Category Archives: Plays/Theater

Editing Your Novel? Give Adaptation a Try

First, the inspiration behind this post: I am incredibly proud to announce that I sold the teleplay version of my fem scifi novel-in-progress, The Fire Eaters! Huzzah! I sold the teleplay (not the book; important distinction) to an indie book publisher that’s now in the process of shopping it around Hollywood. But, regardless if it ever gets picked up by a studio (wouldn’t that be a trip?), I couldn’t be more proud that my story and characters have garnered such sincere interest. It gives me a real boost of confidence about the prospects for the novel as a whole.

The idea of adapting my own novel was a daunting one at first, even though I’ve adapted plenty of other books in the past. This was partly because I wasn’t even sure I wanted a film/TV version to be made at all (the novel, after all, is still what’s closest to my heart), and also partly because I plain wasn’t sure I’d be able to do it. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to divorce myself enough from the book-version to make the plot and character changes that are (almost) always necessary when adapting for film/TV.

In the end, though, I decided to approach the adaptation as an exercise in revitalizing my energy/creativity/brutality for editing the novel: What subplots and characters truly are unnecessary? Could certain characters be combined, streamlined, or better developed? Could certain symbols and themes be cut, added, or made to work harder?

Stripping the book down to an almost purely dialogue format was also helpful in getting me to reconsider different conversations and dialogue-heavy scenes throughout the book. It allowed me to zero-in on conversations that sounded unnatural, but that I hadn’t noticed before due to all the crowding narration. It also helped me realize when certain conversations weren’t contributing anything at all, just taking up space.

Bottom line: If you’re feeling stuck or uninspired with one of your longer prose projects, try adapting it into a teleplay or screenplay format (and force yourself to be diligent and honest with the genre shift; no teleplays over 45 pages or screenplays over 110!). You might be surprised at how helpful an editorial exercise this can be. Alternatively, you can try your hand at things like Bartleby Snopes’s 8th Annual Dialogue-Only Contest. Submissions end on September 15th, but the perks and usefulness of the challenge itself apply all year long 🙂

P.S. If you’re interested in trying out some screenwriting software, I would recommend either Final Draft or Adobe Story.

Keep Writing! Keep Reading!

 

 

Feature image owned by KC Mead-Brewer

On the Art of Adaptation, Part I

For a good while now, I’ve worked with Bancroft Press, a Baltimore indie publisher, to adapt some of their titles into screen, stage, and teleplays. This isn’t a line of work I ever imagined I’d end up in. Adaptation? But I’m an editor! I’m a writer of original fiction! —Of course, I now know just what a boon this kind of work can be to editors and writers, the kinds of skills and instincts it can help you develop, as well as the respect it can instill in you for other artists and art forms.

What’s most fascinating about novel-to-screenplay adaptation, at least to my mind, is that you get to take something special, a work of art that someone spent months or even years creating, and begin to entirely re-imagine it. This doesn’t mean rip it to pieces and tear out its heart till the only thing left of the original story is the title—this means reconsidering the execution of the story, not the story itself. This means realizing that every story—no matter how it’s told—has some unchanging, constant core.

As an editor and author, I’ve always believed that Execution is King. Everyone can have great or weird or even transcendent ideas, but the drive and ability to translate those ideas into art is where the actual art comes into play. For this reason, I always try to remain mindful during my adaptation process that the author chose the written word as the most perfect medium for their story. This means that, by its very nature, any non-written version of a novel or short story will mean creating a new story in some respect. (Hence why, I think, screenwriters still get to put their names on adaptations with just a Based On for the original author—it’s not just about the hours and hours put into the 110 page screenplay; it’s about acknowledging that this is a new version of an older tale.)

It’s always dangerous to pick favorites, but in what is perhaps my favorite book, Clarissa Pinkola Estés’ Women Who Run With the Wolves, she discusses just this phenomenon within the context of folklore, myths, and fairy tales—how “classic” stories become “classics” by being passed down from storyteller to storyteller, their delicate surface-level clay altered each time by new fingerprints and palms, yet their hard inner-layers remaining unchanged and constant. And it’s this sort of reverence for the author’s original vision that I attempt to carry with me into each and every adapted screenplay, teleplay, and stage play that I write. These aren’t just contracts with a publisher; these are pieces of something LARGE, something that I’m now lucky enough to get to be a part of.

This may sound like a lot of romanticization, and perhaps it is. I’m not saying, after all, that I’ve loved (or even liked) every book I’ve ever adapted. But when I stop to really meditate on what it is I’m doing—which I try to remind myself to do as often as I can—I’m always struck by the deep power that lies in storytelling and in the work of passing stories along from one set of hands to another, as if the story itself is searching out its Ideal Reader (thank you for that term, Mr. Stephen King; I love it and think about it all the time), its Ideal Listener, the person it was always meant to be told to.

But apart from the romance of being involved in passing along a story from one hand to the next, like a baton in some endless, thrilling race, I love how the work of adaptation has and continues to help me become a better editor and writer of original fiction. There’s nothing like breaking a story down to its component parts, playing with its blood and guts and love and pain, to really remind yourself of just how exactly it is that a good story works, how its parts all then fit back together, how its blood flows and what kinds of things its guts can and can’t chew up on their own.

The art of adaptation then, at least as I understand it today, might be boiled down to a few simple points: respect the author, respect the work, respect your own work, and always, always be open to what each new story has to teach you.

Five Fascinating Facts about Samuel Beckett

For fun and all you recluses out there 🙂

Interesting Literature

The life of Samuel Beckett, told through five pieces of literary and biographical trivia

1. The ominous date of his birth amused him. Born on Good Friday, 13 April, 1906, Samuel Barclay Beckett enjoyed the irony of being born on a date ripe with religious connotations – not least because, as well as being Good Friday, it was a date ripe with different, superstitious associations: Friday the 13th.

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Can National Theatre of Scotland’s ‘Let the Right One In’ Pave the Way for Horror on the Stage?

This is for all you horror, scifi, and weird fiction authors/playwrights out there!

Flavorwire

Throughout the National Theatre of Scotland’s Let the Right One In, adapted from John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel and Tomas Alfredson‘s film, audiences are subjected to a parade of lyrically gruesome images: a man tied upside-down to a tree, his throat perfunctorily slit and drained into a bucket; another man literally self-effacing with acid; a diminutive teenage girl in a candy-pink sweater whose mouth brims with vomit when she actually tries to eat candy, and whose face cascades with blood every time she enters a home uninvited. All of this stirs a reverent, rapt silence in the audience. This is not the type of play where spectators listlessly turn to their programs mid-show, pretending that looking up the catering credits will somehow enhance their experience.

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