The dwindling market for original screenplays in Hollywood has left aspiring screenwriters looking to the literary market to find an audience for their stories. But the process of adapting from a screenplay into a novel presents unique storytelling issues that have yet to be formally addressed.

This blog is the product of a year-long partnership between Jon James Miller, an award-winning screenwriter, and Charlotte Cook, publisher at KOMENAR Publishing, to develop one of Jon's award-winning scripts into a publishable novel.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Same Old Story ... (Charlotte)

Jon and I determined to write our book Adapting Sideways and take on this course of action only a few months ago, after almost a year of working together on his screenplay-to-novel endeavor. We’d been talking and comparing notes and watching movies and analyzing and deconstructing for months, all in an effort to better understand a world we intuitively and instinctively shared and loved--the world of Story.

We began with a common calling of writer and editor to bring out the best of Jon’s writing and story for his novel. Somewhere along the way, we discovered that we agreed that “great literature” was in Story and Characters and not limited to words on the page or film that captured performances and worlds. In fact we have a fairly liberal acceptance of the different mediums we accept as literature--because it all boils down to Story.

We’ve been functioning on the shared experience of what’s Story and what isn’t when we discuss a book or film. Writing Adapting Sideways made us stop nodding and question the fine points on which we do agree. Here’s the best of what we’ve assembled as a definition of Story:

Story is a narrative about a Character progressing through a series of connected incidents--often defined as Scenes--in a manner of increasing challenge to the Character’s well-being or in opposition to his/her goals or ambitions--often defined as Conflict--until, well, the momentum of the Character’s drive or fears culminate in a moment of Epiphany or Climax during which the Character chooses to do something, not do something, or deserts the situation (mentally, emotionally, and/or physically), which in turn brings Closure--often defined as Change--to the Character and wholeness--we like the word Integrity--to the work, all the while engaging an audience of readers, watchers, or listeners for the duration through the vulnerability of the Character to his/her circumstances.

Jon and I not only subscribe to this amalgamation of elements but feel that an appreciative or sympathetic audience is a critical but secondary component, thereby listed near the end of definition. Certainly an audience makes the challenge of creating the piece rewarding. But the Character and therefore the writer are not obliged to focus on the audience. Certainly not in place of drawing all the other elements from the Character him or herself.

Now, from what I understand about screenwriting, that audience’s engagement in the Story is THE critical component. James Cameron said in a recent interview that the movie is “for the audience.” So choices are made with the audience in mind.

As a story purist, I’d go the other way--I’d say that really playing out the Character draws in an audience. I think I can safely say that Jon and I are more likely to stake our creativity and storytelling on both the personality and dangerous, difficult or otherwise unfortunate plight of a Character. If we do our writer’s work well, the audience will find an irresistible dynamic, and we need do nothing gratuitous to garner their attention.

So, what do you think? Plenty of room for different views, particularly in how a writer defines Story. Want to take a try at this?

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