Mastering Art of Adaptation: From Page to Screen Tips
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 9 min read


  1. Read and Analyze the Original Material
  2. Identify the Core Story
  3. Consider the Format and Medium
  4. Develop the Screenplay Outline
  5. Write the First Draft
  6. Seek feedback and revise
  7. Balance Originality and Faithfulness
  8. Navigate Legal and Rights Issues
  9. Collaborate with Directors and Actors
  10. Learn from Successful Adaptations

Welcome to the art of adaptation: transforming stories from page to screen. This journey is just like making a favorite recipe. You start with a beloved original, add a dash of creativity, stir in the constraints of a new medium, and voila! You have a new dish that both honors and reinvents the original. Let's break down this process step by step, starting with the first and foremost task: reading and analyzing the original material.

Read and Analyze the Original Material

Just as you wouldn't start cooking without knowing your ingredients, you shouldn't start adapting a story for the screen without a good grasp of the source material. But reading isn't just about skimming through the pages; it's about understanding the essence of the story, the nuances of the characters, and the intent of the author. Here's how you can do it:

  1. Dive Deep: Immerse yourself in the story. Take note of plot developments, character arcs, and themes. This isn't a quick beach read; you're studying the story's DNA.
  2. Understand the Author's Intent: Try to grasp what the author intended to convey. What emotions did they want to evoke? What themes or messages were they trying to send?
  3. Identify What Makes It Unique: What sets the story apart? Is it the characters? The narrative structure? The setting? Identifying these elements can help you preserve the story's unique flavor when translating it to screen.

Remember, the goal is to not only understand the story but also respect and honor the original work. That's the first step in mastering the art of adaptation: transforming stories from page to screen.

Identify the Core Story

Think of the story like a tree. The trunk is the core narrative, while the branches and leaves represent the subplots and details. When adapting a story for the screen, it's important to focus on the trunk—the core story. This doesn't mean you ignore the branches and leaves, but they should not distract from the main narrative. Here's how you can identify the core story:

  1. Look for the Heart: What is the emotional center of the story? Is it a friendship, a romance, a quest, or a struggle for justice? That's your core story.
  2. Be Clear on the Conflict: Every good story revolves around a conflict. Identify the main conflict and ensure it translates well to the screen.
  3. Identify the Transformation: Stories are about change. What is the main transformation in the story? This could be a character's personal growth, a shift in circumstances, or a change in the world of the story.

Identifying the core story is a crucial part of the art of adaptation: transforming stories from page to screen. It's like finding the soul of the story, which will guide you through the rest of the adaptation process.

Consider the Format and Medium

Now that you've identified the core story, it's time to think about the format and medium. Are you adapting the story for a feature film, a TV series, or a web series? Each format has its own set of advantages and challenges. Let's take a closer look:

  1. Feature Film: If you're adapting for a movie, you need to ensure that your story fits into the typical two-hour runtime. This might mean trimming down subplots or combining characters.
  2. TV Series: A TV series allows for a longer, more in-depth exploration of the story. However, you'll need to think about episode structure and cliffhangers to keep viewers coming back.
  3. Web Series: With a web series, you have a lot of flexibility in terms of episode length and release schedule. But remember, online viewers have a lot of choices, so your story needs to stand out.

Choosing the right format and medium is a vital aspect of the art of adaptation: transforming stories from page to screen. It's like choosing the right canvas for a painting—you need to consider the size, texture, and how it will display your work.

Develop the Screenplay Outline

With a clear understanding of the format and medium, you're ready to develop the screenplay outline. This is where you break down your story into scenes or episodes, depending on your format.

Some might compare this to assembling a puzzle: you have all these pieces — characters, plot points, dialogue — and your task is to fit them together in a way that tells a compelling story on screen. But, remember, unlike a puzzle, you don't have to stick to one picture. Feel free to rearrange, add, or subtract as needed.

  1. Scene Breakdown: If you're adapting for a feature film or a single episode of a series, list out your scenes. Include the setting, characters, and key events in each scene.
  2. Episode Breakdown: If you're doing a TV or web series, your breakdown will be by episode. Each episode should have its own mini-arc within the overarching story.

As you work on your screenplay outline, remember to keep the essence of the original story. This is the heart of the art of adaptation: transforming stories from page to screen. It's about capturing the spirit of the original in a new form. Just like a musician covering a classic song, you want to make it your own while honoring the original.

Write the First Draft

With a solid screenplay outline in hand, it's time to dive into drafting the screenplay. This is the part where you get to play god—creating worlds, characters, and events—while transforming the story from page to screen.

But don't let the pressure get to you. Remember, this is only the first draft; it's not supposed to be perfect. You're simply laying down the foundation on which you'll build and refine your story. Think of it as a lump of clay that you're going to shape and reshape until it becomes a beautiful sculpture.

Here's a quick guide on how to go about it:

  1. Start with the Dialogue: Dialogue is the lifeblood of any screenplay. It gives voice to your characters and drives the story forward. As you write, listen to the voices in your head (don't worry, we all have them!). Let your characters speak naturally, keeping it authentic.
  2. Include Stage Directions: Stage directions are crucial in screenplays. They provide instructions for the actors and help set the scene. However, don't get too carried away. Remember, you're writing a screenplay, not a novel.
  3. Stay True to the Story: As you write your first draft, always keep the core story in mind. It's easy to get carried away with new ideas, but remember, your job is to adapt the story, not rewrite it.

Just like a painter with a canvas, you have a blank page to fill with your imagination. It's about finding the right balance in the art of adaptation: transforming stories from page to screen while staying true to the original narrative. So, go ahead, let your creativity flow!

Seek Feedback and Revise

Once you've put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and completed your first draft, it's time to step back and take a deep breath. You've accomplished a huge task in the art of adaptation: transforming stories from page to screen. But let's not get ahead of ourselves — it's now time for one of the most important steps in the process: seeking feedback and revising.

There's no such thing as a perfect first draft, and let's be honest, an extra pair of eyes never hurt. Feedback helps us see things we might have missed or become blind to. It can provide fresh perspectives and valuable insights that can only enhance your screenplay. So, how do you go about it? Here are a few tips:

  1. Choose Your Readers Wisely: When seeking feedback, pick people who understand storytelling and the specific genre of your screenplay. They could be fellow writers, mentors, or even readers who are fans of the original material.
  2. Be Open to Criticism: Remember, the goal of seeking feedback is to improve your work. Be open to criticism, even if it's hard to hear. It's not about you; it's about the story.
  3. Revise, Revise, Revise: Once you've gathered feedback, it's time to revise. Don't be afraid to make big changes if needed. It's all part of the process. Sometimes, you need to tear down a few walls to build a stronger house.

Revising isn't just about fixing typos and grammar errors. It's about fine-tuning the story, the characters, and the dialogue. It's about perfecting the art of adaptation: transforming stories from page to screen. Remember, a great story is not written, it's rewritten.

Balance Originality and Faithfulness

Striking the right balance between originality and faithfulness can be quite a tightrope walk in the art of adaptation: transforming stories from page to screen. You want to stay true to the source material, but at the same time, you also want to inject your unique voice and perspective into the mix. So, how do you find the sweet spot? Here are a few pointers:

  1. Understand the Source: Having a good understanding of the original material is crucial. This doesn't only mean understanding the plot, but also the themes, characters, and the author's voice. Only then can you do justice to the original while bringing something new to the table.
  2. Identify What Works and What Doesn't: Not everything that works on paper will work on the screen. Identify elements that can be translated effectively into the visual medium and those that can't. This could involve reworking certain scenes, characters, or even plot points.
  3. Add Your Twist: While it's important to respect the original work, don't forget to add your unique touch. This could be in the form of a new subplot, a change in a character's arc, or a fresh take on the theme. Remember, adaptation is as much about creation as it is about recreation.

Remember, your goal is to create a screenplay that captures the spirit of the original while being a standalone work of art. It's about breathing new life into a story, not simply relaying it. So, don't be afraid to take creative liberties. After all, in the art of adaptation: transforming stories from page to screen, there's room for both the familiar and the novel.

When it comes to the art of adaptation: transforming stories from page to screen, crossing the creative hurdles is only half the battle. The other half involves navigating the choppy waters of legal and rights issues. You see, you can't just pick up any book and turn it into a movie. Here's how you can ensure you're on the right side of the law:

  1. Secure the Rights: Before you even get started with the adaptation process, it's crucial to secure the rights to the original work. This could involve negotiating with the author, the publisher, or the estate if the author is no longer alive.
  2. Understand the Contract: Once you get the rights, make sure to thoroughly understand the contract. Check if the rights include sequels, remakes, and foreign language versions. Also, understand the duration of the rights.
  3. Consider the Legalities: There could be other legal concerns to consider. For instance, if the book is based on real events or people, you might need to get permissions or deal with defamation issues.

Let's face it, legal matters can be a bit dry and complex, but they are a necessary evil in the art of adaptation: transforming stories from page to screen. So, don't shy away from seeking legal advice. Remember, it's always better to be safe than sorry.

Collaborate with Directors and Actors

Once you've battled the legal dragons, it's time to get creative again. The art of adaptation: transforming stories from page to screen, isn't a solitary endeavor. It takes a village to make a film, and the residents of this creative village are the director and the actors.

  1. Work with the Director: The director is the captain of the ship, the one who steers it towards the final destination. You, as a screenwriter, need to work with the director to understand their vision. Discuss the tone, the style, the key moments—everything. Remember, it's a creative partnership.
  2. Involve the Actors: The actors are the ones who bring your characters to life. Engage with them, understand their interpretation of the characters, and be open to their inputs. They can add layers to your characters that you might not have thought of.

Communication is key in this stage of the art of adaptation: transforming stories from page to screen. Be open, be receptive, and let the magic of collaboration transform your screenplay into a cinematic masterpiece.

Learn from Successful Adaptations

As you navigate the art of adaptation: transforming stories from page to screen, a great way to learn is by examining successful adaptations. Think about it: how did J.K. Rowling's world of wizardry translate so beautifully into the "Harry Potter" film series? Or how did "The Godfather," a classic novel, become an even more classic film?

  1. Study the Choices: Look at the choices the screenwriters made. What did they keep from the original material? What did they change? And more importantly, why? Understanding these choices can help you make your own in your adaptation journey.
  2. Examine the Techniques: Pay attention to the techniques used in these successful adaptations. How did they handle exposition? Or flashbacks? Or voice-over narration? These technical aspects can provide valuable insights for your own work.

Learning from successful adaptations can be a masterclass in itself for anyone looking to master the art of adaptation: transforming stories from page to screen. It's like standing on the shoulders of giants—you can see further, understand deeper, and create better.

If you're looking to delve deeper into the process of adapting content from one medium to another, don't miss Siobhan Gallagher's workshop, 'How to Pitch an Illustrated Book'. This workshop will provide you with valuable insights, tips, and techniques for effectively pitching an illustrated book to ensure a successful transition from page to screen.