Adaptation (Part 2)

March 16, 2012 § 3 Comments

Bridge Over Stream. By Jon Sullivan, via

I’m about 30 pages into my latest screenplay, the adaptation I spoke about here.  Interesting technical questions have come up.

This is the first screenplay I’ve ever attempted without an outline.  Having read the book at least a dozen times over the years, I believed I had a feeling for the characters.  Wrong!  I had a plot and character feeling, but not a functional feeling.  Internalizing a book’s events and characters as a reader, has nothing to do with adapting and projecting those characters as a writer–even if I’d imagined myself originally writing the book, time after time after time.

Not that screenplay writing is really writing.  It’s diagramming, for a crowd.  A screenplay must simultaneously be richly enough written to make readers feel they’re watching a movie, and transparent enough to allow a whole community of subsequent creators, one by one, to do their jobs.

Technically, I find myself compelled to do a bridge draft–a functional compression of the book into a series of compelling moments.  It is neither the book nor the film, but a draft which bridges the two.  Diagrammatic and epigrammatic, it leaves out 95% of the book’s goodness.  It is a list of call and response.  I am afraid to leave it for more than an hour or two.  I feel strongly that returning to the bridge draft, after a long absence, would be dangerous for the life of the film.  It would also be unsuited as an outline for creating any piece of literary criticism of the book.

The bridge draft is entirely temporary.  It has no use other than indicating a direction for my day.  I create it to link one shore with another, for the time it takes to be crossed.  Then I blow it up, hoping that I’m leaving the river of response in the pristine state which Nature intended.

Copyright 2012 by Jacqueline Austin.  All rights reserved.


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§ 3 Responses to Adaptation (Part 2)

  • martavago says:

    Very astute comment about what a screenplay is – and isn’t.

  • Bruce Brodie says:

    This is incredibly cool – – like having a lense into your process! I love it.

    Now I both want to read the book and see the movie.

    I once tried to do a screen play (of course not knowing what one is, and of course not having read a book), and I ended up with a bunch of pictures with no plot and now characters! So much pretense, so little time!

  • jacajacjac says:

    @ Marta: Thanks, Marta!

    @ Bruce: I feel your pain. My first screenplay (approached novelistically) was as difficult as writing 107 pages of haiku.

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