Adaptation writing: Scene mapping to determine key material

When I was younger–I know a lot of my blogs start with that–there were several books I read which I desperately wanted to make into a movie. But I would struggle with what material from these books would be most important to ensure a great screenplay adaptation.

I also struggled with the actual writing of the script.

My favorite book which I would kill to make into a thriller was written by John Saul titled “Creature.” Actually, John Saul has written a ton of books I’d love to see made into movies, or write them myself, “Darkness,” “Sleep Walk,” “Hellfire,” “The Manhattan Hunt Club,” which is presently slated for a TV miniseries adaptation according to

However, writing a novel into a movie can be daunting especially for a book to which you are emotionally connected. When I was going through Creature, wanting to write it as a movie script, my biggest problem was unconvincing myself EVERY chapter and element had to be in the movie adaptation. Thinking like that is impossible mostly because if I adapted every facet of the story, the movie would run about four hours. You have to think about theatre companies or motion pictures which adapt a work of Shakespeare. Those works are terribly long but it didn’t matter for his time when people had much longer attention spans. They didn’t grow up with television. Today, works of Shakespeare are always edited for time and its up to the writers, producers and directors to determine the best places to start cutting material. You are basically doing the same thing.

So here is what I did to prepare for writing an adaptation. Keep in mind this is a very black and white simplified way of starting to adapt previously written material. Those always alternate ways of creating anything, but I feel this is a good way to kick start your adaptation effort. As for my practice adapting Creature, I never intended to sell the movie script or obtain the rights, but I was eager to learn and create a process for myself.

Reading my blogs, you know by now I’m BIG on a writer’s process and it’s importance. I rely on my processes like food and water to live. So of course I focused on creating a process to adapt a novel into a movie script.

Since the material in the book I loved so much was the biggest demon, I had to break the book down into “scenes.” I would take recipe cards and simply write Scene One or Two or Whatever across each corresponding card. Then, I would basically break down each facet from each chapter as a scene.

So in Creature, I took each change of location in each chapter as a separate card/scene. On the card I would reread the story of that section and write down what information is given by the author within it. It may be character development items, along with scene setting or exposition, maybe a bit of foreshadowing. By the time I was done going through the entire book, I had about 100 or so cards.

It was bountiful but at least I had a map of the material the author presented. From there, I took a look at the information and looked for ways I could cross fit material into either previous or successive scenes. So if a character was sharing their dislike of another character and four chapters down the road saw the same character have an issue with people in the setting in general, I would mix that information into the same scene instead of it being stretched into more than one.

So with Creature, you have a kid who moved to a small town in Colorado. He gets bullied and later has a problem with fitting in unless he’s a part of the high school football team. That information stretched between two or three chapters was mixed onto one scene card where he expresses it to a gal pal or his mother.

Eventually, as I mixed material, I crossed out said material in scenes where it no longer would be. I would also note what page of the book my changes occurred for future reference. Soon, as I crossed off enough repeated material, entire cards in my map we’re getting eliminated and I eventually ended up with about 45 scene cards.

So I suggest, even just for practice, take one of your favorite novels and do the same thing. Once you have your map revised for adaptation, the next step would be changing dialogue into visuals and THEN changing scope for a motion picture format.

Keep an eye on my blog for further posts on these next steps in my “Adaptation Writing” series.

#adaptationwriting #johnsaul #booktomovie #processiseverything #makeiteasiertowrite

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