I was listening to a podcast about adapting a novel to a screenplay, and the guest speaker said that the chances are one out of 10 that a novel ever makes it to film, even if your work is optioned by a producer. A blog post by a writer on the Black List—an industry platform for screenwriters—stated the odds are more like one in 5,000 of ever seeing your script produced.
Yet I’m the type of person who buys a lottery ticket when the prize is big—like the recent $570 million Powerball lottery (I didn’t win). No surprise, then, that I decided to learn how to write scripts and adapt some of my work into screenplays. I’ve had a screenplay based on a short story I wrote ranked #11 in the top 20 for short adventure films on the screenwriters’ discovery platform Coverfly, and the adaptation of my Durant Family Saga historical trilogy placed as a finalist in a screenwriting contest.
Does it mean my work might make it to the big screen? Odds are against me. In past discussions with fans who’d asked if my novels would be adapted for a TV series, I’d had no reply. Now I can say maybe. Here is how I got to this point.
It started with a conversation with an executive in the TV and movie industry. Through a mutual friend, I was able to land a one-on-one virtual meeting with someone who has worked for years for NBCUniversal. What he told me set me on my path to adapting my novels. He said, “You’re not a bestselling author. No producer is going to pay a screenwriter to adapt your novels no matter how good they are. So write it yourself.”
And that’s what I did. I took an online course on screenwriting, read as many scripts as I could find online, and did a lot of research on how to write a teleplay for a TV pilot. I also read numerous bibles on industry terms and concepts, for example how to write a summary of the plot for a series. Just like for writing fiction, there are numerous blogs that offer tips, examples, and workshops you can participate in (most for a fee). I paid for formatting software, hired a script editor who was recommended on a screenwriting blog I follow, uploaded my script to the Black List, and paid for feedback.
After numerous revisions, I sent the adaptation of my trilogy to several contests (as I said, I’m a sucker for lotteries). After a number of rejections, it placed as a finalist in the Big Apple Film Festival Screenplay Competition.
What does this mean? I’m not sure. In the case of this contest, there was no guarantee of meetings with agents or literary managers. I’m not even sure who has read my script. I just know the validation feels great. If you asked me a year ago, I would never have believed my script would win any accolades.
Sometimes it’s luck, but opportunities rarely arise without hard work. While writing the Durant Family Saga trilogy, I blogged about my research. I’m sure my blog is what caught the attention of an executive at the History Channel and landed me a gig as a featured guest on the TV series The Engineering That Built the World. Because of this stint, I connected with a producer at A&E Studios. Though they passed on my script, I was happy it was even read.
While I’m feeling more confident in my skills, scriptwriting isn’t all that easy even when adapting my own work. It seems like it should be: I have the plot; I know the characters and setting; I know the beginning, middle, and end. However, scriptwriting is not like writing a novel. Indeed, I sent my screenplay to a script reader for a critique, and she told me it read too much like a novel. Too much narrative, not enough white space, highfalutin’ words that take the reader out of the script.
Not understanding the craft of screenwriting is an impediment if you want to adapt your novel and you know your material all too well. Like any other craft, it takes a lot of practice and trial and error to get it right. I was shocked I placed as a finalist for my screenplay.
But now that I’ve come this far, I’m thinking about other screenplays I might write if I find the time and the spirit moves me. I still like writing novels, but I’m also enjoying engaging with a new community of writers. I’ve networked with a script-reading group and have read a few of their scripts and offered insight. I also follow a few screenwriters on social media for their essays and insights on the industry.
I have no illusions of making it big. So why bother?
Because I won’t let the drive to succeed take over the reason I wanted to become a writer to begin with: to learn, to create, to find joy.