Tag Archives: Adaptation

Life After Gabby

The completion of the Gabby Wells storyline will take me some time.  A couple of years.  Not including the time it took to convert screenplays into novels that have since been tossed, just getting the novellas written, edited and published will probably take a year in total.

We’ll release the novellas, one at at time, every three months.  That will give me a year to write as many of the Gabby Wells novels as I can, and we plan to release those every three to six months, depending on how fast I can write them.  If I could have all of those novels written by the time the first novella is released, that would be great.  That’s a lot of words in a short period of time, but that’s the goal.

But, I do plan a writing life after Gabby Wells.

Gabby-HeaderUp until my adventures in novel writing, I expressed my creative storytelling through screenplays.  I did that for over 20 years and many of those stories I plan to turn into novels.

The first non-Gabby story I will probably write is based on a screenplay I wrote called Redemption.  It’s a horror story and my wife’s favorite thing I’ve ever written.  I plan on that being the first in another series of books that involves a nun and modern takes on horror themes.

Plus, there are non-series stories I’d like to tell too.  I have another screenplay called Martyrs that I would love to turn into a novel.  It involves a young girl stuck at her father’s office as it is overrun by terrorists.  And a novella from a screenplay called Forgiven, about a young woman driving across the country who happens stop at a gas station while it’s in the process of getting held up.

And there’s more.  A lot more.  Many, many stories.

I just hope I have time to write them all.

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I’m in a funk.  A writing funk.

I’ve been working on my first novel for a long time.  A LONG time.  Not always in novel form, but the story itself has been in my life everyday for about four years.

Four years.

First as a screenplay idea.  Then as a TV script idea.  And now as a novel idea.  It’s taken so long because it is through this process that I have been teaching myself how to write a novel.  No easy task.  And, apparently, not a fast process, either.

I’m at the point in the writing/rewriting process that I am finding it hard to read a draft and see the story in front of me anymore.  I know it too well.  I’ve re-written it too many times in too many formats that it’s become matrixed into my brain (you know, where they download how to fly a helicopter into your noggin and suddenly you know everything there is to know about flying helicopters).  I read what I think is there instead of what is actually on the page.

I’ve reached a saturation point.

rewrite-specsSo, I’ve brought in some outside assistance at this point to help me finalize this baby.  Readers, editors and the like.  Objectivity and brutal honesty is what I’m looking for.  I don’t care what has to change, as long as it makes the story better.  I am not wed to any character or event with any sort of emotional tie that wouldn’t keep me from killing them off if it would make a more effective novel.  And I think that’s the right approach.

At the end of the day, I don’t want to release the novel until it can be the best story possible.  Michael Hyatt, in his great book called Platform, calls it releasing a Wow product.  It’s not about being a perfectionist (because I am anything but), it is about not settling.  If you know it could be better then make it better until its a Wow product.

So, I’ll keep chugging along.

I’m not at Wow yet.  I’m probably at Cool or Interesting or Huh?

Hopefully I’ll soon leave this funk and move onto Woohoo when the final draft is finished.

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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – An Epic Failure of Adaptation

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a perfect storm of predictability.

Hobbit01If you decide to adapt a single novel into a movie trilogy, the middle story, the bridge, is the hardest one to pull off successfully.

Having the middle story as part of a prequel makes the project a recipe for failure with The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug as the main course.

In the film, a group of dwarfs continue their quest, heading to an abandoned dwarf kingdom hidden under a mountain that contains a massive collection of gold and jewels.  The kingdom is now home to a huge, overly-chatty dragon.

On their quest, they cross paths with a bunch of big spiders, angry elfs, and a hunky seaman.

Their goal is to get a precious stone that the dwarf leader can use to bring the fractured dwarf tribes back together and they need the hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, to retrieve it.


There were so many problems with this film, its hard to believe it made it into production.  Lets go over a few:

1) It’s a prequel.  Most viewers will have read/watched the Lord of the Rings prior to watching this film, which means they know the following:

  • The tension between the elfs and the dwarfs gets resolved and end up working together.
  • Gandalf is never in danger, since he leads the efforts in Rings.
  • Bilbo is never in danger, since he’s in Rings too.

So, three major points of conflict or suspense are diffused.

2) It’s the middle film of a single quest.

  • Since the trilogy is really a single quest, you know they make it.  You never doubt they will survive the journey.

Which means another major point of suspense is lost.

And there are other problems.


3) The bad guys are computer generated:

  • Our brains react differently when two people are involved in a stunt than when two computer characters are.  The reason?  Danger.  It’s why people love car races or watching football.  The risk is real.  This is the same reasons we love amazing stunts by real people in real places.  Your brain can’t imagine how they pulled it off.
  • When characters are fighting computer generated bad guys, your brain never worries about them, never tries to figure out how they survived.  Your brain becomes passive.  A passive audience is a films worst enemy.
  • In Rings, the hand-to-hand combat scenes were with real people in make-up (along with some computer generated augmentation for scope and effect).  In The Hobbit, the bad guys are 100% fake, which makes their interaction with real actors 100% ineffective.


4) Dragon TMI:

  • In the story we learn this dragon can only be killed by a certain type of arrow, which can penetrate his skin.  Legend had it that the dragon was nicked by one of these arrows and it knocked off a couple of scales, making him vulnerable.
  • Near the end of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug they show two things they shouldn’t have.
    1) the dragon does, indeed, have a few scales missing.
    2) there is one super arrow left.
  • So, what does this tell me?  It tells me the dragon gets killed by that arrow.  And, as luck would have it, this dragon killing won’t happen in this movie, but in film #3.
  • Which means, The Hobbit not only destroyed suspenseful moments in this film, they’ve actually undermined suspenseful moments in the NEXT ONE!


All that being said, you can save a middle film of a trilogy if you leave the audience satisfied by surprising them at the end.

  • Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back – “I am your father.”  Enough said.
  • Hunger Games: Catching Fire – The games were a ruse for a rebellion.

The Hobbit’s ending wasn’t surprising at all.  Dragon gets loose and heads to a nearby town, the one with the super arrow.  Gee, I’ll talk about for as long as it takes my theater seat to return to its upright position.

But, if you can’t surprise anyone with the ending, then maybe you could surprise the audience by killing off one of the heroes.  Someone important, preferably.  But, no, EVERYONE survives this movie.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a shining example of a series of bad decisions made by Hollywood just so they could make money.

1) make a prequel because the Rings made serious $.
2) turn the one Hobbit tale into a trilogy to make serious $.

It shouldn’t surprise us that Hollywood wants to use The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug to make more money.  Why should it?  After all, nothing else in the movie is surprising either.

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Podcast 04 – Screenplay to Novel Adaptation

Today’s podcast discusses some tips on how to adapt a screenplay into a novel.

Running Time: 12:11

Here are a few steps to consider when adapting a screenplay to a novel.

Step 1) Overview.  Look at the story from a 30,000 foot level.  Sketch out the basics of the plot (beginning, middle and end).  Also, write down the main protagonist’s character arc to identify where the character starts and ends up.

Step 2) Characters.  Write down all of the characters in the story in order of importance and synopsize their purpose in the story and their growth arc.

Step 3) Story Detail.  Synopsize each scene into the following basic information:

– Where does it take place?
– Which character(s) is in the scene?
– What is the conflict?
– What information is relayed?

Step 4) Gap Opportunities.  Identify the areas in the story that could use elaboration or character relationships that need to be augmented and explored further.

Step 5) Outline.  Now that all of the prep-work is done, create an outline for your novel where you take all of the information and reorganize it to make the most effective novel possible.

Step 6) Get to  Work. Understanding the expectations of your audience, write, write and rewrite until you’ve written a novel with which you are happy.

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It Only Took Sixty-Three Drafts to Learn How to Write

Writing can be a painful experience.

I spent the majority of my life around, involved in and pursuing a life in film.  I studied it, I performed in it, I wrote for it, I directed it and I loved it.  Some of my work made it to Hollywood, but most was of the independent nature.

The combination of my faith and my passion for film led to the creation of Sonlight Pictures, where the character of Gabby Wells first emerged.

When I decided to attempt to convert the first season of television scripts about Gabby Wells into the first novel in the series, I had virtually zero training in writing novels.  My experience over the last 20 years revolved solely and completely around screenplays.

But I like a challenge.  And, I figured, worst case scenario, my novel sucks but I’m a better writer for having tried.

rewrite-redpenThe first few drafts of the first Gabby Wells novel were simply conversion pieces, taking the scripts and morphing them into novel form, finding the many gaps that needed to be filled with character back story, internal drivers and emotional damage.

It wasn’t until about draft 50 that my daughter said “We actually have a novel now.”

Fifty drafts.  I didn’t expect the learning curve to be that steep.

Around draft 60 I had exhausted all I could muster in making this novel work.  It was as good as it was gonna get considering my skill level at the time.


That is until my daughter suggested something rather drastic.

I was working on converting the second season of television scripts into the second novel and was not looking forward to repeating the daunting task of trying to master a new writing style while converting my material from my old writing style.  It’s just a tough haul.

So, after hearing me complain about the impending frustration, she suggested that I forgo everything I had done before and start writing the second novel from scratch.  I know the story, just tell it as the writer I am now, not the writer I was when I wrote the screenplay.

To my amazement, it worked.  The first chapter was smooth and interesting and funny and draws you in.  I must say, it’s pretty dang good.

It was so good, in fact, that it made me realize something horrible.

I had to do the same thing with the first novel.  After 63 drafts, I had to scrap it and write it all over again, from scratch.

Sure, I’ll be able to pilfer quite a bit of the more polished sections of the text from draft 63, but the feel, the mood, the style, the approach will be completely different.

I’m not happy about it.  From concept to screenplay to novel, I’ve been living/writing this story repeatedly for almost five years.  I want to be done in the worst way.

But, not until its as good as I can make it and, unfortunately, I can make it better.

At least one for one more draft.

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From Screenplay to Novel

The differences between a screenplay and a novel are equivalent to the differences between a blueprint and a finished building.

Over time, screenplays have come to be structured in a very specific way so that each page equals approximately one minute of screen time.  And the three act screenplay structure, where major events happen at 30 minutes, 60 minutes and 90 minutes (assuming its a 120 minute movie), is a proven model.

But a screenplay is not a finished product.  It’s a blueprint.  A plan.  A goal.

Filmmaking is a collaborative process and the screenwriters job is to take a reading experience and present it as a potential visual experience.  It is then the directors job to take the story and show it in anyway they see fit.  They can change the story or locations or dialogue or roles and the writer often has no say in the process.


A novel, however, is the finished product.  It is complete with sights and sounds and characters and depth.  It is not an outline of a world that could have been, but an emersion of a world that is.

Adapting a screenplay, therefore, is much harder than one might think.  It’s not simply taking a screenplay structure and putting it into a novel structure.  It’s more akin to taking an outline and expanding it into a novel.

Having adapted two seasons of Gabby Wells scripts (13 episodes each) into the first two Gabby Wells novels, I’ve learned quite a few things about the process.  Here are some tips.

Screenplays move at an accelerated pace.  They have to.  For a half-hour TV show, for example, you only have 25 pages of mostly white space to weave all of the twists and turns together.

  • TIP ONE: Take a step back, read each scene and jot down what is happening, who it’s happening to and why it is necessary.  Don’t get more specific than that.

How a story unfolds in a screenplay is often not the way you would reveal it in a novel.

When you’re done, you will have a high level look at how the story evolves.  You will quickly find what are the core components that must stay and other things which can be cut.  You’ll find some consistent themes you may be able to link together and others you may want to either discard or expand upon.

  • TIP TWO:  Take the time to decide what you have to add to the story that occurs prior to the screenplay.  What are the holes?  What’s missing… history, motivation, character drivers, etc?

Since screenplays are intended to be movies, the writer doesn’t have to invest a lot of time defining the world the story takes place in because that will be done visually.  As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Actors, as well, can bring their own personas to a role and you may not have to expound on it in the movie.  For example, if Bruce Willis is a hitman in a film, you just believe he’s a hitman. You don’t really need to know why, you just need to know what he’s supposed to do and what’s getting in the way.

In a novel, however, you may need those thousand words to make the story in the screenplay make sense.  You will need to explain why the hitman is a hitman because you won’t have Bruce Willis’ persona to provide you a shortcut.

So, identify where the holes are in the story and determine how you will fill in the gap.

Those are just two tips I’ve learned so far.  I’ll share more in the future.

Have you ever adapted a screenplay into a novel?  I’d love to hear about your experiences.

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