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You Don't Have to Adapt Your Book

So you’ve written a book! Congratulations! That’s huge! I want you take a moment and revel in that feeling. You finished. In a world of people who want to write, you have written

As you put it out into the world and people start reading it and the recognition and acclaim starts rolling it, it’s only a matter of time before somebody says those five magic words which seem to have become our default praise for a piece of prose we loved: “This should be a movie.”

And let’s be honest. You agree. It should be a movie. You’d love to see these characters projected thirty feet high. But to get there, you’re going to have to convince film executives—a group of people defined by their stilted vision—that yours is the work of genius they should spend half a decade shepherding onto the screen. And what better way to do that than by writing the screenplay yourself? That will surely pierce their myopia and convey your words’ brilliance. But writing a screenplay is a lot of effort, so now you’re asking where and how to begin.

As someone who not only worked as a film executive for a decade, but specialized in finding novels to adapt for film and television, I’ve got some good news. You don’t have to.

Despite our reputed penchant for destroying creative works, development execs, by and large, aren’t half bad at our jobs. We know how to read a book and imagine what the adaptation is going to look like. If you ask anyone in Hollywood, they’ll have a story of abysmal notes from an exec with no idea what they were talking about, but if you dig deeper, they’ll have dozens more of when a producer helped them untangle a beat they couldn’t crack or drill down into the essence of a piece. A good producer helps their creatives make the best possible version of their work, just like a good editor.

A good producer will understand your book without needing to see the script. There are some bad producers out there who won’t, but you don’t want to work with them anyway. It’s a helpful bit of self-selection.

But maybe you want to write the screenplay. After all the hours you’ve put into your book, you don’t want to risk anyone else messing it up, and nobody knows this story better than you. Sadly, I now have some bad news for you. Not only do you not have to write the screenplay, but you shouldn’t write the screenplay.

A screenplay and a novel are vastly different pieces of creative work. A novel is a finished product, a complete work of art ready for consumption by its audience.. A script is a transitional document. It is a blueprint for a hundred other people to pour over and transform. This isn’t a slight shift in form or media, like an oil painter dabbling in acrylics. This is the difference between sculpture and architectural design.

Over the course of my career in film, I read hundreds of books and thousands of screenplays. If I was considering a book, I’d read it and try to imagine the movie it would be. When I pictured that film, I pictured the perfect version of it. On the other hand, when I read an adaptation, the only film I could envision was the one on those pages.

Film execs aren’t lazy, but they are busy. Our to-be-read pile always outstrips our free time. If you handed me a book, I’d read it, but if the author had written a script as well, I’d read that instead and never touch the novel. I simply didn’t have the hours to read both. Which means I never read the prose this person had spent years perfecting. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, the existence of that script was deleterious to the project’s chances of getting made.

Even in the cases where the writer was brilliant and the screenplay exceptional, having that script added no value to the project. It didn’t save money, because we’d still have to pay for the book and script separately. It saved a little bit of time, but the development process is so slow that it was just a drop in the ocean. It was huge effort for no upside.

If you want to write the script to protect your book from adulteration at somebody else’s hands, then I’d strongly encourage you to forswear adaptation at all. The work will be changed. A hundred other artists are going to bring their own visions, interpretations, and truths to this world you created. That’s the beauty of a collaborative medium like film, but it’s an unavoidable beauty.

If you want to write it because you think you’re the best writer for the job, that’s fine. But that’s also a conversation you can have further down the line. You’ll never have more leverage than after a producer has fallen in love with the book, but before the contracts are signed.

And if you want to write it simply to write a screenplay, then write a screenplay, but not this screenplay. Write something new. Something conceived as a film from day one. If it’s not great (and your first screenplay won’t be) that’s fine. If it is great, you can use it to pitch yourself as the screenwriter for your book’s adaptation, or maybe even sell it as its own project.

But don’t adapt your book yourself. Right now, all you need to do is revel in this moment of being done. You wrote the book. Relax. Enjoy it. Don’t write the screenplay.


About the Author: Ben Crane wanted to be an architect until he was seven years old and the carefully plotted fort in his parents' basement collapsed after ten minutes. He is a former film executive whose credits include the Jack Ryan and Equalizer franchises. He lives with his partner and their two dogs in Los Angeles, where he plays board games. In his spare time, he writes novels and comics. He is the author of A Man of Lies.


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1 Comment

han gu
han gu
Jul 05

代写作业可以为留学生提供学术帮助,但不应取代他们自己的学术努力。学术诚信是任何学术环境中的基本原则,留学生应该明确辨别何时需要寻求帮助,何时需要独立完成作业。代写作业 可以作为学习的补充,但不应成为学习的替代品。

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