Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Writing adaptations for practice?

Rachel writes: What are your thoughts on working on screenplays that are adaptations of novels or other works? I am an aspiring writer myself and for some reason I really would like to try to adapt a screenplay. I wouldn't plan on sending it out to really is more for me to practice writing. Is this a good idea for me to do? Or should I try and come up with my own ideas?

In one of my college screenwriting classes, we were assigned the task of adapting short stories into a short film scripts. We didn't own the rights or option the stories or anything - but like you said, it was just for practice. I think for people who only have experience writing prose (which is how most of us begin, I would think), it can be a good exercise in thinking about the differences between screenwriting and prose, and the restrictions and opportunities of the screen. So I think that if you want to tackle an adaptation as practice, go for it. One of my favorite quotes about writing is from Lost's Damon Lindelof, who maintains that you must write a LOT of bad or "practice" scripts before you start writing great scripts: "I got hired as a professional writer for the first time when I was 28 or 29, and I literally have thousands of pages of s***," he says. "A lot of people aren't willing to write s***, or they write two pages of s*** and then they stop. You have to plow through it."

The caveat here is that you have to accept that this script can only be practice because you don't own the rights to the material. If you want to be able to send it to people to launch your writing career, you need to work on an original idea. John August has blogged a lot about adaptations, so I would check out this post and some of his others on the subject.

Also...should you try to come up with your own ideas? Yes! All writers will need original ideas to work on at some point. You can start with the person, the situation, the conflict, the setting, the theme, or anything really. What interests you? What do you want to find out more about?

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Josh K-sky said...

I don't know if it was John August or Scott Myers, but one screenwriting blogger made a very strong case for writing adaptations of material in the public domain. You get a writing sample that you can legally sell and that shows you can write adaptations -- a skill that remains in demand.

Dan Williams said...

I think writing an adaption for practice is a great idea as it gets those writing "muscles" working. And why not use a short story that's in the public domain, so then it could be produced one day. Jane Austin wrote some short pieces, Dickens, Wilkie Collins, and if you go to a university library there's lots of great German and French and Russian writers that wrote short stories--and all of them are in the public domain. I think I'd be really attracted to a movie that was based on a short story by Tolstoy. Guy de Maupassant is another.

Unknown said...

I wrote a couple of plays that I thought (at the time) would make great adaptations from the novels and screenplays that they were based on.

I was wrong. Yikes. They were bad and unoriginal and had nothing really new to say.

But I learned a lot about what worked and definitely what did not. I'm still glad that I did them (plus they helped me through some creative droughts when I didn't have any acting gigs lined up).

I suppose one could adapt almost anything for film or tv, even for fun, but I find it fascinating to find what needs to be sacrificed in the interim and what truly justifies itself as an adaptation of the original material in the first place.

Jeff said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeff said...

You could try a spec script for a tv show. You would get a writing sample and also spare yourself the pressure of building your own world.

Emily Blake said...

You could also go to Project Guttenberg and search projects in public domain so if it did turn out to be great work, you could sell what you wrote.

Unknown said...

It doesn't have to be practice. There is plenty public domain literature out there.

Lovecraft anyone?

Susette said...

When I heard Twilight's "Breaking Dawn" was going to made into two films I wrote my version of part II. It was 130 pages of fun.

I wanted to see if I liked writing adaptations and now it is part of my writing I can compare it to the real Part II when it comes out.

I don't think we can ever get enough practice. I learned that I like doing adaptations but I have to really like the material since I prefer creating my own stories.