The Helpful Reviewer

Book Adaptations

Friday, May 1, 2020

Adaptations are a very common means of finding inspiration for writing scripts. Working from source materials can provide writers with a lot of story to work from and develop a powerful script. Using books as source materials can be very rewarding, in that there’s so much to pull from, but at the same time, there are a lot of challenges too. So what are some good tips when tackling book adaptations?

  • First, you need to see if the book is visual enough to warrant a script adaptation. Scripts are meant to be turned into films, not just read, like books. Is the source material visual enough that it can be turned into an engaging story for the screen? Remember one of the key rules about screenwriting: show, don’t tell.
  • Break down the novel and find the main conflict and the story arc.
  • Who is the protagonist? If there’s more than one, who would be the best one to pick to tell their story or to tell the story from their POV?
  • How much story is in the book? There’s often a lot more in a book than what can be told in a movie. So lots of cuts are bound to happen. What are the key points that should make it into the script, and what can be cut without losing the essence of the book?
  • Make a script outline and define a structure for the script. Remember that books aren’t written the same way as scripts—find your structure after careful analysis of the source material. Not all books lend themselves to the 3-Act Structure, so it’s up to you to find a way to tell the story in that way.
  • A lot of times screenwriters rely on Voice Overs as they don’t know how to turn prose into screenwriting. Try to refrain from doing this, as most times it’s not needed if you spend enough time analyzing the source material to find your own take on it.
  • Try to stay true to the source material, but don’t be afraid of making your own changes that make sense for the story you’re trying to tell.

Cody Smart

Cody Smart


Cody is an independent writer and script doctor from Santiago, Chile. She attended the prestigious Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, where she double majored in English Literature and Linguistics, with a minor in Dramatic Literature. She moved to L.A. and got her MFA in Screenwriting at the New York Film Academy, Universal Studios location, while at the same time working at Sony Pictures as a reader and story analyst. She also received two Certificates from UCLA, in Development and Producing for Film and TV.

Aside from her years of experience as a studio reader, she’s a judge for multiple script and film competitions, has written some award-winning short films and feature film scripts, she’s been working as a script analyst and doctor for years helping writers take their scripts to the next level, and is currently the head of the coverage department at Story Data.