Saturday, July 16, 2011

Adaptation Interview: William D. Prystauk

William D. Prystauk ("Bill") is a prolific writer who was nonetheless kind enough to take the time to allow me to interview him about how he adapted his screenplay Bloodletting into a novel, which is under serious consideration for publication (sorry, no further details at this time!) After the interview, be sure to scroll down to the previous post for excerpts from the screenplay and novel. They serve as great examples for anyone interested in adapting a screenplay into prose.

Bloodletting follows protagonist Denny Bowie, a “legwork guy” for a private investigator, who must overcome his own desire for sexual submission to find the killer of masochistic men in Manhattan.

Here's what William has to say about adapting, his writing process, his inspirations and what he did when his screenplay was met with controversy...

Q: What was the most rewarding part of adapting the Bloodletting screenplay into a novel?

William D. Prystauk: I got a chance to really dive into the story and delve deeper into the mind of my protagonist, Denny Bowie. Most importantly, I could cover much more ground than I could in the screenplay. I could expand on descriptions, truly establish tone and play more with dialogue. It was as if I went from having very strict parents, who laid down many rules, to having insurmountable freedom. Writing a novel, though more tedious to pen due to its size, was quite liberating, and I typed like a madman.

Q: What was the most challenging aspect of adapting?

WDP: Point-of-view problems plagued me to no end. Though I initially wrote the work in third-person omniscient, my narrator sounded too much like my protagonist. The indirect internal dialogue only muddied the waters more. At the time I was a student in the Wilkes University Creative Writing Program, and my mentor Kaylie Jones (Lies My Mother Never Told Me and A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries) suggested I write the work in first-person. Although the story flowed better, I still had scenes that occurred beyond the scope of my first-person narrator. I remedied this through several creative ways that may have made the book more literary, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a publisher wanted me to rewrite those scenes as third-person chapters, which I would gladly do.

And since the story involves sadomasochism, I was concerned about how far I could take the sexual elements. Even worse, I was mixing consensual BDSM among loving adults with a killer that preyed on masochists. I didn’t want the BDSM and fetish community to think I was exploiting them or misrepresenting them in order to sell a book. Therefore, Erin Marr, a crossdresser and newbie to S&M, became Denny’s boyfriend and served as the reader’s advocate. Readers outside the fetish world need to understand the clear distinction between love and play versus crime and abuse. Too often, writers unfamiliar with dominance and submission don’t conduct enough research to bring readers the truth behind such sexual expression, and I didn’t want to come off as ill informed or non-caring. I never choose sensationalism over reality.

Q:  When and why did you decide to adapt the screenplay? Discuss your adapting process.

WDP: Selling a screenplay is equivalent to hitting the lottery, finding your soulmate and discovering the cure for cancer, all on the same damn day. Though I believed in the story, I knew it may never be produced simply because so few films are purchased and achieve production (every time we see a movie on the screen, we are definitely witnessing a miracle). Since there are far more publishing opportunities, I decided to convert the screenplay to a novel.

Initially, adapting the work was easy since the screenplay served as a glorified outline. I copied the script from Final Draft and plopped it into Microsoft Word. Then I moved forward, sentence by sentence, until my first draft was complete at 70,000 words. Afterwards, I went through many revisions to “color in the numbers,” so to speak, and to tell a better tale. At one point, the manuscript ballooned to 120,000 words, but is now at a more palpable 94,000.

Q:  How did you come up with the story and characters?

WDP: The story is an old one. I originally wrote the tale as my first attempt at a screenplay back in the late 1980s. It was called Necrophilia and Denny was a morgue technician. He was in love with a lesbian but found romance with a dead punk girl instead. The story was weighed down by too many taboo subjects: sadomasochism, necrophilia, homosexuality, etc. It wasn’t until the mid-1990s when I came up with a strong, hard-boiled mystery with more in-depth characters that people could relate to regardless of the subject matter.

The reason the story was eventually rewritten is because the characters wouldn’t leave me alone. I had to do something with them. Denny was trapped inside my head for so long, I can’t recall how he originally came to mind. Erin is based on a young man I met at a dance club in New Jersey, and Penny is a conglomeration – add Siouxsie Sioux and some old friends from my days at Rutgers and you have the spicy Goth-girl love interest.

Q: What changes did you have to make going from screenplay to novel?

WDP: I had to pay attention to POV like never before. I learned that was my “kryptonite” and worked diligently to grasp how to approach the story without a camera.

Quite often, I realized I was screenwriting. I was jumping from scene to scene without letting the reader know what transpired in between, or I’d summarize too much to get right back to the action. Nothing was allowed to occur “off the page.” Avoiding implications and explaining more to the reader without getting caught up in heavy exposition gave me more room to develop my characters and helped create a better picture in the reader’s mind about the world they inhabited.

Q:  What type of response has the screenplay received? (Feedback, awards, etc.)

WDP: In 2005, I entered Bloodletting at Slamdance where it failed miserably. I contacted them for feedback and spoke to one of the judges who had read the script. He and another judge loved it – but the third thought it was “pornography,” which ultimately killed the screenplay’s run in the contest. Shortly after, however, it came in as a Quarter Finalist at Scriptapalooza. I then had a table read at the New Jersey Screenwriter’s Group, where I am a member, and received exceptional feedback and recommendations. Following that meeting, I rewrote the script to bring it from what might be seen as an NC-17 rating to an R rating and entered the open-genre Screenwriters Showcase Screenplay Contest where Bloodletting came in as the Second Place Winner in 2006 (first among mysteries). A short time later, I was picked up by an agent who was trying to sell the script in Los Angeles, until she unexpectedly left the industry.

After many attempts to sell the script on my own, I realized it may be best to transform the screenplay into a novel if I ever wanted to earn a paycheck.

Q:  How did you obtain the interest of a publisher? Do you work with a literary agent?

WDP: In my MFA program, we had to pitch our story ideas to a panel of agents, editors and publishers. After the pitch session, I was approached by a publisher and he had his fiction editor read the manuscript and provide details about what worked, what didn’t and how I should approach the revision. After two more rewrites, the publisher is in the final stages of reviewing the work, and I hope to have an answer soon. I spoke with the fiction editor two weeks ago and he stated, “You have a great fucking story in there.”

I do not have a literary agent at the moment.

Q:  Much of your writing seems to be in the horror and crime genres. What draws you to those genres?

WDP: Ha! Actually, I write drama and science fiction as well, but it all depends upon the story and how best to tell it. I usually don’t even consider genre until the writing is finished. I have a “story first, genre later” attitude.

I love crime because of the mystery factor that compels me to remain glued to the story. I do not want to check my brain at the door when seeing a movie or reading a book. I want to be jolted to think about the movie or book for days, weeks and years later. Oftentimes, well-crafted crime stories do that for me because I like to gather my own clues.

I’ve been fascinated with horror since my youth. At one point, horror scared the hell out of me, but over time I wanted to indulge in the genre as much as possible, as if to combat a phobia. Sadly, I must admit that I watch about fifty horrors to find that one movie worth mentioning. It’s like sifting through a crappy yard sale to find that one decent artifact that’s a must have.

Concerning selling a script, horrors are traditionally a good way in, so I’m doing my best to write tales with limited locations, smaller casts and more manageable special effects to attract attention. That’s a great exercise in itself. For instance, my dramatic horror script, Ravencraft has only two locations and a handful of characters, which proved to be a wonderful writing experience.

Q: What are some of your favorite screenplays and novels?

WDP: Favorite screenplays: Alien (due to the character interaction), Chinatown (because it taught me so much about screenwriting in general), The Uninvited Guest (the suspense in this Spanish film is definitely breathtaking), The Man from Earth (compelling drama from a bunch of “talking heads” in one room), Arlington Road (because Ehren Kruger put a twist on one cliché after another) and The Celebration (for phenomenal dialogue and tension).

Favorite books: The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald), Tropic of Cancer (Henry Miller), Naked Lunch (William S. Burroughs), A Farewell to Arms (Ernest Hemingway), The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Muriel Spark), One hundred Years of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez), Girls (Frederick Busch) and Kissing Carrion (Gemma Files).

Q: Screenwriting versus fiction writing: do you prefer one format, or do you enjoy both equally?

WDP: Screenwriting is instant gratification. Sometimes, I can knock out a rough draft in mere days. Fiction writing is a long, drawn out process. For example, if I have to make a change in a 90-page script, it’s relatively easy to move, delete or add a scene. With a novel, changing one element can lead to dozens upon dozens of changes hidden in a manuscript of great length. Maybe that’s why Bloodletting took a year to complete as a novel, but only a few weeks as a screenplay.

However, when I write a script, there is a lot of starting and stopping, while I can often write a novel for hours on end. At one point, I was spending ten to twelve hours a day writing Bloodletting as a work of fiction. I was charged, impassioned and couldn’t stop. Moreover, with a novel, I can truly reach the reader’s five senses while scripts only allow me to focus on sight and sound. I can cover much more ground when writing fiction because there is no clock ticking and no page limit.

Thanks, Bill!

Author Bio:

In 2011, William's dramatic horror screenplay Ravencraft became the Third Place Winner in the 2011 AWS Screenplay Contest. William's dramatic ghost story Risen was the First Place Winner in the 2010 Horror Screenplay Contest and is currently being shopped around Hollywood. Furthermore, William's character driven, crime/action/horror script Red Agenda was the First Place Winner in the 2008 International Horror and Sci-Fi Film Festival and was a Top-Five Finalist at Screamfest. Currently, William's crime story Mara was just accepted for publication by Needle: A Magazine of Noir. William has also won numerous awards for other screenplay as well as poetry, and has written movie, music and book reviews. William completed the Creative Writing Program at Wilkes University in June 2011 to earn his MFA with concentration in screenwriting and fiction. Furthermore, he teaches English at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania.

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