Balls of Steel: Adapting Your Script into a Novel

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I know, I know, we’re screenwriters, but indulge me for a bit. I’m about to challenge you. Double-dog dare you, in fact. I would like you to consider adapting your script into a novel.

Last year I participated in the challenge of writing a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. It was amazing to see how much a screenwriter could learn by writing a novel. I won’t reiterate the lessons, because you can read them in Balls of Steel: Challenge Yourself to Change. But writing that novel, albeit 50,000 words of vomit, was a life-changing experience for me as a writer.

Why write a novel?

We all know how difficult it is to write a script, get it produced, and be able to get your name in the trades. It’s akin to winning the lottery. Yet we can’t help ourselves. We push forward, knowing if we didn’t write, we’d die.

If you’re a writer, truly a writer, you need to write for your soul to survive. If that’s the case, you’re going to have to get creative or you’ll never survive an industry that could suck the soul out of even Mother Theresa.

Turn your script into a novel.

If you watch the trends, you’ll see it’s not that crazy of a thought. An increasing number of box-office hits are adaptations. Hell, even superhero films are adapted from comics. Twilight, The Bourne Trilogy, Sherlock Holmes, The Lorax, Hunger Games… need I go on?

Hollywood has executive assistants scouring the bookstores and stalking the New York Times Best Sellers List looking for the next story to light up the silver screen.

Why not yours? What’s the worst that could happen if you try?

You can’t find a publisher.

So what? In this world, all you need to do is get a great editor and self publish your novel. Warning: do NOT self publish willy-nilly. Your work has to be as flawless as if being published by a major publishing house. Cutting corners will reflect poorly on you… a first impression matters, even in the self-publishing world. But if your novel is professionally presented and a success, you’ll get a literary agent who will see the story’s potential for the screen (because you are, after all, a visual writer). They’ll start shopping it around to sell the rights for the film, and you already have the narrative adaptation in hand, ready to go.

Win/win!

Say you don’t want to deal with self publishing, or you do self publish and the novel flops. Was it a waste of time? Nope. Because I can guarantee you either your story changed in writing the novel, or you realized the concept stinks.

It’s liberating to admit you have a crappy story.

Now you can trash the novel and the script and move on! Get another story going, using the lessons you learned about craft, concept and marketability.

Not every story told is worthy of being sold.

Sometimes your baby is ugly, no matter what form it takes. The sooner you realize what stories work and what ones don’t, the better off you are. Think of it as dating. If you stay with the wrong person, you’ll never be free to find the right person. Let the bad ones go.

Even the best scripts take years to produce. As I wrote earlier, your story is a lottery ticket. Increase your odds by telling that same story in a new way. Imagine what it will feel like to hold your book in your hands at the end. You, a published author. That alone is enough incentive for me. If you don’t want to write an entire novel, write it as a short story and submit to magazines. Brokeback Mountain and Benjamin Button started as short stories.

Now for a confession: I planned on starting my trilogy with this year’s NaNoWriMo, but I have been thwarted with another rewrite of Slavery by Another Name (SBAN). I can hear some of you saying, “ANOTHER REWRITE… why is she still at that damn script?” This time, I have serious producers interested. The day this baby gets a green light, I’ll tell you the entire story. But for now, I am going to give this project my all, even if it means postponing my trilogy a month.

So… how I am going to tackle the NaNoWriMo challenge this year is to spend this month knocking out a great SBAN rewrite as well as outline the first book of the trilogy.

I will write every single day.

After all, that is one of the best benefits of NaNoWriMo, getting you in the habit of daily writing. It takes 28 days to develop a habit. This challenge is a great first step.

Whether you formally sign up for NaNoWriMo, or if you simply make a personal challenge to adapt your script to either a novel or short story, I urge you to step outside of your comfort zone and give it a try.

Chime in on the comments below with either your Twitter name or your NaNoWriMo buddy name so we can all support each other for the next 30 days and beyond. If you follow me on Twitter, feel free to @ me (@jeannevb) and call out a #writingsprint. If I’m available, I’ll jump in and cheer you on!

Being a writer doesn’t have to be a solitary endeavor. Neither does having a screenplay. Open your minds and let your story take a new form. It just might be the breath of fresh air your writing career needs to take off.

Tip of the day: Head over to Writer’s Digest Facebook page and grab some FREE NaNoWriMo resources!

Related Articles:

Tools to Help:

Learn How to Turn a Book Into a Movie with our FREE Download on Tips for Acquiring Book Rights and Writing an Adaptation

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15 thoughts on “Balls of Steel: Adapting Your Script into a Novel

  1. Richard Garrison

    Nice article! I love discussing the process of taking an original screenplay and converting it into a full-length novel. I think it’s not only a great way to broaden your skills as a writer, but it also broadens the marketability of your script. Imagine your novel taking off on Amazon and then having Hollywood come knock on your door! I have converted my own scripts to novels and write extensively about the experience on my blog: http://bit.ly/19WG0oH I highly encourage anyone considering the undertaking to take the plunge! You won’t regret it!

  2. Ronald Farnham

    I have so far adapted two screenplays into novels and published them on Amazon – 1) Harry Jonson Diary of a Gigolo Porn Star 2) The Second Coming of the Messiah Book I The Awakening.
    I am in the process of turning two more scripts into novels. It is a fun process and it makes your story deeper and brings things out that might not have occurred to you in the script writing process. In fact, after the books were finished, I went back to the scripts and added elements that grew out of the book writing process. It is so satisfying to have a published book. I recommend everyone who writes screenplays, take a script and turn it into a book.
    I wrote a book about how to do that – 3) How to Write a Screenplay in 30 Days or Less [Amazon]. It teaches how to write a script, turn it into a book, publish the book, create the development package based on the script, produce the movie, and distribute the movie.
    Remember, in the movie bizz, patience is key. It can take 3, 5, even 10 years to go from script idea to distributed feature film. Keep on keeping on and you will accomplish what you set out to do. Cheers. Ronald Farnham

  3. Frank Anthony Polito

    Hi, Jeanne

    Great article! My name is Frank Anthony Polito. I received my MFA in Dramatic Writing from Carnegie Mellon a few years back, and when I got out of school I was given the opportunity to adapt a stage play I’d written into a novel called BAND FAGS! that was published in 2008. A second novel, DRAMA QUEERS!, followed in 2009, after which, I took the advice of “Literary Lion” Peter Miller, and adapted an idea I had for an original screenplay into my third novel into a Young Adult, LOST IN THE ’90s.

    Unfortunately, no “real” publisher believed that kids today would want to read a story about a teenage boy who travels back in time to 1994 (the pop culture references like Jennifer Aniston and Beverly Hills, 90210 were too obscure, I guess!) where he meets his parents and helps them fall in love, a la BACK TO THE FUTURE with grunge music. So I went ahead and self-pubbed the book — then I wrote the screenplay. Haven’t had much success in selling the film rights or finding a producer, but at least I can say I’ve done something.

    At the moment I’m working on a new novel for NaNoWriMo. So far, so good. But I’m used to writing every day. It’s resisting the internal editor in me that’s been hard 🙂

    @fapolito

  4. L.A. Eide

    That was a very interesting article. I am trying to resurrect “The Darkness Below”, my first published novel that was published by POD publisher Denlinger Publishers, Ltd. They unfortunately went out of business in early 00’s. I like the story — book got two very good reviews, one so-so review — and I like it enough that I’m doing two major things with it: 1) Self-publishing it as a series of blog posts at fanbox.com; and 2) Writing a movie script (same name, finished 2nd draft). As I write the blog posts, I am definitely editing the story. As one reviewer pointed out, the book needed/needs a better editor. I should have left out some unneeded story details when I initially wrote it so now I can trim the story as I re-publish (is that a word?) it on fanbox.com.

    I’m about to submit script to http://www.screenplaycoverage.com to get a 2nd opinion on script. Hopefully the ScreenwritingU.com class I took on writing scripts for movie stars helps. I think my characters and the story is epic — laid-off airlines accountant and reclusive, Scotch-loving boyfriend plus his two Irish Wolfhounds, Seek and Destroy, battle global vampire cult in our world while hero of story follows journey of a possible Messiah in a parallel world through her dreams.

  5. Judith Duncan

    Hey Jeanne,
    Very timely article. I decided to have a go at NaNoWriMo this month to give myself some drive and focus. My username is MermaidTayles and I’m actually writing a YA zombie horror/comedy,entitled Zombie Butterscoth Kiss. I agree that it’s great for screenwriters to stretch their writing muscles. I will look up your article about what you learnt from the process.

  6. Kelan O'Connell

    Nicely done, Jeanne. As someone who has actually done this, turned a screenplay into a novel, I’m here to confirm that it’s a truly amazing experience, one that opens you up as a writer.

    A screenplay is more than just a great outline for a novel—it’s a brilliant blueprint. And the cinematic quality screenwriters bring to the novel is undeniable. Most readers aren’t able to put their finger on why, they just know they’re experiencing a richer, more visual read. I ultimately self-published my novel, Delta Legend, and can’t begin to relate how satisfying it is that a story that once languished in a drawer of undiscovered specs is now out and available as a novel. I’m currently doing a polish on the original screenplay and one of these days soon, I’ll be pitching a double-header.

    But PLEASE LISTEN to Jeanne when she says “do NOT self-publish willy-nilly.” I spent some quality time writing the novel version of the spec and worked with an editor once I decided to self-publish. It’s incredibly tough to stand out from the crowd in what has quickly become an over-saturated market of self-published books—so yours has to really shine.

    I do hope more of you will be joining me in this endeavor. Trust me, if I can do it, YOU can do it. And though I haven’t personally participated in NaNoWriMo, I know others who have and found it to be a great and inspriation way to get started.

    Good luck with the rewrite, Jeanne. I felt the same way about the many times I went back in to do rewrites on the novel. Everyone saying “Again?! Really?!” Yes, again. Your trilogy may be put on the back burner but it’s still simmering, getting more flavorful.

    PS My two-part post is titled, Driving In Reverse, Turning A Novel Into a Screenplay can be found on my blog. http://kelanoconnell.blogspot.com/2012/08/driving-in-reverse-turning-screenplay.html

  7. Bill Fitzhugh

    I’ve done this three times. First with a screenplay called Pest Control. Every studio in town passed. I rewrote it as a novel, sold the screen rights to Warner Brothers for lots of money, then had it published in 4 or 5 countries. Over the next 10 years, it was published in 2 or 3 more countries; a company in Germany bought rights and produced a radio show from the novel and — best of all — it was produced as a stage musical in Los Angeles (won best costume award for the giant cockroach). Then with another script everybody in LA passed on, Cross Dressing. Wrote it as a novel and Universal bought the film rights for more big money. It must be said that the scripts weren’t that great and that in turning them into novels, the characters became increasingly 3 dimensional. The third time I did it, with Heart Seizure, no film rights sales, but it’s a much better novel than it was a script anyway. And no, neither of the books was every actually made into a film…

  8. Jeanne Veillette BowermanJeanne Veillette Bowerman Post author

    Ricardo, Congratulations on writing your first book! That is a huge accomplishment. Be patient in the rewrite phase. If you are, the hard work will bring your story to a whole new level. A lot of writers dread rewriting, but for me, it’s addictive. Enjoy the journey!

  9. Ricardo Holmes

    Hello Jeanne, my name is Ricardo and I just subscribed to scriptmag.com. I am thrilled to have a site in which I can share my ideas as well as hear others. The writing world as we know it can seen lonely enough when there seems to be no one who shares your writing passion. You have mentioned some very interesting things in your article that even I had to stop and say hmmm. I have finished a three hundred page book that I am happy to have written. Unfortunately I am going back to do some fine tunning. It is my first book and I hope to make a series out of it. You have inspired me to keep writing and as well not get caught up in time frames, as we first time writers tend to do when listening to those who don’t share our writting passion. I will as you mentioned write everyday. Thanks Rick

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