Adapting An Indie Screenplay Into A Novel: Part 1

Let’s be real, as independent filmmakers, we’re always looking for innovative ways to fund our films and get our stories out there. We beg, borrow, and plead with our friends and family as we crowdfund our projects, and often have very little that we can actually offer in return. And we’re often limited on ways to market and showcase our films once they’re done. 

Enter this article and a fresh idea for your next project – novelize your screenplay as a perk for those who give, and who knows it may actually help get your story out there for more people to find your movie.

That’s all well and good, but how do we do that? What’s the process? I’m glad you asked because I’ve JUST done this with The Initiative Production Company’s second film, Out Of The Woods, directed by the award-winning Jason Solari (who also co-wrote the film) and starring Australia’s Bachelorette’s 2019 winner Carlin Sterritt. 

When Solari and co-writer Brenden Bell approached me to write the novelization I was both honoured and terrified. I’d only just published my first novel, which was quite the ordeal, and my concern was that I wouldn’t be able to do OOTW justice. But their unwavering confidence gave me just the initiative I needed to say yes. 

WHERE TO BEGIN

The first thing I needed was to get my hands on the current draft of the screenplay. After reading through it, I sat down with Jason to get a feel of what he was hoping for in the novel and if he had any ideas of scenes he wanted to add or key elements in what the main character thought or struggled with. I also needed to know what voice he wanted for the novel and if he had an opinion on whether or not it should be done in 1st Person (ie. I did this, I did that) or 3rd Person (ie. He did this, he did that).

Once those things were settled, it was time to work out the problems. For me, I knew the biggest obstacle in writing it was going to be writing in 1st Person from the POV of Will Denovan. A man. And I am very much the flowery, wordy woman, who loves to add as much detailed description as I can get away with. So I began to research how men think and talk. I even asked the men in my office to be vulnerable with me and share some of the things that caused them to worry or be insecure with who they are. It was awesome to see the similarities and even more eye-opening to see the differences. 

For example, I learned that men typically use as few words as possible and that women are more likely to create an emotional attachment to objects. In other words, sentences that previously had been something along the lines of, “Slipping my hand into my pocket for my wallet.” were changed to, “I reach into a pocket for the wallet.”

I also needed to take a look at the differences between screenwriting and novel-writing. Not necessarily the format, although that too plays a part, but more so the differences of each style. Screenwriting relies a lot more on the director’s interpretation, whereas a novelist must give more information to help the reader’s imagination to do the rest. 

WHAT ELSE?

Another good thing to consider is what program you’re going to use for writing your novelization. I’m a BIG fan of a program called Scrivener. Not only do they have a screenwriting option, but their documents for novels are great. Using their novel project I was able to upload the current screenplay, a few photos from set, notes from the director, and all my research browsers into one place. (Side note, I don’t work for them, just really love their product). 

Use whatever program is going to best suit you – pages, google doc, word, whatever – just keep in mind that when it’s time to send it off to an editor most like to have it in word. So whatever you use, make sure you have the option to export the novel into a word document. Thankfully, this is one of the many options Scrivener allows. Just another reason I love it.

Once I’d done the research it was time to write, and this approach will be different depending on how you naturally create – pantser versus plotter. If you’re a pantser, it means you fly by the seat of your pants, you may have a rough idea of where you want to start and where you want to end, but the details are fuzzy and yet to be created. Whereas a plotter will have all the details and every scene mapped out in some shape or another. 

Personally, I’m a bit of both but more often than not, I’m a pantser. Knowing I already had a beautiful screenplay to work with, I did what any great pantser does, and put my fingers to the keyboard, letting them do the work. Both the risk and reward in this approach are that new scenes came to me as I wrote, which helped to flesh the story out more. 

That first draft is all about getting the story out. From a logistical point of view, I split my computer screen to have the novel document open on one side and the screenplay pdf on the other (another fun feature of Scrivener). And I let the screenplay inform where the language should go, adding speech tags, inner monologues, and pieces of action that I hoped sounded like a guy.

I hope this helps you get started, stay tuned for Part 2 where we’ll look at what comes after you write it. Because writing is only JUST the beginning. There’s still lots of creative fun to be had.

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  • Charis Joy Jackson

    Producer, Director, Writer, Actress

    Charis Joy Jackson is a writer, director, producer and teacher working with The Initiative Production Company. During the day she makes movies and in her spare time writes short stories and novel. She's a self-proclaimed nerd who wishes she could live in Hobbiton. You can follow her on Instagram @charisjoyjackson

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