Thursday, April 3, 2008


So I've been having discussions with several writers lately about the process of self-adaptation. That is to say, taking a short story you've written and writing it into a play. Or taking a play and turning it into a screenplay, or a novel. I went to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago for my MFA, and this is a persistent question at that school: how is a work served or disserved by experimenting with different forms within the same story or concept? SAIC's MFA is an interdisciplinary writing program, so people are often doing this at that school, writing something one way, then exploding and diversifying it into all different forms.

While I was there, I focused on plays, but now I'm becoming more and more interested in adaptations of my own work, while I'm still close to it. For part of my thesis project I adapted a short story of mine into a play, and found that suddenly the story worked in a completely new way.

Now, I'm interested in going the other direction, turning one play of mine into a screenplay and another into a novel. In talking with other writers, some people I've found are of the mind that there are countless ways to tell a single story, and so its good practice for any writer, playwright or no, to self-adapt from form to form (like a person changing their perspective over time). Others, I've found, are of the mind that retrofitting a play into prose or broadening a taut stage piece into a sprawling filmscript is just beating a dead horse.

Strangely, novels are turned into films and plays all the time, but the stigma attached to novelized versions of films is that they are a lowest of the low forms of literature. And no one seems to retrofit plays into long fiction, period.

Obviously there are pros and cons and we could argue that all week, but I'm interested specifically to know who else is doing this right now, or who has done it before (self-adaptation) and what the results were.


Chas Belov said...

Interesting post. In one of his books, Jeffrey Sweet opines that novelists tend not to make good playwrights, but journalists do. My attempts at novel writing have been dreadful, incomplete failures; but I seem to have hit my stride as a playwright, completing two full-length plays (as in sending them to theatres) and a first draft of a third. No productions yet, but just saying.

Anyway, I am taking my first play and trying (slowly--it will probably take a few years) to novelize it. One of the first steps I took was to add back all the scenes that I cut out in order to get my 150-page first draft down to a reasonable 110 pages. Then I started adding in the characters' back stories that informed the play but had no place in the script.

We'll see whether it turns out to be a worthwhile venture. But the thing is, a minimum-length novel (to get published) is 4-5 times as many words as a two-hour full-length play. That's a lot of plays to forego while I try to write a novel. So it's probably not my first priority.

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