From a Book to the Big Screen

Adapting novels (books) to screenplay became a trend and lasted for many years.

There are many movies made based on books and  I always wondered about the process of using a book as source material to create a movie.

From a book to the big screen. Is the transition process really so easy?

The Process

I believe the success or failure of the process depends on the transition of the book to a screenplay. It shouldn’t be a copy and paste process. There are scenes or dialogues written in books that do not look good on screen.  So I believe there are a few scenarios the writer needs to take into consideration:

  •  What?
  • Why?
  • When?
  • Where?
  • Who?
  • How?
  • What If?

I think that the writer needs to establish its goals for writing the screenplay and answer the following questions:

  • Define your genre category? (the What)
  • What is the opening scene, the climax scene and the last act? (the What)
  • What is the message of the story? (the Why )
  • Define your timeline: past, present, near future or far future (the When)
  • Define your location (the Where)
  • Define your main characters (the Who)
  • Define the knowledge for the screenplay (the How)
    1. What are the things you know and are familiar with?
    2. What are the things you know or believe don’t exists?
    3. What are the things you don’t know exist?
    4. What are things you need to learn or create for the screenplay (new languages, new cultures, new races, new planets, etc,)?
  • Edit the selected scenes from the novel into shorter versions for the screenplay (the What if)
  • What formats will you use in the movie (life action, CGI, etc)?
  • Connect the dots of all scenes together
  • Challenge your story: change or remove what you think is outdated, irrelevant to your story

There are many genres and categories in sci-fi that writers can choose from but normally the novel already establishes the genre. Science fiction allows the writers to develop creativity and imagination. Writers can add additional genres or combine them to create the story for the screenplay. In all honesty the process seems really complex to me. There are many things to take into consideration.

Successful examples

Here are some examples of books that were transformed into screenplay successfully:

Take a front-row seat and witness the filmmaking magic that brought J.K. Rowling’s script for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them to the screen.


Adapting books into screenplays is a complicated process. It requires a messy structure to ignite creativity and the exploration of imagination.  Even though lately we have seen many book adaptations on screen, it does not mean that it is so easy to take a story to the big screen. I appreciate it when a story has every detail in place, where a whole universe (worlds, characters, etc) was created.

Do you want to see more book adaptations on the big screen? Do you have higher expectations when the movie is based on a book? Feel free to leave your comments. I would love to hear from you.

14 thoughts on “From a Book to the Big Screen

  1. This is something I was thinking about just yesterday, when watching the finale of Big Little Lies, an HBO mini-series adapted from a book. A lot of transposing is needed when you’re dealing with a giant book or series of books and only an hour or two of film. I sort of wish we’d do more mini-series, because it gives you time to develop character in motive in a way that’s believable. And it’s a nice compromise to the norm of shows going on and on and on, long past their welcome, or when they last had a good idea.

    For Silence of the Lambs, I never read the book, but I did see all of the films in the series based on the other books. I guess that would be an example of one that was transposed successfully, and others not so successfully.

    1. Nice observation Penny! I agree with you about the making of mini series instead of just a few movies. There is so much you can develop and more time to work on it and make it the right way. And like you say sometimes its successful, other sometimes its not.

  2. I really liked the see more adaptations but as you said it is a really difficult task. And in my opinion; in today’s cinema or TV series, the most important thing is the character development. Do you agree with that?

    1. Hi Furkan,

      You are right. I think its an important part when establishing the narrative of the story (whether its on TV or in a Movie).
      Thanks for stopping by.

  3. The definition of the main characters and the message of the story are the main parts of the transition process! I have to admit though that there are plenty of adaptations that are not successful or they are much different from the books! That is ok, though! It is definitely a difficult work and is easy for us to say “I do not like this or that”!
    Best wishes,

  4. Hi Dira,
    I appreciate your information about Books to Movies. A lot of people do not realize how hard it is to adapt a book to a script. Example: I love Stephen King he is my favorite, I will never forget the quote Stephen King made about his books being destroyed when it came to becoming a movie. He directed for the first time Maximum Overdrive. ..not so good! He stated, “I will never speak badly about the process ever again!”
    I can only imagine what the director, producer, screenwriters go through to make a story on-screen shine as bright as the book. The only time I am hesitate to see it, is when I heard they changed the story entirely. The post was direct and to the point. Loved reading this article.

  5. It’s interesting! I’ve never really thought about the difficulties of writing like you call it ” From a Book to the Big Screen”. But I don’t believe, especially for the big budget films/blockbusters, that much thought is given into the screenplay. They should just create several categories: stories that are taken from the book, stories that are inspired by the book, stories that are based on the book. If you are going to take a story as it is you should stick to the original story. If you take the book as inspiration and create your own world and characters, that’s a different story and should be judged differently. This is how I see it.

    1. Hi Jane,

      Thanks for sharing your views. I do understand what you are saying and I believe it is better to create your own version rather than copy paste.

  6. I get what you are saying and understand that it is not easy. But let’s be honest: do you think that most of them really care about the material?
    For some filmmakers, it is just an assignment given to make money. Most of them won’t hire all the writer’s or other creators and know the material.
    They will hire who’s the most popular and most probably knows nothing about the source material. If you are going to make a film based on a book using the characters name’s etc, there is a certain respect you have to give to the source material. Otherwise just say that the story is inspired by the book and create your own thing.

  7. The Time Machine was the first science fiction story I read and I remember I was fascinated by it. Reading was one of my favorite things as a kid. Started with Comics, then I went into an R.L Stine phase and then I discovered Dune. I thought I would never finish it but I did and it was amazing. It’s still to this day one of my favorite sci-fi stories.

    1. Hi Dave,

      Thanks for sharing your story. I can relate I had a R.L Stine phase as well.
      Thank you for taking some time to comment.
      Have a great day 🙂

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