Monday, January 16, 2012

Original screenplay, or adaptation?

I'm going through some changes as I've explained in my page on this blog. So from now on, I'll be shooting for only Monday morning blogs. There may be others now and again but I plan to maintain my Monday blog as my main one.

Now, to the point.

Someone asked the other day if you should write a novel before a screenplay, or just write the screenplay. The question was also asked whether the novel adaptation didn't give you more copyright protections.

Frankly, about copyright, I'm just not that concerned for various reasons. Register your screenplay with the US Library of Congress, and/or, the Writers Guild. Now, move on. There is however, in the book field, more of concern now a days about having a platform. Those who are buying would be more interested in your work if you already have followers. If you have a novel, you'll need readers; better yet, followers of your novels, then it's going to be easier to get attention to sell your screenplay.

Writing an original screenplay is fun, hard work and has great amount of freedom. But it can be daunting, especially for a new screenwriter; there are simply too many options to choose from. Adapting a novel however, even your own, supplies you with a ready made road map so you can possibly move faster. Adapting someone else's novel, has it's own built in issues.

For one, it's not the best thing to send in to a screenplay contest, send in one that is original and fully yours. They will want to know you for what you can do, not how you can write someone else's work, transliterating it into screenplay format.

If you are adapting your own novel, it's much easier. If it is someone else's that brings up other issues, including the obvious interpersonal ones. Adapting a novel eliminates some of the need for building and planning. But that brings up issues since what works in a book, won't always work on the screen. You could almost say it seldom works on the screen.

If you've ever seen a film adapted from a book and you didn't like their choices, it can either be lack of skill on the part of the screenwriter, or simply that most books just don't lend themselves easily to screen, unless you tear them apart and rebuild them. At which point you lose some of the readers. But then, if a good movie comes of it, it may be worth it.

After adapting two novels in a row last year, by two different authors, I found it a great pleasure to get back to writing my own original screenplay. It can be pretty frustrating at times adapting a novel because you may find you have to change a single element that can change the entire dynamic of the story, requiring you to go back to the very beginning, to start over. You may at that point want to, or have to, abandon it. On the other hand, that just makes it more of a challenge.

When I got to the end of the screenplay of the second novel I adapted, I realized the story was fundamentally flawed and at that point I had to drop it. Since I had too much other work that I had to get to, I got it to a complete, cleaned up point and laid it down. I may go back to it later, since I put so much work into it, but for now I don't have the time to restructure it. Because it's another author's novel, I felt an obligation to them to try to maintain the original story line as much as I could. The changes I did make, I felt were warranted and actually made the story better. I did what I could to make it work in the time I had to work on it.

Since I need their permission to use their novel before I could sell it, that can run into issues. You certainly can get the paperwork drawn up first so that you can do what you want, but I hadn't done that as I wanted us both happy with the final product. If I was getting paid up front for it, then the paperwork becomes much more important.

I have yet to adapt my own novel but I'm finishing one now that I will later build into a screenplay. As I am the author it will be so much easier to argue with myself over how I'm ruining the book. Hopefully in the end, it will be worth it. Also with it being my own adaptation, I can clearly see the entire thing in depth, unlike with another author's novel.

As to the question, writing a novel first gives you a great back story, depth of story and character; of course, same with another author's work. You can also of course, write the screenplay and later write the novelization of it. I suppose it can work either way and both have benefits.

I like the freedom I have in writing an original screenplay without a novel first. But I see value in both. I don't think I would ever always write a novel first and then adapt it. It only takes doing it once to see why. But neither would I never adapt a novel. But then I'm kind of like that. I enjoy the variety and the challenge.

What I've found however is that by writing in one format and adapting to the other, you flesh out elements you wouldn't normally notice in only a single format. Then adding that, if it's useful, to the other format, you will have a more complete story. And story is what it's all about.

As an example, I have a short story "Sarah". I originally wrote it as a short story but I've written it to screenplay format. I've since gone back and forth between formats updating it as it developed from within one format to the other. After all that, last night I found an ending that was perfect and I wouldn't have found that, I'm pretty sure, if I had not been going back and forth like that.

In the end, it's all good. Try many different things. The more you do, the more you learn. That goes in any field. That's why liberal arts degrees give you a more rounded background in the end. But eventually you will need to settle on what is going to get you the furthest. Consider you only have so much time and energy. Put it into what will push you along in your efforts the furthest.

Basically, write. Write a lot.Write all the time. And send it out. No manuscript or screenplay ever got sold sitting in a dusty closet being forgotten.

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