How to Adapt a Screenplay (Novels, Comics, Video Games, Stories)

Hollywood is scared.

It’s scared of losing money; why adoptions have become a new wave of finding things that work. Popular titles like Harry Potter, James bond, Transformers, and the Marvel cinematic universe have changed the way Hollywood sees movies forever.

How do you adapt a book into a screenplay? First, you gain the rights to the original work. Then, you pick out the most fundamental element of that story and create a screenplay around it.

Why is Hollywood using more adaptions than ever?

IP or Intellectual property which are copyrighted creative works is desired now in Hollywood for one reason. Branding. Which creates name recognition for an audience that already exists. In other words, if you read the book and liked it, then you will watch the movie too.

It ensures producers that an audience will see this movie, unlike before, when production companies were guessing on what would work.

On top of that, it seems to work. Almost every adapted script from a previous intellectual property has been profitable. A couple of them leading to the most significant profits in history, including Avengers, with its 2.792 billion made. So we know why it works how can we the screenwriter get in on the action.

How to Claim Rights for Your Adapted Screenplay

First things first.

You can write all day, but it’s illegal if you don’t have the permission. Now no one is going to arrest you for writing a draft but you cannot legally sell it. How do you get permission?

Option 1

First, check if the author sold the rights away. You can check that by contacting the publisher, or if its self published, you can contact the author directly.

If they didn’t, give the rights to anyone yet you can purchase them yourself depending on how popular the book is this could be a lot of money. Can you imagine trying to buy the rights for a superhero character forget it? But lesser-known IP’s might be manageable, especially if you have someone interested in seeing the script for the book.

Out of print books seem to be a goldmine with the publishers trying to liquidate some assets.

Option 2

If there is no way to purchase the rights or the rights are too expensive, you might want to try an optioning agreement. Optioning agreement gives you rights buts only for a particular time letting you legally write the screenplay and sell the screenplay within the time limit. The time depends on the agreement.

Many producers do this with actors. Actors get paid a portion of there salary to be on hold just in case a script gets produced.

Option 3

You can always write based on someone’s book if the book is in the public domain. What is the public domain? Im glad you asked.

The public domain its the area where past copywritten IP’s live where there copywrites have expired if you will. In recent years this doesn’t happen so much with copywrite laws getting more and more complicated. But you can find older works there.

What exactly does obtaining the rights to something let you do?

  • Reproduce the work any way you see fit.
  • Create new versions of the material furthering the story.
  • Digitally distribute and sell the reproduced work.
  • Advertise the work or reproduced work in any way

Ok now were finished with the boring legal stuff lets get into how to adapt a screenplay from Novels, video games, comics, and my favorite stories — more on why that is later.

How to Adapt a Novel into a Screenplay

A Novel into a screenplay is the most popular of the bunch.

Novels gain audiences over time gaining in popularity. When producers see over “X” amount sold, they see dollar signs. It’s one of the easiest ways to predict future success. But How do you do it?

Step 1 Read the Book / Research

Probably the most obvious step but read the book. Yes, listening to it over audible could work well too. But you want to get the feeling of how the audience receives the information. And sometimes the written version is slightly different.

Read the book several times. Just like a movie, sometimes we miss a few things when watching and discover a new understanding when rewatching or rereading creative works.

Step 2 Contact the Author / Research

This might be impossible if the author isn’t alive anymore, but if they are talking to them. Most authors are flattered you contact them talking about screenplay ideas. Another way to do this is to set up an interview. People love free promotion. It makes them feel a sense of importance.

Hey, Mr. X, I loved your book XXX, and I would like to interview you for XXX blog or XXX podcast.

Most authors aren’t movie stars and aren’t getting stopped on the street for autographs, so this will work.

This step is very undervalued.

Making friends with the creator can make the licensing part of the process that much more comfortable if both of you are gun-ho for a movie deal. During the initial conversation, Make your intentions known. Let them know you were thinking about adapting their book.

Step 3 Pinpoint the Story

What does this mean? Most Novels feel long. Longer than you can jam into 90 pages. But there is always a moment in every book that stands out more than others. Building a script at that moment is a good idea.

We’ve seen movies that try to jam way too much into a film. The audience feels disconnected. We never know what to focus on. That’s why here we pick a focus first. Adapted films like Harry Potter the book was written with the big screen in mind, which makes it flow better than most.

A lot of authors don’t think about the movie deal before writing. So you have a challenge.

One way is to pick 3 of the most significant moments inside the book and base your script on those. Giving you the first second and third acts. Think of the movie as a snapshot of a longer story.

Step 4 Find the Perspective

Most Novels are written from someone perspective. It’s almost crucial to never waver from the persons perspective. The reason people read the book is that they enjoyed it. The reason they will watch the movie is that they want a visual representation of what they read.

If you need any help during this process, I think the best way to do so is to read other adapted scripts of books you’ve read previously. This way you can find the conflict they thought was most important and how they structured it.

If it’s about the mom’s point of view, if half the movie takes place from the son’s perspective, the original audience who you are counting on will notice and will write bad reviews.

How to Adapt a Novel into a TV Series

Books famously turn into movies, but the networks who are making them into tv shows are popular online streaming services like Netflix and Hulu.

Some Familiar titles include:

  • House of Cards
  • Hemlock Groove
  • Alias Grace
  • Altered Carbon

Just to name a few. But how would you take a book and turn it into a TV show for one of these streaming platforms?

Check out my article below for more information on how to get Netflix’s Attention:

Now let’s dive into the details.

Step 1 Is The Setting Right?

For a TV show, you’re looking for a book with a story that you can build a world from. Not every book fits into this category. For this think about the environment, the characters live in. The setting. Is the locations a character in itself? If yes, then you might have a TV show.

Harry Potter fits this, and that’s why you can get multiple moves out of it that doesn’t have to do with the book or the main character, Harry.

Step 2 Is there multiple perspectives?

Are there multiple points of views from the story. Are different perspectives just as exciting as the main character? Then you might have a TV show.

You should ask yourself these questions because this type of adaption is based on a book its, not the book turned into a movie. Thinking of this gives you more creative freedom than an average adaption being able to use your creativity more.

As you can see, most of the issue is finding out if the book will make a good TV series, to begin with.

Once you’ve decided and answered all the questions plan out your episode list as if you were writing your TV series with one exception. Use the characters and make decisions based on how those characters would make decisions in the book.

Yes, you have more freedom, but your one limitation is the change of characters in the world.

How to Adapt a Comic Book into a Screenplay

Since spiderman first appeared in the year, 2000, Hollywood has been all over comic book adaptations. They work, and they work exceptionally well. Even the flops like justice league make $655,945,209.

This is one of the earier adaptations because the word is already built and everything is already visualized. You can turn a comic book character into a TV show or movie. You almost have too many stories options.

So the advice for this one is to determine what you want to write a tv series or a movie.

If its a movie most likely its going ot be an origin film with the most famous villain from the comic book. Because you’re introducing not only the existing audience to this character on film but your introducing potential newer fans.

Now from the information given in the first three sections of this post, you already know how to adapt. But I think what people have trouble with is getting the rights to write a script based on a comic book hero. Now your not going to get the rights to the Hulk. Those rights are long gone.

But there are smaller comic books being started all the time. Take a trip to a comic book shop or take a look at virtual comics. Some sites you can see the view count just like a youtube video. Letting you know the popularity and you would reach out to the artist from there.

How to Adapt a Story to Screenplay

The most complicated of all adoptions is the story to movie adaption. The good news is there are no legal ramifications for adapting stories.

You can start writing and pitching a story about the events of 9/11 right now without any problem from anyone. Quintin Tarantino is a master of this writing stories of historical events that he doesn’t need permission to write.

Once upon a Time in Hollywood including two real people Sharron Tate and Bruce Lee. Many people were angry with the portrayal of these two people, including some family members but int the context of a story it was completely legal. Letting Tarintino write almost anything he wanted.

And this bring s me to my next point.

Stories are not always written down. It is causing you to be more of a reporter for research purposes. Most of the time, their ideas are formed from a large group of people. Most have multiple people involved with various accounts of what actually happened.

The number of variations of one story can confuse you into what’s real and what one person wants to be true.

Step 1

To adapt this type of interview as many people who contribute to the story as possible. If its a murder like the Famed Zodiac Killer which there have been more movies made about than most. Interview the families affected, the police offer involved the town people alive during that time, etc.

Your not just looking for the events of what happened during this process you can find that online. Yours also looking for the feeling of how people felt during the time and.

Step 2

Once you have all your information lined up, then find the obvious evidence. To find the truth, look to see what everyone or most people you’ve interviewed on the matter agree upon. What they all agree on must be the truth. Then branch outward to lesser and lesser ideas.

For example, if everyone in the town of a killer felt as if they were next. That needs to be an overarching theme in your screenplay. The fact that anyone could be next.

Taking this type of approach will get you not only a more realistic account of the story but something everyone will agree upon.

Now in rare cases sometimes the stories have been turned into a novel. What would you do in this case? Take a look at Tony Grisoni, a British screenwriter.

Give advice on which to trust more.

Adapting a Video Game into a Screenplay

Video games are getting bigger. Literally, stadiums are being built for people to watch others play them. What used to be reserved for sports is now being made for people wearing glasses. Being a person growing up on video games myself, I think this is a huge opportunity.

One Netflix is taking advantage of with its hit show Castlevania and now The Witcher.

What’s excellent about Castlevania is the rights for this game are old, but the audience was hungry. Take a look at popular games forms the 90’s or early 2000’s that smashed hits. Most of the time, the IP is int the public domain granting you access to write a screenplay as if you were adopting from a story.

What does original screenplay mean and why is it harder to make?

What is an original screenplay? An original screenplay is a script created with its own story imagined from one or a group of people.

For example:

  • The Favorite
  • Roma
  • It follows
  • Pulp Fiction

Just to name some famous examples from different generations.

What makes this harder is not just because you’re creating a story from scratch. Its because no one is asking for this. No one wants a horror film from a no named screenwriter who hasn’t been commissioned to write a horror film. For that reason, it has to be the best thing script readers have read in a long time to get a recommendation.

In today’s economy if there is no preselected audience for what you’re creating, then the script itself needs to blow people alway.

Now some times writer-directors can get away with this by them being the selling point. For example, the director of Roma has already won an oscar, so producers are more likely to give him a chance than someone else. So in this case hes still bringing an audience with him.

In conclusion

Hollywood is looking to sell. In order to do that thin to yourself, how is my script more marketable than others? In other words, how will it sell tickets? Thinking this before writing will put you ahead of 90% of newer writers out there trying to sell a script.

After this, please take a look at the next part of this sequence:

Happy writing.

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