Turning Your Screenplay Into A Novel

If you have completed a screenplay for film or television, and you cannot get it produced, take ownership of your Intellectual Property and adapt your screenplay into a novel, transforming it into something marketable.

No writer should ever box their story into one medium. Sure, you dream of seeing your screenplay come to life on the big screen, but that is not an easy task. It’s not impossible, but it could take many years and big budgets to realise your dream.

The novelisation of your screenplay could ignite the imaginations of readers worldwide and become a bestseller, feeding the appetite of producers searching for new stories. Just look at the latest movies and TV shows. Most are adapted from books or short stories. It’s time to shift your game plan and double your odds of success. That goes for novelists, too, who should consider the potential of adapting their novels and short stories into features and TV pilots.

Take the leap into prose and put your stories on the bookshelves. Share your art while growing your fanbase.

Traditionally published novels have always been a lucrative source of literary properties for the entertainment industry. In the last decade, more and more self-published books have joined the page-to-screen trend and are responsible for building some of the biggest entertainment franchises. More producers and production companies are scouring the self-publishing world for material.

While this fits with the familiar pattern of adapting books to film (or TV), writers are adapting their screenplays to novels, so that they can attract producers to option those adaptations for film/TV development. Rather than writing the book first, then optioning to a production company, and then writing the screenplay based on the book, the trend now is script first, then book, and next to the option sale, followed by a rewrite or full-on purchase of the original script that started the process. In many ways, the old model of adaptation has been turned on its head.

There are many reasons for this new mini-revolt among screenwriters, not the least of which is that selling a screenplay or teleplay is nearly impossible, even for experienced screenwriters. But with more producers and production companies scouring the self-publishing world for material, it only makes sense that screenwriters should want to dust off all their old screenplays and jump into the adaptation game.

A novel with a built-in audience makes a sounder investment than a spec script coming in over the agent transom or through the conventional script pipeline. This has always been true for traditionally published novels, and now it is increasingly true for self-published books.

A new sales channel has opened for screenwriters wanting to leverage their work in multiple distribution windows: film, television, and print. And even if the movie/TV windows fall short, the writer still has the print/e-book property to fall back on. It’s a win-win for writers.

A prime example is Dances with Wolves. The late Dances with Wolves author Michael Blake originally wrote the story as a screenplay in the early 1980s. He later worked with Kevin Costner on the 1983 film Stacy’s Knights. Blake was staying over at Costner’s house early on in his career when he read the Dances with Wolves script. Costner and eventual Dances with Wolves producer Jim Wilson agreed that despite its worth, no studio would produce it. They recommended that Blake write it as a novel and try to get it published — and then work to use a reader base to entice studios to adapt it for the screen. Blake did just that. It was first published as a paperback and sold primarily in airports. It soon became a bestseller, allowing Kevin Costner himself the chance to obtain the rights later knowing that the film adaptation would get the necessary studio distribution. The rest is Oscar-winning history. The film was nominated for 12 Oscars and won 7: Best Film, Best Director, Best Non-original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Score and Best Soundtrack.

Author Michael Blake and director Kevin Costner.

Why Adapting Your Screenplay Into a Novel is a Great Idea

  • It’s far easier to get a book published than to get a screenplay made. A successful novel will help build the Intellectual Property required to support big budgets.
  • Years of research on your story and characters that had to tone down and be reduced dratiscally for the screenplay can fully be explored and realised in the novel, opening up the story considerably.
  • You already know the characters, story and the world of your story. Much of the hard work is already done. Writing the novel will also help deepen your understanding of each of these elements, in turn improving the screenplay during the rewrite. When you dive deeper into your story, you might find new characters, new subplots, and new perspectives you can then take back to your original screenplay in its next rewrite.
  • Following endless rewrites and meticulous editing, where it’s impossible to see the wood for the trees, you will rediscover your story through writing the novel, and even find a new ending to your story.
  • As a screenwriter, you’re trained to write cinematically and to make stories a “fast read.” Screenwriters pull the studio reader in immediately and make then have to keep turning the page. That skill set translates into great novel writing.
  • You already have a story with structure and characters, which makes an amazing outline for a novel.
  • Screenwriting is harder than writing a novel. It’s a highly structured, competitive, very tight format for storytelling. So, if you have a script, you’ve already done the heavy lifting. When most authors begin to write their next novel, they’re starting with a blank page. Some outline beforehand, and some don’t. But it always begins with an intimidating blank page. You know the beats of your story, the beats of each character arc, the major plot points, etc. You even have 95-120 pages or more of the novel written. Your job now is to expand on those elements and build them into a 300-500 page (less or more) novel.
  • Writing a novel based on your screenplay has benefits in itself. You’ll stretch your writing muscles. You’ll discover new things about your characters and story. And you may just have a finished work you can share on its own and use to further your screenwriting career.
  • A thought, motivated action, dialogue, or theme can easily spark a few chapters of 3000 words each.
  • The movie or the TV show is the finished product; a screenplay is not. Scripts are only one step in a complex chain of events leading to the final show or film. As a result, screenwriters don’t write scripts for the reading experience (though they have to be written well).
  • Screenwriters and novelists see the world of storytelling in very different ways and have very different observing devices for interpreting their fictional worlds. Shifting from a screenwriting sensibility to a prose sensibility can be accomplished by writing prose, it is a brand-new craft, a new skill set that can be learned and mastered.
  • Having a successful “source” novel can be an easier way to get your screenplay picked up by Hollywood, compared to trying to manoeuvre your spec screenplay through agencies, management companies, production companies, and studios. It’s no easy task trying to get your spec scripts represented, read, optioned, purchased, or produced. Sure, writing a novel, getting it published, and getting paid for that is no easy task either. However, if you’re looking to get your script made, and made well by professionals and visionaries, having a novel offers some more evenly stacked odds. You can self-publish. You can also package both the novel and the script as a selling point to both publishers and studios.
  • The screenplay is a tool to produce the entertainment, the novel is the entertainment.
  • So why not turn your screenplay into IP that you can potentially use to get attention and make inroads in the industry? Two irons in the fire are better than one.

Adapting your screenplays into novels isn’t about giving up on your story. It’s about pinpointing a new and more direct audience — all while increasing the chances of your story making it to the big screen thanks to two industries (Hollywood and Publishing) that love to intermingle.

The Write Novel course will help you to craft your novel.

The Write Journey course will help you to transform your novel into a screenplay