THINK BIG (SCREEN)
Outlining Your Book with Film (or TV) Adaptations in Mind
By Cass Ford
As a development producer in Los Angeles, it’s my job to turn ideas into entertainment. Often people pitch me TV show concepts that I produce. But another way to develop captivating content is to create it myself. So I outlined my debut smutty romance novel, PRINCE OF SIN, with a film adaptation in mind.
Why? These days, it seems like every other movie (or TV series) is a book adaptation. Rarely do I swap my cozy couch for a sticky movie theater seat, yet I saw Crazy Rich Asians opening weekend. According to research by Frontier Economics, film adaptations of novels gross 53% more worldwide than original screenplays. That’s a TON of cash. No wonder books sell films.
So here are my tips for outlining your novel with the big (or small) screen in mind.
- UNDERSTAND STORY STRUCTURE— When a producer reads your novel, you want them already picturing it as a movie or series. Film screenplays are extremely formulaic and most follow a three-act structure. Some writers criticize that structure. Learn about different approaches. Read film scripts and treatments (often found online for free), then decide for yourself which structure to follow. Outline your novel or series accordingly.
With the popularity of Game of Thrones and The Handmaid’s Tale, you might want to go the TV route. Beyond reading pilot and spec scripts, get familiar with show bibles and treatments.
I also recommend Karl Iglesias’ book Writing For Emotional Impact. I’m not affiliated with it in any way, though I took one of Karl’s classes at the UCLA Extension. It’s one of my go-to writing books, especially when outlining.
- GET FEEDBACK— As I wrote my film treatment (which became the PRINCE OF SIN novel outline), I consistently received feedback from a professor and classmates. Staying open to their feedback took the story to fresh, better places.
If you can’t take an outline class, join (or start) a writer’s group. Or exchange outline notes with other authors. Don’t know any fellow storytellers? Find some. Online you can join author groups or critiquing websites, or search for local writer meet ups.
- THINK CINEMATICALLY — In PRINCE OF SIN, I moved an argument scene from a parking lot to a moving train. Sure, the parking lot was more realistic. And in the novel, I could have beautifully written the gloomy night as symbolic of their grim relationship.
But from day one, I imagined PRINCE OF SIN on the silver screen. Where do the stakes feel higher? As our protagonists walk to their cars, argue and drive away? Or while speeding across town on a crowded train, where either party can hop off any stop?
That scene was purposeful and cinematically-aware, as are the pole dance strip tease and stormy mountaintop love scene. Intrigued? That’s my plug to order my scintillating novel PRINCE OF SIN (hopefully coming soon to a theater near you).
Thank you, Cass Ford, for writing such an interesting and well-written post!
If you’d like to catch up with Cass, check out her links here:
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