Adaptation: How to Make It Work

rethinkSince I wrote my previous post on adaptation, I’ve been noodling over the possibilities.  What should I try first?  I keep coming back to an Aesop’s fable in part because it is short enough to easily wrap my head around.  My idea is that it will be easier to learn on something short, develop my skills and, if I’ve enjoyed it, take on something longer.

In preparation, I thought I should read up on how to create an adaptation.  What should stay, what should go and what pitfalls should I keep in mind?

My first pitfall wasn’t a warning so much as what I could find vs what I couldn’t.  95% of everything written on adaptation is written about adapting a short story or novel to a movie script.  Obviously, adapting a novel to a screenplay presents the writer with certain challenges since I screenplay is significantly shorter than a novel.  But I don’t write screenplays so I really wanted to find information on some other form.  Eventually, I found this Writer’s Digest  post.  While the author, Harrison Demchick does adapt novels to screenplays, he has also adapted his own short stories to create a novel.

The first important point that Demchick emphasizes is that adaptation is not copying.  To create a successful adaptation, you have to be ready to make some big changes.

You have to know the cenventions and typical forms of each type of writing you are working with.  When Demchick first attempted to adapt his stories into a screenplay he had to take the multiple stories involved and choose one to use as the central narrative in the screenplay.  Why?  Because very few successful movies have multiple narratives. He focused on one central character.

As he worked to develop this new form, new scenes came into being.  The character’s age changed. The piece went from first person to third.

Don’t panic if things don’t quickly come together.  It may take several tries to get it right especially if you are writing in a genre or subgenre that is new to you.

While I know I won’t be writing a screenplay, changing the setting and shaking up some of the characters will have wide spread consequences for whatever I choose to adapt.  I can’t imagine that I’ll get it right the first try.  Still, if the story is worth telling, it is worth telling well.  Try, try again!