Monday, March 7, 2011

Fiction to Film

Adapting a novel or short story into a screenplay or short script can be a challenging yet rewarding experience. In prose, a writer has the luxury of an endless amount of paragraphs to impart needed backstory and information about characters or plot. In a script, a writer must find a way to convey these details in the characters' dialogue or actions. As a screenplay reader, I often read scripts in which the writer uses narrative to tell the reader vital facts about the characters. This is a no-no, because a movie viewer isn't reading the screenplay as they watch the film.

When I adapted my short story Local Call into a short script, it was necessary to convey needed information about the protagonist's career. The short story begins with the following paragraph:

The outdoor mall was the wrong place to choose for my lunch break. In an attempt to distance myself from the summer crowds, I huddled under a vast free-standing umbrella, desperate for a spot of shade. I would’ve been bothered had I not been in a jubilant mood. My career was booming. I was the leader of a medical team that had just finished a successful round of tests on a new sedative. Prisons and hospitals would benefit from the new drug, meant to calm criminals or the mentally ill. My boss beamed when he gave me the good news. He told me to expect a newspaper article within the next few days. My photograph would be in the newspaper.

Since I did not want to use voice over in the script, I opted to create a phone conversation between the protagonist and his wife. It was important to retain the protagonist's self-satisfied tone. In the opening of the script (below), the details about the protagonist's work and the sedative are mentioned conversationally, rather than stated outright in the prose:



A sunny and warm summer day. CAMPBELL PETERS, 30s, dressed in a business suit, stands in a spot of shade. Campbell has a debonair but slightly arrogant demeanor. He talks on his cellular phone.
The meeting was superb. I don’t
think Louis could be a prouder
boss. I’ll be written up in the
paper in a few days.
Well, why wouldn’t they include my
picture? It’s not everyday someone
creates a new sedative to calm
I know, it creeps you out.
I'd love to hear from others about changes they've had to make while adapting their writing!

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