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Monday, March 26, 2007

Book to Screenplay, Screenplay to book-Chicken or the Egg?

Recently I got through completing my first Screenplay from scratch. It was a book idea I thought wasn’t strong enough for a full novel. But guess what? I find myself writing that novel right now. Which leaves me to ask the question: Which comes first: The novel or the screenplay? The Screenplay or the novel? Is this a case of the chicken or the egg for writers?

In the past I’ve often worked like this: I’d write the manuscript first and try to adapt a screenplay out of the story later. Something I did for fun. It was hard work, trimming off details from the book so I could tell the exact same story using the fewest amounts of words in the screenplay. Condensing a 50-80,000-word story into a compact 90-120-page script that captured the spirit of the original manuscript was often a challenge. I often found myself going crazy in front of the computer some nights.

This time I’m working in reverse adapting a screenplay into a novel. My challenge now is finding a way to recreate the same picture by adding more details rather than taking away from them. The goal here is to stay true to the spirit of the story without adding so many details that it dilutes and distorts the picture presented in the screenplay.

Lately I’ve been asking myself a question. Which comes first? The screenplay or the novel? The novel or the screenplay? I guess that depends what storytelling medium the writer feels comfortable with. And the context of the content. Most movies have a novelization published of the script (Available in most bookstores) and some books have adaptations of their stories made into screenplays. (Available in most libraries) It’s fun to check both out and compare and contrast the differences between the two versions.

Over the short course of this “reverse adaptation” project I’ve learned a fun math fact. On average the chapter of a book uses 1500-2000 words to describe the action in the story. A scene in a screenplay usually uses 250-400 words to describe that exact same scene. That’s a 5:1 ratio!

This means every five to six pages of action in a chapter book leads up to one page of a screenplay. Since one page of a screenplay leads to one minute of screen time, that means every five to six pages of a chapter book (the kind I write) leads up to one minute of a movie!
Okay I’m having too much fun. I hate algebra. Let me rephrase that. I really hate algebra. When I find myself applying algebraic concepts to writing something is wrong.