How To Turn A Book Into A Movie Script: 12 Simple Steps

Posted on Feb 2, 2024

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Written by Sarah Rexford

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Many authors dream of one day needing to learn how to turn a book into a movie script. The pinnacle for success many authors strive for is becoming a bestselling author or, you guessed it, seeing their characters on the big screen. 

With screenwriters adapting so many books for film, now is a great time to learn how to do so. 

There are iconic books-turned-movies such as The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Pride and Prejudice. But there are new adaptations as well. 

Alice Walker’s, The Color Purple, first released in 1982. In addition, it won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the National Book Award for Fiction and was made into a feature film in 1985, (directed by Steven Spielberg). 

Today, it continues to see success with a new film adaptation released in late 2023. That said, learning how to turn a book into a movie script matters, no matter if you wrote your book years ago or just published it. 

How To Turn A Book Into A Movie Script: What’s Covered 

How Do I Turn My Book Into A Movie?

How to turn a book into a movie script starts with a general understanding of what a film adaptation entails. Here are 12 steps you can take to equip yourself for this exciting next phase of your book. 

1. Watch movies 

Just as learning how to write a book starts with reading, learning how to turn a book into a movie script starts with watching movies. Choose several acclaimed films and settle in. 

However, refuse to watch as a passive audience member. 

Instead, look for the different aspects that made this movie so well-received. Consider jotting down notes for future reference. 

2. Read screenplays 

Once you acclimate to the general format of a great movie, it’s time to read screenplays. Screenwriting is an entirely different animal than writing a novel. Familiarize yourself with how to read a screenplay so you feel more confident when it comes time to write one. 

3. Read books that inspired feature films or TV shows 

Next, it’s extremely helpful to learn how to analyze a character as well as the main plots of books that made the transition to the big screen. 

A few places to start: 

  • The Hunger Games
  • The Color Purple 
  • The Tale of Two Cities 

Reading a variety of titles will help you learn various genre conventions and how they seamlessly move from page to screen. 

4. Markup the text 

A great way to test your understanding of how to turn a book into a movie script is by marking specific parts in a book. 

For example: 

  • Highlight specific lines of dialogue the film should include
  • Cross out minor plot points or characters that would take up too much runtime 
  • Star scenes that you believe belong in the final cut of the film 

If writing in a book makes you cringe, consider using a non-permanent option such as a pencil or sticky notes. 

5. Familiarize with literature and film plot structures 

Learning how to write falling action in a way that grips readers will help ensure you write a successful screenplay. 

Story structure typically includes the following: 

  • Inciting incident (rising action) 
  • Climax
  • Resolution (falling action)

Books and movies use these key points in various ways. Familiarize yourself with each story format: film and manuscript. 

6. Identify books that would transition to film

Whether or not you are familiar with books that made it to the big screen, it’s helpful to visit your local bookstore and browse books you think would make a great film. Consider practicing by writing a scene or two from one of the books you found.

Write as if your script would be the one a director looks at.

7. Become a plotter

Unlike writing a novel, screenwriting usually demands a final script before production starts. If you naturally plot your stories, you won’t need to worry about this. If you prefer to write your story as it comes to you, you may want to practice plotting a bit more. Read this article if you’re looking to learn more about plotter vs. pantser.

8. Think strategically 

What is often called the theater of the reader’s mind has no bounds. Novelists can go as deep into worldbuilding as they want. They can include as many explosions or high speed chases as desired, without thought to budget. 

When writing a script, bear in mind what’s best for the story as well as what will fit your budget. 

9. Take a film class 

Consider enrolling in a film class at your community college or taking one online. Understanding the context of what it means to make a film will help you write an effective screenplay. Enrolling in a class is a great way to build a screenwriting community as well.

10. Learn screenplay talk 

Script Slug is a great place to read screenplays. Immersing yourself in the verbiage screenwriters use enables you to become a more effective screenwriter. 

While ALL CAPS are a big no in novel writing, they are common in screenwriting. Learning these small details will greatly benefit you. 

11. Write a short film 

Rather than start out trying to write a feature length script, try your hand at a short film. To help you write your first script, consider using these book writing strategies on a short film. 

12. Ask for feedback 

One of the quickest ways to grow is asking for feedback from qualified individuals. Consider reaching out to your local college’s media department, an online writing group, or indie screenwriters. 

It’s easy to feel guarded when asking for feedback, but do your best to truly consider the advice you receive. Remember, learning how to turn a book into a movie script is a different writing style than turning an idea into a novel. With time and practice, you can greatly improve! 

Can You Write A Book Like A Movie Script?

Because authors embody the jobs of the actors, directors, costume designers, and more, they should not write their book like a movie script. But practically, what does this mean? 

Consider this non-exhaustive list of what an author does when crafting a storyworld: 

  • Create setting 
  • Establish the stakes 
  • Introduce unique characters and quirks 
  • Reveal what the world looks like
  • Communicate the tone of various characters’ dialogue
  • Show nonverbals 
  • Incorporate all five senses 

The writer’s job is to fully immerse readers in the story world. The screenwriter gets to share this job with a team. Because of this, books include details scripts do not, and vice versa. 

A good rule of thumb is to simply use literary rules when writing fiction or nonfiction books, and screenwriting rules when writing a script. You can draw exact lines of dialogue or scenes from the original text, but it’s best to accommodate the industry standard style for each method of writing.

An Action Step For You To Take Today

Now that you know how to turn a book into a movie script, it’s time to take your first step to get there. Take our free Publishing Path Assessment to determine which publishing path is right for you. Then you can get to writing!

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