Tag Archives: Screenwriting

Roll Camera…

Where my novels and shorts inhabit thought and memory, it becomes a different thing when you change the way the story is told to film.


I have always been a visual writer. When I mastered show don’t tell then that came more into its own. I see my characters, I look out through their eyes and I feel their emotions. I become them and so, therefore, does the reader. It’s a very intimate experience and so it should be. The characters take our hands and lead us through the story. We need a good plot to keep us there, to satisfy us when we see how it’s resolved. We need to come out feeling changed in some way and on some level. That is the power of good storytelling.

I have seen my stories and therefore imagined who will play the characters in the movie version. Sometimes when I am about to fall asleep I start the camera and roll away. Sadly sleep never lets me see much of the story. But it’s there, fully formed in some way.

Books I recommend, in fact, the best books on storytelling for me, come from the screenwriters and so I recommend a few of those on my website. Why? Because I feel they have a solid grasp of what hooks and keeps an audience. Storytelling has to be fully immersive to work. When teaching story arc and plotting I often tell my writers to look at people like John Yorke Into The Woods. He says it in a slightly different way to the novelists and one I find more relatable. So, for some time, I have wanted to look more at screenplays with a view ultimately to adapting While No One Was Watching. I often looked at courses and promised myself I would do it… one day. So at the end of last year, I finally enrolled on City University’s 10-week short course on Screenwriting by the super talented award-winning Irish writer and director, Maeve Murphy. It was more for beginners and while I understand story, it’s a whole new medium for me.

What I learned quite quickly was that indeed my knowledge and understanding of how a story works is solid and a strong foundation for building, but to change format meant un-learning and re-learning some key skill sets. Prose writing is very different to the succinctness, the brevity, the reporting of events you see in a film treatment. The finished script, on the other hand, uses just dialogue (which I like doing and very much find is part of voice) but in this case, the actor’s interpret and follow direction. So where my novels and shorts inhabit thought and memory, it becomes a different thing when you change the way the story is told to film. Yikes. And that took some getting to grips with and I have a long way to go to get that. I started with one of my published stories and when I wasn’t feeling it I switched to writing ultimately a film treatment for Chutney for Irina. That worked better. But it taught me something valuable. What works in a more literary novel and Chutney is because it’s very much driven by the characters than plot, it needed more plot to work as a film.

When something is adapted you have to allow it to change because what works in one format might not work in another and in fact, the more literary novels often do not make the best movie.

Adaptation and change is what will bring them to life in film.

As such I have always wanted someone else to adapt my novel who gets that; to see what the screenwriters would do to improve it for film. Stephen King understands this and says something along the lines of pay in the cheque and say goodbye to your story. Perhaps not as flippantly as that as he has enjoyed immense success, but he appreciates the way the two medium work.

I am a long way from being able to adapt anything properly. Interestingly something my tutor taught me about my story is that it needs something else to focus the plot and while I am sure it works as a novel as it stands (although it needs to find a literary home!) I think what she said will improve it as a novel too and when I have finished the next short story (the one that will win a BIG prize! Well, look a girl has to DREAM BIG, right?) then I intend to look at that in the novel before it goes out there to find me a new agent! Summer 2019 is the plan.

I learned a lot and hope to keep and nurture new lessons and the fab people I met on that course, especially Maeve: strong women who make it happen: that is my mission!

More on this at a later date… but for now: happy Tuesday! Since I turn 50 tomorrow (oh no!) I will share an extract from my novel as it’s based 50 years after Kennedy was assassinated!

Have lots of fun 🙂

Check out my tutor!!! Maeve’s website! LINK



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Books into Movies {Memoir Writing Series}

Strictly speaking this isn’t applicable only to memoir but is inspired by the talk given by Dan Watanabe at the LA-Genre Writers Conference in October and I loved this talk. What better than hearing a professor from LA Valley College talk with passion about the thing he knows most (movies) in the city where movies are made.


Dave Watanabe

                Dave Watanabe

Photo and bio from LA Valley College page: LINK.

For over twenty-five years, Dan has been in the entertainment industry, primarily as a development executive/project consultant. Sixteen of those years were spent at the company now known as FremantleMedia, where he served as the Vice President of Current Programming, which included front office, on-set, post-production and distribution/marketing duties. One-hour dramatic series he supervised included Baywatch, Air America, Sirens, numerous movies of the week, pilots, and game shows (Family Feud, To Tell the Truth, The Price is Right). Graduated Cum Laude from the University of Southern California with a BA in Cinema, Critical Studies (1985). Current in process for an MA in Digital Cinema Production at National University.

What Dan talked about primarily was adaptation from book to screen  and what he said is that you have to consider your medium for story telling. Books and movies are quite different and it means taking the written story and reinterpreting it for a visual format. Some things naturally work better than others. He says that in order to adapt something from the page into something for the screen you MUST understand the medium of film. Wise words; and this guy knows, right?

He claims that what you have to do is change it into a new form while still capturing its essence.

He also said something that stayed with me, and that’s that like the short story, films are made to be taken in one go. I like that. He said actually plays and shorts are often easier to adapt than the longer fictions. And he makes the valid point that the movie does not have the same level of introspection as the novel and this is why some novels just don’t work in the film format, especially literary novels that are character-driven and sometimes all set in a character’s head.

Franci Ford Coppola is especially good, Dan says, at adapting novels and he uses The Godfather as an example.

It’s the more commercial number one best selling books that usually make better movies than the award-winning literary books.

What was interesting was when he talked about thinking of adaptation as visually transforming a story and naturally for a new format, things must change and often the hope is this will add depth, augment some aspects that work better visually.

Francis Ford Coppola had HUGE success with The Godfather but followed on with his screen adaptation of The Great Gatsby but this one struggled to reach the same heights, and he claims this is because in literature the novel was very nearly perfect in its field so harder to adapt in a way that would give it the same power, so it flopped. The newer adaptation is better and he says this is because it assumes the reader has not read it and so this allowed more scope for changes.

There are two ways of taking a novel and adapting it to screen. I am sure those out there who are screen writers and movie buffs will know this, but as a novice this was all new information to me.

These are David Selznick and the Alfred Hitchcock methods. I will tell you what these are to whet the appetite and resume the lesson tomorrow…

So the Selznick adaptation is to make a meticulously accurate adaptation that stays true to the novel in detail and yet the movie still works commercially and is able to mimic the commercial success of the book. In 1937 he did just this with Gone With The Wind  and all it did in terms of change was left some parts out but he was still able to capture the emotional essence of the book, it spoke to people in the same way.

In contrast the Hitchcock school of thought is to make complete changes yet still capture the heart of the story and still achieve the same level of commercial success. Dan says it’s using the source material but finding what he calls the ‘jumping off point’. Vertigo might be a good example.

Rebecca as an interesting example of an adaptation because Hitchcock worked with Selznick so now we have a process that uses a combination of these opposing viewpoints. Hitchcock gave into Selznick in allowing the adaptation to be faithful to the book, however, Hitchcock still got his way and you will see his stamp on it if you look. Again this had HUGE commercial success.

I will leave you with this and return to this fascinating discussion tomorrow. This talk really whetted my appetite to study film.

Have a great Wednesday folks!

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