Why You Should Turn Your Story into a Screenplay (and how to do it)

Today I welcome writer A. S. McDermott onto my blog, who is sharing his advice on turning your story into a screenplay.

Big thanks to Arran for being today’s guest poster, please make sure to check out his links and details at the end of this post. 


So you’ve finished your novel or short story. You’re ready to send it out for publishing, either traditional or self-published.

A lot of this time will be spent waiting to hear back about queries you’ve sent out, thinking up ways to market your novel or anthology, and chewing your nails.

But there’s another way you can spend this time between the final draft and your hoped-for publication.

What if you took your story and turned it into a screenplay?

I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t that twice as much work? Isn’t screenplay format really hard to learn?

And aren’t the chances of getting the screenplay actually produced tiny? The answers are yes, not really, and probably. But the benefits of adapting your own story are numerous, regardless of whether it gets filmed. So let’s look at the why, and then we’ll address the how.

Why Should You Adapt Your Story for the Screen?

The main benefit to turning your book into a screenplay is that it’s a great writing exercise. In a novel, or even a longer short story, you have a huge amount of freedom with story structure.

A screenplay, by necessity, has to pare the story down to the basics. You’ll have to reexamine your whole story to fit it into 120 pages (roughly equivalent to a two-hour movie). Anything not essential to the plot will have to go.

That extended family argument scene you loved writing but doesn’t advance the plot at all? Gone.

That emotional flashback to when your main character first learned to tie her shoes? Gone.

That weird clown that keeps showing up at your hero’s door asking to come in? Okay, maybe keep him. But you’ll have to make a ton of decisions about what’s really important in your story and all of these will help you in the future anytime the word count is threatening to run away from you.

Also, if you’re a novelist and a screenwriter, you’ve automatically doubled your chances of being a successful writer. Make no mistake, it’s still like winning the lottery, but having two separate writing talents can only help your chances.

Let’s say you fail to get your horror novel published, but then you hear a local film crew is looking for a low budget horror film to shoot. With a quick rewrite you can turn that unpublished novel into just the screenplay they might be looking for. But let’s say your novel does get published and turns into a bestseller.

Movie studios then come calling asking about the film rights. Guess who you can suggest to adapt the screenplay? Quentin Tarantino? Okay, maybe, but I’ve got a better idea. You. No one knows your story better, and if you’ve already written some screenplays (produced or not) why wouldn’t they give you a shot?

So that’s some of the reasons why learning to be a screenwriter is a good idea. Now let’s look at how you actually write a script.

How to Write a Screenplay

The first thing I would recommend is reading the screenplays for some of your favourite movies. You can find many free PDFs online, or your local library may have some published screenplays.

Reading scripts by professional screenwriters is the quickest and best way to learn the correct formatting. There are also many books that purport to teach you how to write a successful screenplay, but to be honest many of them are a waste of time. One thing I would definitely recommend is getting some screenwriting software.

Final Draft is the industry standard (and isn’t that expensive, especially if you’re a student) and there are also ones that you can try for a limited time for free, such as WriterDuet.

So once you’ve learned the formatting, how do you adapt your story to script form? First I would suggest watching some classic movies adaptations and then comparing them to the books they were based on.

Peter Jackson’s films of The Lord of the Rings are a great example. Tolkien’s books have a fairly laidback pace, and that’s being generous. In The Fellowship of the Ring novel, after Gandalf gives Frodo the ring, it is seventeen years before he returns and Frodo starts his quest. In the movie version, it appears to be no more than a few days later.

Movies are all about pacing, and anything you can cut out to keep things moving along will only help. So when you’re turning your story into a script, it’s a good idea to ask yourself these questions about every scene:

  • Is it integral to the plot?
  • Does it develop the characters?
  • Is it exciting, scary or funny? Or is it just a bunch of exposition?

If the scene doesn’t do at least one of those (ideally two) then it needs to go. Only once you’ve decided which scenes absolutely have to be in the screenplay should you start writing.

After you’ve finished the first draft, what next? The revision process fora screenplay is actually pretty similar to a book. Take a break, and send the script out to some beta readers.

If you don’t know anyone willing to critique scripts, there are many free online communities where you can share reviews with fellow scriptwriters, such as Zoetrope Virtual Studios.

I’d recommend at least three rewrites before you start sending the screenplay out to any professional readers. Of course, getting it to professional readers is the hardest part.

If you don’t know anyone in the film industry, your only real option is to send it to screenplay contests. Those can get expensive, and some of them are scams, so do careful research before entering any competitions.

Then, like with a novel or short story, you wait to see if anyone bites. You may not be any closer to getting your story out there, but at least now you have another way to occupy your writing time. Good luck!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

About A.S. McDermott

Headshot of Writer A.S McDermott with typewriter in the backgroundI am an English-Irish-American author, so going through passport inspection is particularly confusing.

I live in South Carolina with my wife, two kids, and a bunch of cats.

My short fiction has been published in various literary magazines and anthologies.

When not writing novels (my first one should be published soon) I like to dabble in screenplays and once made a short horror film that was pretty decent considering there was no budget.

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For teenager Julie Jackson, being able to punch through brick walls and shrug off bullets is no dream. It’s a curse that could land her in prison for the rest of her life.

A generation after the Supranormal War, Julie lives in hiding with a group of other gifted teenagers, called Supras.

They try to stay one step ahead of the Normalizers, a ruthless police force immune to their powers. When Julie breaks their cover to rescue another Supra, the Normalizers attack their hideout, forcing them to flee.

However, the rescued Supra, a frightened young man named Steve, is able to use his powers against the Normalizers.

Before they can use his ability to save their kind, Julie must face her greatest fear, and discover the truth about their origins. If they succeed in their desperate mission, they may become the heroes the world told them they could never be


This post was written by a guest writer.  Please check out their details above.

Happy writing

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13 thoughts on “Why You Should Turn Your Story into a Screenplay (and how to do it)

  1. Pingback: Why You Should Turn Your Story into a Screenplay (and how to do it) | Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

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