120-page-screenplay novel about Elves and Hobbits and magical rings. Total hack, that JRR Tolkien was.
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  8. #8
    Rewriting My Destiny Cyia's Avatar
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    When you're writing a screenplay, and find yourself wanting to describe the setting or delve into thoughts (neither of which get much page space) with as much or more frequency than you want to give action cues and dialogue, you're no longer writing a screenplay, but rather the outline of a novel.

    Arclight (in my sigline) started off this way. A current WIP started off this way. (I'm slowly, but surely novelizing every screenplay I ever wrote.) And every novel I write gets a screenplay treatment as I'm mapping out the chapters, though most don't end up as pre-written full length screenplays anymore.

    It's definitely doable. It's definite salable. Good luck!
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  9. #9
    υπείκωphobe Wilde_at_heart's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cyia View Post
    When you're writing a screenplay, and find yourself wanting to describe the setting or delve into thoughts (neither of which get much page space) with as much or more frequency than you want to give action cues and dialogue, you're no longer writing a screenplay, but rather the outline of a novel.

    Arclight (in my sigline) started off this way. A current WIP started off this way. (I'm slowly, but surely novelizing every screenplay I ever wrote.) And every novel I write gets a screenplay treatment as I'm mapping out the chapters, though most don't end up as pre-written full length screenplays anymore.

    It's definitely doable. It's definite salable. Good luck!
    Definitely the best advice... OP, it depends on how 'internal' you want the story to be, and how detailed you want descriptions. Because in film of course all that is ultimately up to the director unless you are into going that route as well.

    My own advice? Read a bunch of 'literary' novels analytically with a view to how it is different than a screenplay.

    Don't forget that anything longer can probably be broken up into separate screenplays.

    As for the 120 pages, the snark is not necessary; it is a hard and fast rule for any would-be screenwriter who doesn't have an 'in' already, when it comes to the first screenplay. Between 90 and 120 words. Readers can tell by the weight if a screenplay is more than that, and will toss it, unless you have one hell of a query letter/synopsis that makes the reader think they might be holding the next Star Wars. Nearly everyone in the industry gives that advice.

    Ironically I'm doing the reverse - digging up an old novel to write as a screenplay.
    Last edited by Wilde_at_heart; 12-19-2012 at 09:59 PM.

  10. #10
    Widely Regarded as a Bad Move DanielaTorre's Avatar
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    I started off like this, writing screenplays. Then I would get halfway through it and realize that it felt wrong. Mainly because of voice. Then I'd try writing it as a book. Then I still couldn't get the voice right. Eventually I left all the scripts alone and the next idea I got, I tried it as a book. Haven't looked back since.

    The only advice I can offer is the following: scripts and novels are totally different monsters. Scripts are skeletal and unemotional. It's the actors who make it come alive, not the writer. In a novel, it's the writer's responsibility to evoke emotion, regardless of the type. So be prepared for that.

  11. #11
    I agree with Roxxsmom.
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    max929, here is one possible way to start (it worked for me).

    Assuming you used screenwriting software to write your script, COPY your script and PASTE it into MS WORD (or whatever you use). You now have a very detailed "outline" of the entire story.

    Your next approach can be as broad or as detailed as you like. You can go through the story and insert Chapters where you think they should occur. You can go through line by line and change the tense from the 3rd-present of scripts to 3rd-past (if that's what you want) and reformat the dialogue. For ex:

    INT. LIVING ROOM - DAY

    John sits on the sofa.

    John
    What are we gonna do?


    becomes

    John sat on the sofa in his living room.

    John: What are gonna do?

    *
    (I find it helps to keep the scene headings in place at first. They're great visual locale identifiers.)

    Whether you start at the beginning and work your way through to the end, or jump around from scene to scene doesn't matter. The process is the same. Just don't worry, at this point, about adding anything. (Of course, you can if something occurs to you. And you can also insert any notes for later. I find that writing notes in blue works great.)

    You can finish doing all this to the entire script before you start the actual writing process, or you can start it anywhere at anytime; it's up to you.

    And now you can go in and start writing all those things you couldn't put in the script, like those fantastic character descriptions and the "unfilmables."

    I think you'll be surprised at the things that jump out at you. I found that converting my script to a novel really pointed out where I could make improvements. I added scenes. I took out scenes. I kept some scenes but changed them.

    It's fun. Good luck.

  12. #12
    Benefactor Member Manuel Royal's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Plot Device View Post
    Yeah. That Peter Jackson is such a hack.
    He is, kind of.
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    Fear is a only a barrier max929's Avatar
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    Wow, This is really great feedback..TY all so much:

    Jamesaritchie: I'm sure that my idea can be done by a experienced Screenwriter but I am a novice and wouldn't attempt it because the execution would be lacking.

    Cyia, plot, DanielaTorre and Wilde_at_heart: I appreciate the advice, getting feedback from those who translated screenwriting into novel writing is awesome, some people pay money for the insight you all just provided.

    guttersquid: TY for the example, that really brought it home for me.

  14. #14
    Fear is a only a barrier max929's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jamesaritchie View Post
    In other words, the novel you want to write can never become a movie because no screenwriter can tell the story you want to tell in 120 pages?

    Funny, but I've never read a novel that couldn't be turned into a movie, and I've never known a screenwriter who said, "Nope, sorry, there's no way I can turn that novel into a movie, even if you offer me ten million dollars."

    Ideas don't make books or movies. Execution does. There is no such thing as an idea that can't be turned into a great book or movie, and no such thing as an idea that can't be ruined by poor execution.

    If the idea you have can't be written as a 120 page script, it can't be written as a novel, either.
    James, here is how I know I'm in trouble:

    without giving to much away, my character was once human, but is no longer. He was a loving father and a dedicated husband and while His family remains intact (they were not kill off like in some movies) they believe him dead and he wishes not to torment them with the truth of his transformation since he can never touch them again. His transformation has given him god like powers but he is unstable because of the grief and anger he feels and is becoming very dangerous to mankind.

    This is as far into the story as I have gotten and I have already written 26 pages. I think I am giving way to much detail but anything less seems wrong. There is other characters that I need to introduce, some are extremely important and while the main character has done a few incredible acts with his new powers I have barley touched on his detention into darkness, or gotten into the origin of his powers which is where the antagonist originates as well.

  15. #15
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    In your screenplay do you have a proper scene outline or everything set out on cards, or however you want to do it?

    Look, write it as a screenplay, and then if you think its better as a novel, then write it into a novel. I don't think you should be making these decisions halfway through the project.
    They are completely different animals.
    I sort of agree with the poster above, about if you can't do it as a screenplay then you can't do it as a novel either.

    What I think is, if your having trouble writing it as a screenplay then you're trying to do too much, - its a recipe for a movie story, not a work of art in its own right.
    If you think you can tell your story better than the filmmakers will be able to do, then you should write a novel and use the screenplay as original matter.
    Its hard for us to say from the outside looking in - it comes down to what you want to do. You think you can sell it as a screenplay? Then stick with a movie. You think you can sell it as a novel? Whichever form you think it would be most successful - and the easiest way of being successful. Swim with the river.

  16. #16
    So Goth That I Was Born Black AW Moderator Kitty27's Avatar
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    It happened when I realized that trying to write a screenplay was an epic delusion of grandeur moment.

    I simply cannot do it. Novels are my forte and I turned my poor attempt at screenwriting into one.
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  17. #17
    Let's see what's on special today.. Bufty's Avatar
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    Seems to me that in your summary of what you have written there is no story - it's all set-up, backstory and introductions - stuff that you no doubt need know in detail in order to write the story but which I perhaps do not need to know in similar detail in order to follow whatever the story is.

    One minute on screen can convey one heck of a lot of background. Isn't twenty-six minutes of it a tad excessive?

    Why not write it all then consider focussing in on the editing, because getting caught up in over-explaining background and set-up and feeling one has to 'introduce' characters before starting the story will be equally troublesome in writing a novel.

    Quote Originally Posted by max929 View Post
    James, here is how I know I'm in trouble:

    without giving to much away, my character was once human, but is no longer. He was a loving father and a dedicated husband and while His family remains intact (they were not kill off like in some movies) they believe him dead and he wishes not to torment them with the truth of his transformation since he can never touch them again. His transformation has given him god like powers but he is unstable because of the grief and anger he feels and is becoming very dangerous to mankind.

    This is as far into the story as I have gotten and I have already written 26 pages. I think I am giving way to much detail but anything less seems wrong. There is other characters that I need to introduce, some are extremely important and while the main character has done a few incredible acts with his new powers I have barley touched on his detention into darkness, or gotten into the origin of his powers which is where the antagonist originates as well.
    Last edited by Bufty; 12-20-2012 at 03:03 PM.
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  18. #18
    Scribbler SuperModerator dpaterso's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by max929 View Post
    without giving to much away, my character was once human, but is no longer. He was a loving father and a dedicated husband and while His family remains intact (they were not kill off like in some movies) they believe him dead and he wishes not to torment them with the truth of his transformation since he can never touch them again. His transformation has given him god like powers but he is unstable because of the grief and anger he feels and is becoming very dangerous to mankind.

    This is as far into the story as I have gotten and I have already written 26 pages. I think I am giving way to much detail but anything less seems wrong. There is other characters that I need to introduce, some are extremely important and while the main character has done a few incredible acts with his new powers I have barley touched on his detention into darkness, or gotten into the origin of his powers which is where the antagonist originates as well.
    This sounds like an off-the-wall fantasy story, which can go any way you want it to without being constrained by genre expectations or limiting to so many pages or such-and-such wordcount. When adapting from novel to screenplay, you whittle away story and supporting characters and sub-plots to find the best, often the leanest, and most interesting, storyline involving the main characters. When adapting from screenplay to novel you need to think about rewriting from scratch so it has enough body, because a straight adaptation of a 110-page screenplay will get you a short story or a novelette.

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    Widely Regarded as a Bad Move DanielaTorre's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dpaterso View Post
    This sounds like an off-the-wall fantasy story, which can go any way you want it to without being constrained by genre expectations or limiting to so many pages or such-and-such wordcount. When adapting from novel to screenplay, you whittle away story and supporting characters and sub-plots to find the best, often the leanest, and most interesting, storyline involving the main characters. When adapting from screenplay to novel you need to think about rewriting from scratch so it has enough body, because a straight adaptation of a 110-page screenplay will get you a short story or a novelette.

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    The best answer yet.

  20. #20
    practical experience, FTW Michael Murphy's Avatar
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    The biggest difference is you'll be writing the novel from a character or characters point of view, unlike a screenplay. You might find it easier to use first person since it somewhat forces you into the narrator's POV. I think you'll find your experience with dialogue and scene structure will be an immence advantage. If you haven't already, I say go for it.

  21. #21
    pretending to be awake onesecondglance's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bufty View Post
    Seems to me that in your summary of what you have written there is no story - it's all set-up, backstory and introductions - stuff that you no doubt need know in detail in order to write the story but which I perhaps do not need to know in similar detail in order to follow whatever the story is.

    One minute on screen can convey one heck of a lot of background. Isn't twenty-six minutes of it a tad excessive?

    Why not write it all then consider focussing in on the editing, because getting caught up in over-explaining background and set-up and feeling one has to 'introduce' characters before starting the story will be equally troublesome in writing a novel.
    I agree - I'm not seeing a story here. Do you have a logline for this yet?
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  22. #22
    Fear is a only a barrier max929's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by onesecondglance View Post
    I agree - I'm not seeing a story here. Do you have a logline for this yet?
    Not yet, this is a project I started and then put aside to write a more marketable script. I finally came back to this because this story is my 5th symphony. I have had it in my head since I was 12 years old...about 20 years I have been ironing out the details of the story, how the pieces fit together and such. I'll try posting a log line to sum it up as best I can...great practice.
    Last edited by max929; 12-21-2012 at 06:50 AM.

  23. #23
    A Gentleman of a refined age... thothguard51's Avatar
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    Most writers I have talked to tell me that the novel generally comes first, and then the screen play arrives afterwards...

    Now I know there are novels that based on screen plays, so I am not sure how true this is, but its what most writers who write both tell me...
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  24. #24
    Fear is a only a barrier max929's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by onesecondglance View Post
    I agree - I'm not seeing a story here. Do you have a logline for this yet?
    This is what I came up with so far, this is only the first installment of the story, now that I laid out the synopsis it seems much more manageable as long as I suggest elements of the next installments as oppose to writing them in...enter the rewrite:

    Richard Bertram has woken up as something else. His skin is black, hard and plated. He can soar across solar systems in seconds, is invulnerable to injury and knows no limit to the energy he can now generate and direct. He soon realizes however that the life he once had, the life he treasured is gone. His incredible feats are matched only by his fits of rage, as he lashes out unable to accept his transformation. It is only after Beth, an old flame w/a troubled past, crosses paths with Richard does he reveal who he once was and the race to salvage his inner humanity before he destroys earth and everything on it begins. It's beauty & the Beasts meets a 10,000 megaton thermal nuclear bomb.

  25. #25
    A woman said to write like a man. Plot Device's Avatar
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    That's not a logline. It's a synopsis. (But it'll do for now in helping us suss out your story's scope.)
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