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Writing for Different Mediums: Adapting Your Work for Film, TV, or Stage

~ Sankalita Roy

This is a dream of mine whenever I watch House of the Dragons, Games of Thrones, Harry Potter series or Sharp Objects on Hotstar. I hope someday my content gets adopted on multimedia channels. It feels a long way down the road because as writers our work takes a long time to get recognition. In your circle, you may enjoy the status of being a writer whose books got displayed and sold at the Kolkata Book Fair or Delhi Book Fair but in reality, no one knows who you are, your work takes a long time for recognition. One of the quickest ways to let the world know about who you are and give your work recognition is by adapting it for film, TV or stage. Some publishing companies offer short films based on your work to be released on Amazon Prime but for some huge break in your career, you have to wait for a long time.

What is adaptation?

An adaptation is a motion film that takes place from one medium to another and recreates it for another. Most commonly, it is referred to as a novel or short story converted into a feature film or a television series and so on.

Some common examples of adaptation include Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Godfather, Lord of the Ring series and so on.

However, while adapting we must keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be faithful to the original work as long as the characters and the ideas included are true to themselves with some modification along the way.

Have you ever watched House of the Dragons, series 1?

If yes, you must have observed certain modifications made while adapting it to the series. This includes the cause of Visery’s death, and his famous last walk to the courtroom to save his daughter Rhaenyra from allegations over her son's illegitimacy. If every single detail from the book is copied, then there is no suspense left. The viewers could easily search the internet and know before the series.

In Hollywood, the adaptation is quite common as it saves the cost of finding an effective writer for the story. It doesn’t involve starting a story from scratch. All the producers must do is buy the rights to the original story/book/play and then hire screenwriters and actors.

Certain kinds of adaptations do not involve appearing in Hollywood blockbusters. These are the low-budget adaptations created by independent filmmakers who want to tell their stories without spending years writing them. They are called fan fiction.

Let us discuss some strategies that we can employ while adapting your work for different mediums. What are we waiting for, let’s start now, I mean now:

1. Ask yourself these questions


First of all, we must remember that simplicity is the key to making our message clearer to a large audience. But how do we achieve this simplicity? That’s simple too, by narrowing down our conflict and revealing the dramatic question in the beginning to reveal the theme, not the plot.


Your unique point of view creates a story that creates the emotion and the perspective that you want your audience to know about instead of several perspectives in one go.


Whenever your story is tied down with a purpose, it becomes easier for you to pen down your words on paper to bring the emotions alive not only in you but also in the large audience. I don’t remember where exactly I saw these words, I’m penning them down in my way. If you as a writer can feel the words you have written down, your audience will also experience the same. If you cry during writing, expect the same from your audience.

2. Addition

As the name implies, it includes new materials that were adapted to the medium. For instance, in the series Mildred Pierce by Kate Winslet, the ending involves Veda settling in happily with her stepfather who also happens to be her lover. In the real story, Veda ends up killing her stepfather when the latter refuses to settle with her.

3. Subtraction

It involves the omission of materials from the original series. If you as a fan of the Game of Thrones series have researched it through YouTube videos, you will come across many things that have been removed while adapting it for the TV. One of these omissions involves the exclusion of House Valeryion and its related content in the Games of Thrones series to focus more on the original idea and its message.

4. Amplification

Here, the material is expanded or developed; for example, a few extra scenes or dialogues that helps in the development of characters or themes more fully. In the House of the Dragons series, certain scenes show how the conflict between the House of the Blacks and Greens started during the first few episodes. It includes scenes where Otto Hightower spies on Rhaenyra Targaryen to defame her in the court and his attempt to remove her. In reality, Otto only did his duty, it was Rhaenyra who lied to her father and got Otto Hightower removed from the hand of the king. When his daughter, Alicent Hightower came to know the truth, a feud started between the blacks and the greens. The declaration of war happened with Alicent wearing a green gown to Rhaenyra’s wedding. The colour green in Hightower's house symbolizes war. On the contrary, the exact reason for the feud between blacks and greens remains unknown. Alicent stopped talking to Rhaenyra after the latter was named heir.

5. Condensation

The elements are reduced or removed; for example, some scenes may be cut or simplified to make room for more. In the movie Gumnaam by Srijit Mukherjee which is based on the book Conundrum by Chandrachur Ghose and Anuj Dhar, a large portion of the life of Gumnaami Baba has been cut to simplify the message of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose being alive after his rumoured death in 1945 plane crash in Taiwan.

How do we write adaptation?

Adaptation is very similar to translating from one language to another. it is important to get inside the author’s head, figure out what he/she is trying to say and then write it down. adaptation is not the original story told, they are the modified version of the story or retelling of the same story in another medium adapting a story to another medium, we need to have a compelling story. I remember watching the Sharp Objects adaptation for the first time on Hotstar. The sand over my feet just blew off, I was shocked and yet I can relate well to the bond of the abusive mother-daughter relationship. Thus, it is important for your story’s adaptation to have an emotional impact on the audience otherwise it is not worth telling.

As screenwriters, we need to create vivid and active characters. Let us take an example of the lead character in Sharp Objects, Camille Preaker who returns to her hometown to solve the murders of two young girls. In the process, she must deal with her self-harm battle and her abusive relationship with her mother. Her want for love and affection is what drives the story forward.

Before you begin to write, you must have a clear outline of the story and each of its characters. You must keep in mind the motivations of each character and how they develop along the process. It is advisable to keep your story simple with few characters and locations. Avoid many plot twists and complex points of view. This simplifies the message you want to convey to the audience without any confusion.

Many writers fail to connect with the audience because they try to adapt everything in the book the way it is letter by letter. Imagine half a paragraph in a book is adapted into five pages on the screen. How would you feel like watching it? Imagine an audiobook of several hours adopted line by line on screen and you will get your answer easily. I hope so.

How do you make a good adaptation?

Adaptation is always a tricky thing for filmmakers to attempt. Many film adaptations fail in the eyes of the fans of the books, critics and audience. Although there are some rules for adaptation, the filmmaker needs to know why they are adopting a movie from a book and their reasons for doing so. If you remember the series House of the Dragons, you must have noticed the presence of kitchen sink drama and the audience is almost relieved to have a prequel of the Game of Thrones back. This is because the main purpose is to entertain the audience. I remember the interviews of the makers of the series who said that they deliberately included the painful scenes of labour during pregnancy to show the world that motherhood is not as glorified as they think to be. It is indeed painful and many mothers in the ancient era lost their lives due to complications arising from pregnancies. For each scene, you must be clear about why you are including them and your reason for doing so.

I say this because if you do something without a reason, will it serve your purpose? Will it serve you well? It will most likely be bad because you don’t know what you are doing regarding style and content. Are you just trying to interpret the novel or are you focusing on the message it carries? If not, then there is no reason to make the film or no point in bringing it all out on screen.

Do background research on the original work and the author as well. Try to get them known as deeply as possible, for it will help you to drive deep into the script for the project you are trying to create on-screen. After all, how would the audience feel involved in the screenplay, if you as a writer are not involved in the story as a whole? Wouldn’t it be unfair?

What does it mean to write an adaptation?

Adapting a source material is a great way for writers to get paid. The adaptation of books into movies and TV series is common, and so is the adaptation of comic books and video games. These include not only the high-budget adaptations but also the small ones.

However, for adapting a source material, one must drive into what has been written and why well. The adaptation must be interesting yet unpredictable in its way so that the audience’s curiosity remains intact. It is common sense if everything is copied from the source material, the people are bound to lose interest. Moreover, who does not love surprises? It is advisable to add some subplots that deviate from the original plot to fill out the page count to the new content.

There are two types of adaptation: the first one is the literal adaptation that flows closely to the source material and the second is the thematic adaptation that retains major themes but alters essential details.

It is an important point that I have forgotten to mention that the adaptation must follow the same arc as the original work. You do not want your audience to be frustrated with the adaptation as it has lost the essence of the familiar story, they wanted to see onscreen.

Screenplay adaptation rights

According to a website on Google, the original screenplay is a script based on your original idea to which you own the copyrights while the adapted screenplay is a script based on someone else’s original idea that you need to get rights to adapt into a script.

If you are adapting someone else’s work, then you need the author’s or publisher’s permission if you want to adapt or write a screenplay based on a book, magazine article, essay and so on.

Hope this article gives you a basic idea of how to write for an adaptation on different mediums. In short, know a thing before attempting it in your life.

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