Write through thick and thin


I was listening to a podcast on how to adapt a novel to a screenplay, and the guest speaker said there’s a one in ten chance that a novel will ever make it to the movies, same if your work is optioned by a producer. A blog post by a writer on the blacklist – an industry platform for screenwriters – stated that the odds are more than one in 5,000 of seeing your script produced.

Still, I’m the type of person who buys a lottery ticket when the prize is big, like the recent $ 570 million Powerball lottery (I didn’t win). No wonder, then, that I decided to learn to write scripts and to adapt some of my work in scripts. I had a screenplay based on a short story I wrote ranked # 11 in the top 20 adventure shorts on the writers’ discovery platform Coverfly, and the adaptation of my historic trilogy Durant Family Saga ranked finalist in a scriptwriting competition.

Does this mean that my work could be projected on the big screen? The odds are stacked against me. In past discussions with fans who asked me if my novels would be suitable for a TV series, I had no response. Now I can say maybe. Here’s how I got to this point.

It all started with a conversation with an executive from the television and film industry. Thanks to a mutual friend, I was able to secure a virtual one-on-one meeting with someone who has worked for NBCUniversal for years. What he told me put me on the path to adapting my novels. He said, “You are not a bestselling author. No producer will pay a screenwriter to adapt your novels, no matter how good they are. So write it yourself.

And that’s what I did. I took an online course in screenwriting, read as many scripts as I could find online, and did a lot of research on how to write a play for a TV pilot. I have also read many Bibles on industry terms and concepts such as how to write a plot summary for a series. Much like writing fiction, there are plenty of blogs that offer tips, examples, and workshops you can participate in (most for a fee). I paid for formatting software, hired a script editor who was recommended on a storyboard blog that I follow, blacklisted my script, and paid for the comments.

After many revisions, I sent the adaptation of my trilogy to several contests (like I said, I’m a sucker for lotteries). After a number of rejections, he made it a finalist in the Big Apple Film Festival screenplay competition.

What does it mean? I am not sure. In the case of this competition, there was no guarantee of meetings with agents or literary directors. I don’t even know who read my script. I just know validation is awesome. If you had asked me a year ago, I would never have believed my screenplay would win praise.

Sometimes it’s luck, but opportunities rarely present themselves without hard work. While writing the Durant Family Saga trilogy, I blogged about my research. I’m sure my blog caught the attention of a History Channel executive and landed me a position as a featured guest on the TV series. The engineering that built the world. Because of this stint, I connected with a producer at A&E Studios. Although they passed on my script, I was glad it even got read.

Even though I have more confidence in my skills, screenwriting is not that easy, even adapting my own work. It looks like it should be: I have the plot; I know the characters and the setting; I know the beginning, the middle and the end. However, writing a screenplay is not like writing a novel. Indeed, I sent my screenplay to a screenwriter for a review, and she told me it sounded too much like a novel. Too much storytelling, not enough white space, words of great value that take the reader out of the script.

Not understanding the job of a screenwriter is a barrier if you want to adapt your novel and if you know your subject all too well. Like any other profession, it takes a lot of practice and trial and error to get it right. I was shocked to have been a finalist for my screenplay.

But now that I’ve gotten to this, I think of other screenplays I could write if I find the time and the spirit moves me. I still enjoy writing novels, but I also enjoy engaging with a new community of writers. I networked with a script reading group and read a few of their scripts and offered a preview. I also follow a few screenwriters on social media for their essays and industry perspectives.

I have no illusions about doing big. So why bother?

Because I won’t let the will to succeed take precedence over the reason I wanted to become a writer at the start: to learn, to create, to find pleasure.

A version of this article appeared in the 12/20/2021 issue of Editors Weekly under the title: Write against all expectations


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