BALLS OF STEEL: Script to Novel – 5 Steps to Adapting Backwards

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November 1st marks the launch of National Novel Writing Month, a personal challenge to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days.

Why am I talking about writing a novel when this is a screenwriting site? Because I am taking the challenge of NaNoWriMo myself, and I urge you to join me by either starting a new project or taking one of your scripts and turn it into a novel.

script to novelHollywood loves adaptations. You already have a story, so take the next step and turn it into a novel to increase your odds of success. NaNoWriMo is the perfect opportunity to give becoming a novelist a shot since your script can serve as a fantastic outline.

If you don’t have a script that would work as a novel, then use this 30 days to get a first draft of a new screenplay done. Challenge yourself to write every day. After all, it takes 28 days to develop a habit. After the 30 days are over, you’ll have a new routine that promises to get more scripts written in the coming year.

Anyone who reads my column regularly knows I’m no wimp when it comes to a challenge. Just the mere thought of it makes my skin tingle with delight. I’m a competitive bitch when I need to be, even more so when the person I’m challenging is myself.

Instead of telling you all about the values of doing NaNoWriMo, including simply getting in the practice of writing every day, you can read a piece I wrote three years ago, after losing my NaNoWriMo virginity, about the 10 lessons I learned from NaNoWriMo.

How do I turn my screenplay into a novel?

I polled some of my screenwriter friends who have done just that. Here are their top five tips:

1. The hard part is done. You already have a script with structure and characters. That’s one hell of a detailed outline for a novel.

2. Decide on a Point of View. As screenwriters, we always write in the third person, but if you’re writing a novel, you can decide whose point of view you want to tell it in… the antagonist, the protagonist, the third person or the first person. You can even use a different character’s point of view for each chapter. Your story could be more interesting told from a specific character’s perspective.

3.  Start with a skeleton. Take your script and write it out into the prose of a novel, one scene at a time. Don’t worry about descriptive prose or crawling into the characters’ heads yet. Just get the basic story down into novel form. The average novel is 80,000 word count (but can be more or less, depending on the genre). Once you get the skeleton of your story down, you’ll have a better idea of how far off you are from the mark.

4. Beef it up. Now is the time for fun! The benefit we have as screenwriters is our natural ability to write visually. Take off your screenwriting shackles and let loose with the flowery prose and with crawling inside your characters’ heads, telling their thoughts and feelings… things we can never do as screenwriters! At first, it won’t seem natural, but in time, I promise, you’ll start enjoying the freedom to explore your story mentally rather than visually.

5. Fill in the holes. Screenwriters are trained to write lean and mean. Go back and find those darlings you had to cut in order to get your script to the 110-page sweet spot. Oh yeah, you can add those suckers back in! You can even add other subplots and characters; though I’d still be sure any subplot you add relates to the theme of your story.

Now, I’m not suggesting you write the next War and Peace. Quite the opposite. A lot of successful, self-published ebooks are written efficiently in order to make the books a quick read. The readers of today often want to read a book in one sitting. As a screenwriter, you’re the perfect writer to take advantage of that market.

Bottom-line: It’s hard to get a script produced, especially in this economy. But as a novelist, you CAN get your work in the public, even by self-publishing, and possibly get interest in your script from the exposure.

You really have nothing to lose. In fact, you might even discover you’re good at being a novelist and branch out into a new form of writing.

As I always say, writers write. My new career plan is to write both novels and scripts. I want to move people with my words, and I can’t do that if they’re sitting on my hard drive waiting to get produced.

But how can I find the time to “win” this challenge?

The disclaimer: Most of us work full-time jobs, and it’s hard to imagine how we’ll find the time to write 50,000 words in 30 days (it breaks down to 1,667 words per day). My plan is to simply write something… anything… every single day, even if at the end of the 30 days I only have 20,000 words, that’s 20,000 more than I have today. I’d rather have 20,000 quality words than 50,000 crappy ones anyway.

Again, check out the post I wrote about the lessons I learned in NaNoWriMo. In it, I describe a word-churning program called Write or Die. You enter the desired word count for that writing session and the time you want to write it in. While you’re writing, the program will start honking at you if you slow down. It’s a fun way to keep the pressure on. And how we writers love writing under pressure. (If you don’t want to adapt your script yourself, today is the last day to enter the Screenplay Replay Contest where you can win an experienced novelist adapting your script and a publishing deal!)

Consider joining me. If you do, find me on the NaNoWriMo site, username jeannevb, and add me as a buddy. We can keep track of each other’s progress, send messages of encouragement, and build a whole new community of writers to support our efforts. I made amazing friends when I took on the challenge three years ago, and I know I will only widen that circle this year.

Put your NaNoWriMo usernames in the comments below to connect! 

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10 thoughts on “BALLS OF STEEL: Script to Novel – 5 Steps to Adapting Backwards

  1. alcoolbc

    I like your work. However, script to novel is not trivial, so I wonder about the idea to “fill in the holes” and “beef it up?” Some say it takes a lifetime to write even a disappointing novel. The three-act structure is certainly adaptive, but the language and settings, depth of plot, subtext, and development and motivation of characters are all as tricky to present with pace as it is in a script to pare down and visualize. Sorry, but I can hear McKee groaning from here … but still, here we are, expected as writers to do both. Isn’t this like expecting cross-over country & rock to be better? And when did that ever happen?

  2. jeffguenther

    I’m in the midst of doing that very thing. Mark Schwartz (LMU) said that novels are now the most effective way to sell a screenplay. I’ve heard this before; deja vu all over again. There a lot of caveats, however–a hell of a marketing plan is necessary to get any traction at all in this crazy lit world.

    I essentially reformated my entire script and then converted the action to narrative. That gave me 30,000 words, not enough for a novel. I’ve been turning the crank and am now just short of 40,000. This is NOT easy. I was hoping for 60,000, plus, but I’m not sure I can get there. Also, I’m not happy with the end of my script, so I’m probably going to rewrite the last chapters and then work my way forward, then to a complete bottom to top, front to back revision.

    Thanks for the encouragement.

    1. Jeanne Veillette BowermanJeanne Veillette Bowerman Post author

      I’ve heard execs say recently that, “novels are the new specs.” I completely agree. I’m also writing novels, and loving it! There’s such freedom in being able to crawl in their heads, describe settings and feelings in detail, etc. As for getting more words on the page, that’s a big struggle because of how we’re trained as screenwriters. I’d suggest giving yourself permission to write unfiltered. Break outside of your comfort zone and really explore your characters. Read novels too. It’ll help get your head in “the zone.” I’m excited for what you come up with. Also, follow Jane Friedman’s blog. She gives great tips on marketing yourself as an author. janefriedman.com

  3. blh557

    Just finished a five novel series, The B&L Show. Wrote the final 265 page (6X9) book in just under 30 days and the entire series from April 2014 to March 2015. Grueling 498K words… and I loved every minute of it. Now that I have this book finished and published I plan on turning my scripts into novels or novellas. Great info. Thanks.
    Barry L. Hughes

  4. Leona Heraty

    Thanks for the great idea, Jeanne. This is a great program and although I signed up for it two years ago, I didn’t actually write anything. However, you’ve inspired me to try to turn my unwritten screenplay into a novel, just to get the ideas rolling and to have fun with it. So, I’m definitely going to take on the novel writing challenge too, Jeanne. Thanks again! 🙂

    1. Jeanne Veillette BowermanJeanne Veillette Bowerman Post author

      Congratulations! My main goal is simply to write every day, which I’ve managed so far… only four days in though haha. Having said that, my biggest problem is being a bit OCD and a competitive freak, so I’m feeling the pressure to meet the 50K goal. I’m resisting though, solely focusing on quality over quantity. I’ll write about it in the next Balls of Steel.

  5. dawnd1030

    I have always been one of those who couldn’t say I was something unless I was making money professionally with the trade. The desire first hit me 6 years ago to write a script when one story in particular kept circulating in my mind. I had a background in theater as a child, struggled through a Latin degree in college and played in some indie bands in Athens, Ga. The thought of writing a movie scared the life out of me. I was the student who was always annoying the teacher with my curiosity and way too many questions. How in the world could I write a movie?

    Two and a half years ago, the time was right and now I am working on my 12th. Everyone looked at me like I was crazy at first but I held my secret close to my heart and now living in Atlanta they don’t think I’m so crazy anymore. My husband sends me articles such as this and people like you give me that little breeze of inspiration to keep going.

    Now we are raising the bar on our dream and are going to start our own company to bring these stories to life.

    I wrote all of this to say thank you for sharing a piece of yourself with us. What good is success if you don’t tell others about your story.

    I wish you continued fulfillment on your journey.

    All the best,

    Dawn Davis

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