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5 Rules For Novelising Screenplays

It’s self publishing week on B2W!

I’m a big believer in doing it your own way and think the indie route is just as valid as the traditional, whether we’re talking filmmaking or novel writing. As a result, every year B2W dedicates a week to self publishing in the run up to NanoWrimo. Check out the links at the bottom of this article for more.

First up, here’s my great friend Elinor Perry-Smith on novelising your screenplay … Lots of Bang2writers believe novel writing and screenwriting to be two *different* kinds of skills, but this cannot be further from the truth! Fact is, it’s all STORYTELLING, so if you can write a screenplay? You can write a novel!!! TRUE FACT. So what are you waiting for?! Good luck …


People who love film often love book tie-ins. They want to explore the world of the film, increase their knowledge of their favourite characters, or maybe the novelised version bridges the gap between he original film and the sequel. As Joe Queenan said:

‘Authors of film novelisations, not unlike pornographers, rarely get the respect they deserve.’

But I don’t see why a well-written novelisation shouldn’t earn a bit of respect. A short trawl on Google reveals all sorts of titles. If it was a more traditional adaptation from book to film, it wouldn’t garner half the opprobrium that it does. To wit, Emma Thompson’s experience…

‘We discussed the ‘novelisation’ question. This is where the studio pay someone to novelise my script and sell it as Sense and Sensibility. I’ve said if this happens I will hang myself.’

So, what did I learn from novelising a script?

1) Structure Has To Be Solid

The structure of the script must be absolutely solid! Novelisation really works for scripts that have been honed. It’s the skeleton for the flesh and blood of your deathless prose.

I had the pleasure of collaborating with talented screenwriter Niki Sheldrake recently, and thoroughly enjoyed adapting his vampire screenplay ‘Where Shadows Fall’ as a novella. I knew Niki’s work from years ago and I was sure of two things: he had a sound grasp of genre and structure. You can check out his website HERE. MORE: How NOT To Write A Novel: 5 Mistakes Writers Make

2) Be True To The Writer’s Voice

Be true to the scriptwriter’s voice. However tempted you are, DO NOT hijack their story with your own take on it. The tone of the novelisation must tally with the tone of the script. Check out author of Robot Overlords, Mark Stay, on his ten essential novelisations, HERE. MORE: 7 Ways Of Showcasing Your Writer’s Voice In Your Screenplay

3) The Devil Is In The Detail … But No Hijacking!

You can add a level of psychological detail that doesn’t appear in the script but see rule 2: No hijacking with details that have no business being there!

The reader doesn’t necessarily want a blow-by-blow account as per the film. They want another level of emotion for the film story that they love, which means that your well-written novelisation might just fit the bill. MORE: 5 Steps To Writing A Novel

4) Transparency Is Key

Be very clear about what you’re charging the scriptwriter for. A letter of agreement worked very well for us. I offered three redrafts and as much discussion as was necessary. I ALWAYS altered details to Niki’s specification.

As it turned out, 92 pages of script equalled 88 pages of the novella (that’s 31,000 words!). I hadn’t quite realised how freeing it would be to add to Niki’s story! It was a most enjoyable process and I’d like to do more of them. Here’s an interesting article from the BFI on novelisations. MORE: All About Teamwork

5) Collaboration Is Crucial

What your scriptwriter wants wins the day! You can’t sign off until they do. They’re paying you, remember? Always view it as a relationship. If it goes well, there could be more of that action. Good luck! MORE: Connecting And Collaborating With Others Online

Bonus tip:

Thinking of novelising your own script? Go for it! It’s already a lean, mean well-structured machine. You certainly know your own voice. You probably have several great scripts to choose from: pick the script you think works best. Get a great cover sorted and get it out there on Kindle! MORE: I’ve Written A Book. Now What??


BIO: Elinor Perry-Smith is a freelance proofreader, writer and “noveliser” of screenplays! Get in touch with her via her website, HERE or via Twitter as @BrideofChrist

More Self Publishing Links:

7 Reasons Why Studying Screenwriting Can Make You A Better Novelist 

5 Indie Storytellers Who Are Doing It Right 

3 Ways To Transform From “Self Publisher” to “Indie Author” 

Authors & Book Rights – 5 Key Truths by Tom Chalmers of Legend Press 

12 Things To Think About Before Rushing Into Self Publishing 

All about Self Publishing & Ebooks, Part 1

All about Self Publishing & Ebooks (Part 2) 

The End Is Just The Beginning: Adventures In Self Publishing

Can I Use My Self Published Book To Try & Hook An Agent?

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