Adapt Your Short Story for Film

What craziness is this, you ask? Who adapts a short story into a script?

It's...short.

Movies...aren't.

Short story adaptations are one of Hollywood's best kept secrets (and they keep a lot of secrets!) The good news is, adapting a short story into a script can be easier than working with a full length novel.

Think about it for a moment. With a novel you have to whittle and cut down your long, lovely novel. You have to slash subplots and off characters. You have to shoe horn four hundred or more pages into a tight and unforgiving one hundred and twenty or less. Pages are time on the screen and time is money. Some genres of scripts have to come in at under one hundred pages.

But with a short story, you take the basic premise and add to it. You start lean, you begin with tight and build on that.

Now there are some people who would rather cut than revisit their story and try to reinvent it in a new way.

But, if you find it easier to add material than get rid of it, or, if you like the idea of starting with a small project and growing it into a script, adapting a short story might be the perfect fit.

Whether you choose a novel or short story, you still need to make sure that your story can be adapted into a film story.

Is your story very visual? Movies are a visual medium. If you can't tell your story by what can be seen on the screen, then the story probably won't make a successful adaptation.

Does your short story have enough gravitas or weight to become a full length movie? Is there enough untold story left in you, left in the story, to become a two hour film? One reason short stories are a good source for adaptation is that you aren't weighted down with all the material you've already written. You don't have to spend so much time getting rid of material. Instead, you start with the minimal and build from there.

You still need to master the special skills of script writing, if you want to do an adaptation. There are big differences between novel/short story and script writing. Many of the tools you're used to having on hand for a short story just aren't available to the script writer. It's the difference between conducting an orchestra and working with a string quartet. They are very different from each other, but can be satisfying in their own way. 

If you're intrigued by the thought of venturing into script writing, but intimidated by the challenges of shrinking a novel, why not "grow" a short story into a script instead?  

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© 2006-2013 Pauline Baird Jones

Pauline Baird Jones is the award-winning author of ten novels, some of which were successfully adapted to scripts. Her script adaptation of Do Wah Diddy Die (formerly I Love Luci – When I Don’t Want to Kill Her) won The First Draft contest and was optioned by IndieGals Productions. For more information on her novels or to find out more about Adapting Your Novel for Film, visit her website at: www.paulinebjones.com

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