How to Adapt a Book for the Big Screen

two people rehearsing for a play

Writing a screenplay can be a difficult task. So, too, is the process of writing a book. When you combine the two and write a book to movie adaptation, you may find yourself confused about how to translate one type of writing to another. Books can have a complex structure with multiple plotlines and time periods. Screenplays tend to be more straightforward with a three or four-act structure. In order for book adaptations to work on the big screen, there are few things that screenwriters need to know about book to movie adaptations.

Get to Know the Story

When you start out trying to adapt a book to a movie, you need to know the story inside out. Read the book through a number of times looking for different aspects of storytelling each time. The first time you read, focus on the world and the setting of the story. This will help you ground the rest of your understanding of the book.

Learn About the Characters

Even plot-driven books need memorable characters. A novelist includes characters with complex events happening in their lives to drive a story forward. Each character has a background that has shaped them, as well as events that make up the current story in the book.

When you write a book adaptation, you will want to determine those back stories and how they influence the present day for each character. You will also need to narrow down the most important things that the audience needs to know about each of the main characters.

Pinpoint the Conflict

All novels have a core conflict. When you write a book-to-movie adaptation, you need to identify this and how and why it happened. Because this is the core conflict, it will remain central in the screenplay. Other timelines and plots may be cut out, but this core conflict is the heart of the story.

Choose the Best Dialogue

Fans of the book who see the movie may be expecting characters to say something special in the movie as well. Find several lines of the best dialogue for each character that drives the plot forward and are vital to character development. Consider including those pieces of dialogue exactly or closely in the screenplay adaptation.

Do your research and look for quotes and lines that are hard-hitters for the fans. Is there a certain tagline that they all use? On social media is there a certain part they always quote? Is there a certain scene you see people talking about? Keep all these in mind as you write the dialogue for the screenplay.

Stick to the Theme

A movie adaptation of a book should leave viewers feeling the same way as the readers did about the book. Those feelings are conjured by the theme and the lessons learned by the characters and the readers or viewers. Identify the major theme of the book and ensure that the book-to-movie adaptation leaves people feeling the same way.

If you are an aspiring screenwriter who has a few books you would like to see turned into movies, consider writing your book adaptations during your tenure in the Grand Canyon University Bachelor of Arts in Digital Film with an Emphasis in Screenwriting degree program.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.