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Balls of Steel™: Adapting Your Script into a Novel

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I know, I know, we’re screenwriters, but indulge me for a bit. I’m about to challenge you. Double-dog dare you, in fact. I would like you to consider adapting your script into a novel.

Last year I participated in the challenge of writing a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. It was amazing to see how much a screenwriter could learn by writing a novel. I won’t reiterate the lessons, because you can read them in Balls of Steel: Challenge Yourself to Change. But writing that novel, albeit 50,000 words of vomit, was a life-changing experience for me as a writer.

adapting your script

Why write a novel?

We all know how difficult it is to write a script, get it produced, and be able to get your name in the trades. It’s akin to winning the lottery. Yet we can’t help ourselves. We push forward, knowing if we didn’t write, we’d die.

If you’re a writer, truly a writer, you need to write for your soul to survive. If that's the case, you’re going to have to get creative or you’ll never survive an industry that could suck the soul out of even Mother Theresa.

Turn your script into a novel.

If you watch the trends, you’ll see it’s not that crazy of a thought. An increasing number of box-office hits are adaptations. Hell, even superhero films are adapted from comics. Twilight, TheBourne Trilogy, Sherlock Holmes, The Lorax, Hunger Games… need I go on?

Hollywood has executive assistants scouring the bookstores and stalking the New York Times Best Sellers List looking for the next story to light up the silver screen.

Why not yours? What’s the worst that could happen if you try?

You can’t find a publisher.

So what? In this world, all you need to do is get a great editor and self publish your novel. Warning: do NOT self publish willy-nilly. Your work has to be as flawless as if being published by a major publishing house. Cutting corners will reflect poorly on you… a first impression matters, even in the self-publishing world. But if your novel is professionally presented and a success, you’ll get a literary agent who will see the story’s potential for the screen (because you are, after all, a visual writer). They’ll start shopping it around to sell the rights for the film, and you already have the narrative adaptation in hand, ready to go.


Say you don’t want to deal with self publishing, or you do self publish and the novel flops. Was it a waste of time? Nope. Because I can guarantee you either your story changed in writing the novel, or you realized the concept stinks.

It’s liberating to admit you have a crappy story.

Now you can trash the novel and the script and move on! Get another story going, using the lessons you learned about craft, concept and marketability.

Not every story told is worthy of being sold.

Sometimes your baby is ugly, no matter what form it takes. The sooner you realize what stories work and what ones don’t, the better off you are. Think of it as dating. If you stay with the wrong person, you’ll never be free to find the right person. Let the bad ones go.

Even the best scripts take years to produce. As I wrote earlier, your story is a lottery ticket. Increase your odds by telling that same story in a new way. Imagine what it will feel like to hold your book in your hands at the end. You, a published author. That alone is enough incentive for me. If you don’t want to write an entire novel, write it as a short story and submit to magazines. Brokeback Mountain and Benjamin Button started as short stories.

Now for a confession: I planned on starting my trilogy with this year’s NaNoWriMo, but I have been thwarted with another rewrite of Slavery by Another Name (SBAN). I can hear some of you saying, “ANOTHER REWRITE… why is she still at that damn script?” This time, I have serious producers interested. The day this baby gets a green light, I’ll tell you the entire story. But for now, I am going to give this project my all, even if it means postponing my trilogy a month.

So… how I am going to tackle the NaNoWriMo challenge this year is to spend this month knocking out a great SBAN rewrite as well as outline the first book of the trilogy.

I will write every single day.

After all, that is one of the best benefits of NaNoWriMo, getting you in the habit of daily writing. It takes 28 days to develop a habit. This challenge is a great first step.

Whether you formally sign up for NaNoWriMo, or if you simply make a personal challenge to adapt your script to either a novel or short story, I urge you to step outside of your comfort zone and give it a try.

Chime in on the comments below with either your Twitter name or your NaNoWriMo buddy name so we can all support each other for the next 30 days and beyond. If you follow me on Twitter, feel free to @ me (@jeannevb) and call out a #writingsprint. If I’m available, I’ll jump in and cheer you on!

Being a writer doesn’t have to be a solitary endeavor. Neither does having a screenplay. Open your minds and let your story take a new form. It just might be the breath of fresh air your writing career needs to take off.

Tip of the day: Head over to Writer's Digest Facebook pageand grab some FREE NaNoWriMo resources!

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Learn How to Turn a Book Into a Movie with our FREE Download on Tips for Acquiring Book Rights and Writing an Adaptation