Five Steps to Turn Your Book into a Screenplay


Our Writing Tips article, “Three Reasons Writing a Screenplay Differs from Writing a Book ,” describes why the approaches to these two disciplines are so different. In this article, we progress from the “why” and focus on the “how.”

Here are five things you will need to do once you have decided to turn your manuscript into a screenplay.

  1. Your Movie’s Point of View

    Identify all the main characters in your novel. How many of them are absolutely essential to the central theme of your story and how many can you exclude? You should even consider combining two or more of them to create a new, more compelling character that will suit the on-screen, visual interpretation of your story.

    Refer to your original notes from when you started conceptualizing your story and developing your characters. Remember, you are going to have to reduce your entire story into about 100 pages, so think about which characters and characteristics are essential.

    Which one of your characters would win the coveted award for Best Actor in a Leading Role?

  2. Lights, Camera, ACTION!

    Action is the operative word here. Movies are more focused on action, so identify these key scenes in your book. These scenes will be imperative to moving your storyline along, so you may need to flesh them out by adding more visual descriptions of what is going on. Remember, in screenwriting, your audience will only be able to see what is going on without the benefit of a narrative explanation.

  3. There’s a Reason They Call Them “Talkies”

    Dialogue drives a movie between action sequences. Identify the key conversations between your characters that will hold the viewer’s interest until the next frenzied fight scene, exploding building, or car crash that lies in store. Highlight any powerful phrases or catchy one-liners that might become a character’ trademark or could even be used as the movie’s tagline.

  4. The Opening Scene

    You will not be able to provide as much background to your story as you did in your book. The opening scene of your screenplay might, therefore, commence at a different point in your story than the first chapter of your book. Your choice of character will also make an impact on your starting point.

    The first ten pages of your screenplay are the most crucial; you have to grab the audience’s attention immediately.

  5. Formatting

    Presenting your screenplay in a professional manner that conforms to standard industry formatting is essential. A screenplay obviously differs greatly in appearance from a book. Remember here that less is more. Descriptions and dialogue must be boiled down to the absolute essentials. The editing process can be brutal.

    Take the movie classic The Maltese Falcon as an example. The screenplay was adapted from the great Dashiell Hammett’s novel of the same name. Compare the original literary version to the version revised for its movie script.

    Original Version from the Novel, The Maltese Falcon:

    A voice said, “Thank you,” so softly that only the purest articulation made the words intelligible, and a young woman came through the doorway.

    The Maltese Falcon’s Screenplay Adaptation:
    MISS WONDERLY
    (softly)
    Thank you.

    Formatting a screenplay is an extremely technical process. We have provided you the basics here, but consider taking advantage of the AuthorHouse Hollywood Book-to-Screen Services for professional advice on how to turn your manuscript into a screenplay and the opportunity to pitch your story direct to Hollywood executives and movie producers.