Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Adaptation Interview: Karen Mueller Bryson

In March, I wrote a post Fiction to Film about adapting my short story Local Call into a short script. In the meantime, I've asked other writers about their process of adapting one form of writing into another. To kick off a series of interviews with writers about adaptation, today's interview is with Karen Mueller Bryson, PhD.

Karen adapted her time-travel adventure screenplay The Incredibly Awesome Adventures of Puggie Liddell, which was written during her time as a Writers Boot Camp Fellow, into a middle grade read and graphic novel which are slated to be published by Zeta Comics. Another project is adapting her romantic comedy screenplay Twyla's Last Trip into a "fast beach read" for adults.

The interview is separated into two sections in order to ask Karen about both adaptation processes:

The Incredibly Awesome Adventures of Puggie Liddell


Summary:  The adventure begins when wise-cracking whiz kid Puggie Liddell’s modified Gameboy activates a time portal and he lands in the 1890s with his sibling rival, annoyingly prissy teen sister, Gigi, who thinks history is like-totally-gross. The kids must learn to work together to find a time portal back to the present before the eccentric scientist, Nikola Telsa, or his arch-nemesis, inventor Thomas Edison, can steal the Gameboy and use it to complete a death ray machine, an invention powerful enough to disturb the very fabric of space-time and create an instantaneous world disaster.

Q: First, to clarify: is it a children's book, comic book or YA novel?
Karen Mueller Bryson: I adapted the screenplay into both a middle-grades (ages 8-12) novel and graphic novel. Both formats of the story are scheduled to be published by Zeta Comics.
Q: What was the most difficult aspect of adapting your screenplay into book form? The most rewarding?
KMB: I actually didn’t find anything difficult about the adaptation process. I enjoyed the work and found it extremely rewarding. The most rewarding aspect (and unexpected benefit) of the process was that I improved the screenplay even more than I thought I could. I had initially thought the screenplay was finished but in creating the novel and graphic novel, I discovered additional layers of the characters and story that weren’t evident to me until I wrote the story in different ways.

Q: Did you have to remove any aspects from the screenplay? Were you able to fit more story into the screenplay or the book?
KMB: Much more can be fit into a novel than a screenplay. Novels tend to more dense and screenplays are more concise. I didn’t remove any scenes or dialogue from the screenplay but I did add a lot! Creating the graphic novel was a completely different story. There were several key aspects of the screenplay that I left out of the graphic novel because I didn’t think they would work as well in a primarily illustrated format. 

Q: What were the most significant changes you had to make?
KMB: Screenplays are written in present tense and novels tend to be written in past tense, so that is one obvious difference. The actual text of a screenplay, when placed in prose format, is quite short, so the novel needed to be filled out. Because the siblings travel back in time, I did a significant amount of historical research in the process of writing the screenplay. Many of those historical details had no place in a screenplay but I used many of them in the novel. I also added some additional background and character details into the novel.

Q: Describe your novel adaptation process.
I worked extensively on the screenplay for about six months and felt as though I was immersed in the story. Because the spec screenplay market is so difficult to break into, I decided to increase my chances by publishing the story in several platforms in order to expand the brand. In adapting the screenplay into a novel, my first step was to place the screenplay into a Word document. I then removed the screenplay formatting and changed the tense from present to past throughout the document. I then changed all of the character dialogue into “he said” and “she said” statements. That provided me with a wonderful “bare-bones” novel, almost like an expanded outline, which I then filled out by adding additional description, character detail and historical facts. One of the unexpected benefits of creating the novel was that it allowed me to view the story in different way and I found ways to improve the screenplay that I did not see when I was only looking at the story in that format.

Twyla's Last Trip

Logline: In order to fulfill the requirements of her estranged mother's will and inherit her fortune, an uptight research psychologist, on a deadline to complete her doctoral dissertation, must take her mother's ashes on a cross-country journey on RT 66, accompanied by her mother's easygoing country lawyer and his bloodhound.
Q:  In writing the "beach read" novel, did you have to change the tone of the screenplay in any way?
KMB: The screenplay was written as a “road trip romantic comedy” and the novel has the same tone. I was able to add a bit more wit and sarcasm to the novel because characters thoughts can be included, which is not allowed in a screenplay.

Q: Did you have to add extra plot points or any additional characters in order to fill the length of a novel?
KMB: My style tends to be short and concise, even when I write novels, so I didn’t find the need to add additional plot points or characters to the novel. Much like I did with The Incredibly Awesome Adventure of Puggie Liddell, I filled the novel in with more details and background information. I would consider the adaptation a “short novel.” That’s why I’ve decided to start using the term “fast reads” for my adapted work. The Incredibly Awesome Adventures of Puggie Liddell is a “fast read for kids.” Twyla’s Last Trip is a “fast beach read.” I think with attention spans decreasing and people hungry for quick entertainment alternatives, shorter novels will become increasingly popular, especially for eReaders.  

Q: Is there background to the characters that you fleshed out in the novel (perhaps just hinted at in the screenplay)?
KMB: Yes. I think that’s one of the key elements of making the adaption from screenplay to novel successful. The creation of a film is a collaborative process. A screenwriter is asked to provide the essence of action, description and characterization in a screenplay. (That’s why screenplays are often referred to as the “blueprint” for a film.) The “fleshing out” is done by filmmakers. A novel is a complete work of art and the process of creating it is not collaborative. The writer is responsible for the entire creative process.     

Q: Did you use an outline for the screenplay? For the novel?
KMB: I use an extremely broad and simple outline when I create a screenplay, basically just hitting the major points in the story. The screenplay, however, becomes a kind of extended outline for the novel. I am growing to love the process of working back and forth between a screenplay and novel. I can’t see myself embarking on spec projects that would not include both forms of storytelling. There’s no reason not to have a line of “fast read” novels to support all of my screenplays. 

Q: Is your intended audience the same or different for the screenplay and the novel?

KMB: I think the intended audience is basically the same, although I believe there are readers, who do not enjoy watching films and people, who enjoy movies, who don’t like reading.

Thank you, Karen!
For more about Karen Mueller Bryson, visit http://www.ahorsewithnoname.com/

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