Screenwriting Blog
Posted on by Victoria Lucia

How to Adapt a Screenplay to a Novel

We often hear about adapting a novel to a screenplay, but what if you wanted to flip the adaptation process on its head?

Adapting a screenplay into a novel is a roundabout way to attract producers or make money from your original story without having to sell the original screenplay. In the past, writers have written original books, optioned them to a production company, and then wrote a movie script based on the novel.

Today, some writers take their original idea for a spec script, turn it into a book, option it, and then rewrite or sell the original script. And you can, too. Some might argue that it's easier this way! 

To adapt a screenplay to a novel:

  • Use your script as an outline

  • Determine whether this is a short story, novella, or novel

  • Figure out the perspective of the story

  • Find your prose voice

  • Fill in plot holes

  • Expand subplots

  • Dig into your characters

  • Read novels similar to what you're writing to gain a better feel for novel writing

  • Explore publishing routes - self-publishing, small press, or large publisher

It's a different trajectory than we've seen in the past, but some writers have found success with it. A popular book with an audience attracts a production company more than a screenplay with no audience.

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Adapt a Screenplay to a Novel

How to Adapt a Screenplay to a Novel

This article teaches you to adapt your existing screenplay into a novel format. You'll give it new life and a new chance at discovery and success!

Use your script as an outline

Screenplays are whittled-down versions of stories that focus more on visual storytelling than narrative storytelling. And you know what? That screenplay format makes a perfect starting place for your novel!

Use your screenplay as an outline for plot points in your book. Keep the scene headings, core conflict, and characters intact. 

Copy the content out of your screenwriting software and into a traditional word processor.

Map out the plot points, and prepare to fill in the blanks.

Determine whether this is a short story, novella, or novel

Before you start adding to your story based on your screenplay's outline, decide how long you want the finished book to be.

A short story will be anywhere from 1,000 to 15,000 words.

A novella will be anywhere from 20,000 to 50,000 words.

A novel will land in the 80,000 to 100,000-word range.

Figure out the perspective of the story

Screenplays are all written in the third person present tense. When writing a novel, you have options for the point of view (POV) and tense.

It may take some consideration to determine what POV or tense will best serve your story.

Play around with perspective; you might like one character's perspective over another.

You might even discover that you prefer to switch POV with each new chapter, as Min Jin Lee did in her bestseller, "Pachinko."

Find your prose voice

It's a bit of a learning curve to move from screenwriting to novel writing. You need to play around with and experiment with how you write prose.

It can take a while to discover your voice when writing in a new medium. Don't be too hard on yourself, and be open to exploring how your writing sounds in this new type of project.

Expand on details and subplots

The screenwriting mantra is to keep things lean, clear, and concise. Be sure to show, don't tell. Keep things moving, and don't waste time with excessive exposition. These practices make for easy-to-read screenplays but don't work well in novel writing.

Novel writing is your chance to embrace the descriptive prose you've had to throw away in your screenplays. Tell us about the world we're in! Tell us about your character's thoughts and feelings! Expand on plot points and subplots that you couldn't in your script.

Adapting your script into a novel is your chance to expand and immerse your readers in the world of your story.

Dig into your characters

When you write a book, you have more time to tell the story through other characters that may not have had much room to shine in your screenplay.

Maybe there's more to the relationship between two characters than you had time to dig into in your script. Or maybe you want to give a character arc to a minor character who only had one line of dialogue in your screenplay. In a book, you have more time for character development. 

Now, the reader has more time to get to know the characters and the nuances of how they interact and impact the story.

Read novels similar to your own

Before you start adapting your screenplay to a book, read a few books that have similar genres and storytelling styles to your own.

This will help you get into the zone of writing prose instead of film scripts. It will also give you some ideas for your own story and how you can expand it into a longer form.

Better yet? Choose a book that became a movie, or visa versa, to see how the writers shrunk and expanded the plot to suit the medium.

Explore publishing

Thanks to self-publishing, it's easier to get a novel published today than it is to sell a screenplay. The three main publishing routes are self-publishing, small press publishing, or working with a large publisher. Each of these routes into the publishing industry has its pros and cons, so be sure to do your research to decide which publishing option is best for you.

It's easy to see why some writers adapt their screenplays into novels rather than novels to screenplays.

Did you enjoy this blog post? Sharing is caring! We'd SO appreciate a share on your social platform of choice.

Sometimes, publishing offers a better route to success for your story than the film industry. And the adaptation process is very conducive to writing in this direction! 

Now you have some idea of how to go about adapting your own script! Happy writing!

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