• Christopher McPhillips

Adapting a Screenplay from a Novel

For many screenwriters, the pain of adapting a book are overwhelmed by the love of working with rich and authentic source material. Novelists pour their life and soul in to creating characters that we recognise in our own lifes, interesting relationships, backdrops and scenery that the reader can easily picture in their in their mind, and inviting storylines. All of this and more feeds a screenwriter with more than enough to work with and, often, the task of choosing what to cut with what to keep is what gives screenwriters their sorest pain point.

Choosing what to cut and what to keep is one of the primary decisions to make in novel adaption because a movie cannot ever cover an entire book from sleeve to sleeve. There is essentially not enough time to allow that. You can spend a 12 hours or more reading a novel but in most cases a movie lasts around 2 hours. If it’s a comedy, you'll notice that it's only 1 hour 30 minutes. Then you get your niche features that are 3 hours long, but those movies are very few and far between.


When a writer plans to adapt a book, one of the first things to decide is choosing a point of view. Some novels present a story from several viewpoints, sometimes alternating chapters among several characters. Most movies tell only one person’s side of a story. Which point of view will be the best? Sometimes it’s easy to see the strongest point of view for a movie or find the character that has the most dramatic experience, in other cases, however, it depends upon the theme or themes the screenwriter wants to explore.


Here is a question for you... What your favourite movie that has been adapted from a novel?


#screenplay #film #directing #adaptation

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