What’s the best book on screenwriting for a novelist adapting her own work? #scriptchat
— Ellen Meister (@EllenMeister) November 17, 2014
My advice is three-fold:
1. First of all, in Ellen’s specific case, she’s already an accomplished novelist: she doesn’t need books to tell her about general writing basics, how to craft a plot, or how to develop a character. I suspect she’ll find most books for screenwriters redundant.
However, there’s one book I highly recommend to anyone new to screenwriting: The Screenwriter’s Bible, 6th Edition: A Complete Guide to Writing, Formatting, and Selling Your Script (Expanded & Updated) by Dave Trottier. It will address any formatting or technical questions for you.
2. If you can write and you can format your screenplay, the most productive step for writers who are autodidacts and reverse engineers will probably be to read screenplays . For any writers looking to adapt your own books, I would recommend reading screenplays for successful films that were adapted from novels, so you can compare the source material and the resulting adaptation.
Two outstanding scripts to study for students of literary adaptations are:
- Anthony Minghella’s script for The English Patient, based on the novel The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje; and
- Mike Hodge’s screenplay for Get Carter (1971), based on the novel Get Carter by Ted Lewis.
3. There are also books specifically about writing adaptations. Out of the ones I’ve read, I recommend:
- Filming Shakespeare’s Plays: The Adaptations of Laurence Olivier, Orson Welles, Peter Brook and Akira Kurosawa by Anthony Davies; I confess I’m a Shakespeare buff so I particularly love this book, but Davies’ insights into the strengths and weaknesses of different Shakespeare adaptations is a masterclass into the art of adaptation in its own right;
- Novels into Film by George Bluestone–it has been a while since I read this but when I was first looking at adaptations myself, it was the most frequent recommendation I received;
- finally, in the Paris Review Interview The Art of Fiction No. 203, Ray Bradbury discusses writing the screenplay for John Huston’s 1956 adaptation of Moby-Dick–reading about the liberties he took with the source material made me feel far more confident about tackling adaptation projects.
Which screenwriting books would you recommend to a novelist new to screenwriting? Which adapted screenplays would you recommend studying? What are your favourite books specifically about writing adaptations? And if you have experience with adapting your own fiction to the screen, what advice do you have to share?