Hollywood is famous for taking a writer’s story, twisting it apart, and churning out something completely different than what the writer intended — and then blaming the writer when the movie sucks at the box office. Here’s what you can do to protect your story.
When Michael Blake wrote the script “Dances With Wolves,” his friend Kevin Costner suggested that he turn it into a novel. For some odd reason, Hollywood respects novels and tries to stay true to the written word, so Kevin’s theory was that if “Dances With Wolves” were a novel, Hollywood would be less reluctant to change the story around to accommodate the whims of actors or studio heads.
Apparently it worked because the studios barely changed the script from the novel, which itself was based on the script. So forget about WGA registration or copyrights. Write your script, and then rewrite it as a novel. Not only will this give you twice as many chances to get published (either as a novelist or as a screenwriter), but it also gives you a chance to protect your story at the same time.
When turning a script into a novel, remember to stay true to your script. That means don’t add unnecessary characters to pad out the novel. Instead, go deeper in the main characters’ heads and flesh out more of their past and their thoughts. Novels are focus more on the thoughts of characters and descriptions of their surroundings because words have to substitute for what a camera can show naturally.
The structure of a screenplay can also help you define the structure of your novel too. Like a screenplay, a novel also tends to open with an Inciting Incident, follows with Positive Rising Action where the hero thinks he or she is solving a problem, drops off into Negative Rising Action where the hero starts losing control, and ends with a Climatic finale.
Michael Crichton probably writes the most cinematic novels since nearly every page can be easily translated into a script. In most Michael Crichton novels, there is little introspection of the characters brooding over their thoughts. Instead, most of what the characters think is either spoken or shown. Turn to any Michael Crichton novel and practically every page contains dialogue, which makes it easy to translate into a screenplay.
So when crafting your masterpiece, use the structure of the screenplay to create a tight plot and story, flesh it out as a script, then finish it off as a novel. You may never sell the novel, but if you do, then you can be sure you’ll make it tougher for Hollywood to wreck your story and keep you out of writing the screenplay to your own novel.