Tag Archives: Film

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

11 Exhausted SF Tropes You Should Avoid. Really.

Basically…YES. Read this post from Carrie Cuinn. Live by it. Write by it. Beginning of story.

Two more things to keep in mind:

1. If you do decide to incorporate alien languages, but translate them to some human language for your readers, do NOT translate them into broken English/Spanish/etc (Ă  la Avatar). And why not? Because this makes absolutely no sense! The only possible reason for this is to make your foreigners sound more “foreign” and less intelligent. Why would any translator translate something into a broken version of their language? They wouldn’t. And why? Because that makes no sense!

2. Stop using violence against women as a plot device! Does violence happen?–sure. Does violence often happen in books and stories as a logical/tragic/critical part of an overall plot?–sure. But why does it so often have to be that a flat, undeveloped female character is raped/killed/beaten for the sole purpose of giving some male character a blank check to then wreak whatever violence he wants in the name of this tragedy? –This is tired, annoying, and offensive. I am utterly exhausted of seeing violence against women used as an excuse to justify yet more and more violence. Because female characters are so expendable? Because they exist for no other reason but to spur someone else to action? Because violence against women/girls is somehow worse than violence against men/boys? Because there’s no other possible reason for someone to start off on a journey/quest/rampage? C’mon, people. This trope is just lazy and, again, offensive. Let’s move forward already.

Carrie Cuinn

Some ideas have been done to death in science fiction. We all know there are no new ideas anymore, and what matters most is the execution of the idea you stole have, but there are a few things that are not only over-done, they’re either incredibly stupid or offensive, as well. Here’s a partial list of tropes I’d love to never see again:

Stupid/Lazy Writing

  1. Funky Alien Language: your aliens from across the galaxy speak perfect English, except for a few “untranslatable” slang phrases? Or the language is made entirely of clicks and apostrophes? Hey, I know! All of your proper names are made with the 5, 8, or 10 point letters from Scrabble. Worst yet is when all of the men have harsh, hard-sounding names, and all of  the women (or other effeminate species) have soft, vowel- and f/l/sh-heavy names. This is an instant clue that you’re dealing…

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Sleep Paralysis: A Writing Prompt

“Imagine waking up to find you can’t move a muscle. It’s dark, but you’re sure you feel a presence in the room, hovering near your bed — or perhaps sitting on your chest, crushing the breath out of you. This weird phenomenon is known as sleep paralysis…”

–Stephanie Pappas, “What Makes Sleep Paralysis Scary

Sleep paralysis is a terrifying condition rife with dramatic possibilities. It’s already inspired countless horror films, stories, and paintings. Many artists have used devices like alien abductions, astral projection, and even possession in their attempts to translate the terror of sleep paralysis. How would you translate such an experience?

For more inspiration…

Can’t Move – The Sleep Paralysis Prompts,” Marie Lightman Prompt Response Blog

What Makes Sleep Paralysis Scary,” Stephanie Pappas, Live Science

31 Truly Terrifying Tales From People With Sleep Paralysis,” Dan Dalton, BuzzFeed

The Nightmare, A sleep paralysis documentary, Dir. Rodney Ascher

Feature image credit: Henry Fuseli (1781)

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 EstĂ©s’ 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.

Goodbye, Lenin & Hello, Remediation!

I don’t know how many of you have seen the German film, Goodbye, Lenin! (Dir. Wolfgang Becker, 2003), but, let me be the first to tell you, it’s good-hearted and surprisingly enlightening. The film tells the story of one son’s love for his mother and of her love for East Germany (DDR). But when the protagonist’s mother falls into a coma and misses the fall of the Berlin Wall, her son fights to keep her believing that nothing has changed after she wakes up in a brand new and quickly westernizing Germany in order to protect her from suffering another heart attack.

While both hilarious and heartwarming, this film is also a clever conversation starter when it comes to issues of remediation (a desire “both to multiply [our] media and to erase all traces of mediation: ideally, [the desire] to erase…media in the very act of multiplying them”) (Bolter and Grusin 5). In other words, remediation is an attempt on part of filmmakers and other media-creators “to put the viewer in the same space as the objects viewed” without any sense of mediation (Bolter and Grusin 11). And Goodbye, Lenin! is a terrific case study for this concept as the protagonist is forced to utilize a wide array of media and products only available due to the westernization of Germany in order to craft a new reality for his mother wherein those media do not exist (thereby necessitating that those same media responsible for the construction of this new-old East Germany remain invisible even as they remain in play).

But isn’t this akin to what we as writers (both academic and nonacademic) seek to do in our writing as well? Don’t we work to use our medium — the written word — as a means of transporting readers into a world or space or argument so well crafted that all of the work and media behind it, all of the time, research, interviews, pavement pounding, and copyright-pay-through-the-nosing becomes invisible? Then, when these media come crashing into one another — when we perhaps include an illustration or a photograph or detailed explanation of research methods in order to better orient the reader within our work — don’t these also bring the reader out of the text to some extent, remind them of their role as an observer/interpreter? How can we reconcile all of these different available media so that they at once perfect the illusion whilst keeping our readers as up-to-date as possible?

And isn’t the goal of all of this work and research, of all of the developments in high definition television and 3D capability, meant to “disappear” in our readers/viewers’ viewing and leave them “in the presence of the thing represented” whether it’s an alien planet, mowing the lawn, or harpooning of a white whale (Bolter and Grusin 6)? Yet, today we see a massive crisscrossing and overlapping of countless media that pull us out of the moments those media strive to create whether it’s logos or script in a marquee at the bottom of our television screens or an advertisement appearing on our e-readers or an email notification popping up in the corner of our computer screens.

Of course, as Bolter and Grusin recognize, “No medium today, and certainly no single media event, seems to do its cultural work in isolation from other media, any more than it works in isolation from other social and economic forces” (15).

So how do you see remediation at play within your art/writing/media? What types of media intersect within your reading and writing experiences and how do they add to or subtract from those experiences? Is it preferable to begin creating ‘interactive novels’ (e-books with hyperlinks, videos, etc.)  as compared to hard-copy books (with and without illustrations) or is there a happy medium?


Bolter, Jay David and Richard Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1999.

Adaptation in Writing & Film

I don’t know how many of you have seen the new film, “Drive,” by Nicolas Winding Refn or not (but you absolutely should if not! It’s amazing!) but it has gotten me meditating on the art of adaptation.



(movie poster source)

This film is an adaptation of a novella by James Sallis, “Drive.”

The film is a gorgeous fairy tale, a dreamlike depiction of Driver’s transformation into a “real human being.” Of course, I’ve only just begun reading the novella itself but what intrigues me most about this is not simply how a story may be adapted from one medium to another, but how it may be adapted from one story into an entirely new story.

After all, Refn’s “Drive” is inherently different and new from Sallis’ “Drive” (and vice versa). And we hear it said all the time that there is nothing new under the sun and that all stories are essentially built from a handful of foundational plots.

Do you at times find yourself frustrated by this — longing for something new as a viewer/receiver/reader or dreaming of the inspiration that might trigger something “new” as a creator? I know when I was younger, I found myself constantly frustrated by the fact that everything seemed borrowed — as if we were a room of potters all passing around the same clay to re-mold again and again. But now I find this incredibly exciting, a cool and constant challenge. I also find this is not something that is restricted to fiction works by any means — academia recycles plots and information as well (in fact, it might be even more blatant within academic writing). What do you think?

What do you think of adaptation between media? What do you think of it from story to story? Do you find yourself drawn toward a certain type of plot as an audience member? Do you find yourself drawn to a different plot type as a writer/creator?