Your Novel as a Movie Part 2—Writing Novels that Translate Well Into Film


Last Friday I introduced my movie producer friend Joel Eisenberg who has been generous enough to teach a class for me over at WANA International (and yes the recording comes with it for free if you cannot make the class). This is an important class to have. Why?

The entertainment industry is booming right now, namely because audience demands are higher than they have ever been in human history.

Big screen, small screen, smartphone screen, YouTube and countless niche cable channels are all looking for that next big thing.

Filmmakers have always looked to books for inspiration, but let’s face it. The pace at which they could make a movie thirty (or even twenty) years ago made it where they could only handpick a select few to put on screen. CGI was in its infancy and computers were not part of the filmmaking process making the movie business a very expensive one to run. This meant they had to choose far more carefully and were not as eager to take risks.

Additionally, we had only a handful of major networks (y’all remember Thorn Birds taking up a whole week on television?) and the cable networks were really only there to regurgitate whatever had once been a major motion picture. HBO played the same movies over and over and….over (a big reason I have seen Stripes 978 times). They weren’t yet into creating their own series.

Thus, there are now a ton of opportunities for writers who understand the industry (ergo the class I begged Joel to do) and also who understand how to write in ways that will naturally translate well into film.

Thus the tips I am offering today really have to do with solid writing. Sure this helps if we ever want our stuff to be made into a movie, but it also makes for a solid novel as well.

Thinking and Waxing Rhapsodic Falls Flat

Literary fiction that does a ton of internalization is really difficult to put on film. The lack of clear external problems and a lot of navel-gazing just isn’t going to make a good movie wide audiences will enjoy. Sure Melancholia was hailed for its cinematic brilliance (the actual film shots) but I wanted all the characters to die badly twenty minutes in because they were utterly self-absorbed and unlikable. It was a snooze-fest of whining and bitching and yeah I guess I am a troglodyte that doesn’t “get” art and I can live with that.

When we pick up a book and a character is doing a lot of thinking, emoting, and more thinking? We just start to drift off. Most of us don’t like people who do nothing but think about themselves/problems in life. We sure don’t want to read a book or watch a movie with these kinds of folks.

The best character-driven stories need true external conflict (I.e. As Good as It Gets). The story (crucible) is what is going to highlight the talent of the actor. Problems show growth and evolution.

Otherwise we end up with Gwen Stefani’s terrible acting. This music video is three and a half minutes of watching her make constipated sad faces. Ohhhh-kay.


Thus our story has to be capable of more than constipated sad faces if put on film.

We Must Root for the Protagonist

Sometimes we might hear a teacher say that we (the audience) need a likable protagonist. Yeah, no. Never said that. Said we must root for the protagonist and in fact one of the trends I am seeing is the trend of horrible people. We (audiences) have matured beyond rooting for the guy/gal with the white hat. We like gritty horrible people who make us question ourselves.

I think it’s because, in life, we know life ain’t all black and white and good people sometimes do some pretty awful stuff. Additionally, damaged people are interesting. The old television series where father always knew best were good for their time, but they just don’t hold water today because we know life is not that simple. People are not that simple and people who are that simple don’t make interesting stories.

Filmmakers LOVE the multi-dimensional and ever HORRIBLE character…because AUDIENCES love them.

Look at the fiction that has exploded and have been or are about to be made into movies/series: Gone Girl, Luckiest Girl Alive, Girl on a Train, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Big Little Lies, Game of Thrones.

This said, gritty and dimensional characters are in demand. If you don’t write characters like this that is fine, but remember that we want 15 hours of film to watch a character grow. Harry Bosch is a good guy but he has a crap ton of emotional baggage. His mother was a murdered prostitute who the system forgot. He didn’t grow up with a white picket fence and a dog and a life that was sunshine and rainbows. He drinks. He has anger issues and he is always in trouble because he resents the system he works for.

But remember we need to root for the character and this is done any number of ways.

The Big Baddy is Badder

In Chronicles of Riddick Riddick is NOT a nice guy, but when compared to the Necromongers who are dismantling planets and enslaving the population? He ain’t all that bad.

In Luckiest Girl Alive (optioned for film) Tif-Ani is a truly awful person, but she is very, very damaged and when compared to those who have done this damage? Her actual heart of gold shines through.

They Have a Sympathetic REASON for Why They Are How They Are


Again, Luckiest Girl Alive is a superlative example but I don’t want to ruin it so seriously read the book. For an example in film, we go to The Girl on the Train.

The protagonist is a raging alcoholic. She is bitter and angry and self-destructive. She drinks until she blacks out and that creates problems…BIG problems. Then she lies to cover up her failures. She is conflicted—the person she is trying to be (sober) versus the person she ends up being despite her best efforts (drunk).

She has very sympathetic reasons for why she is that way and this is what terrifies the reader/movie audience. Because the way it is written, we all take a breath and know that under the right circumstances, that could be us. Strip enough of us away, lay our world in ruins and we, too might be that drunk asleep on a park bench. Good stories draw us in because they promise to show us what terrifies us.

Rachels’ flaws shine a light on the dark places of US, the places we fear to go, the places we fear we could go.

But this is also why we root for her. We want her to win. We want her to be sober because if there is hope for her, there is hope for us.

One of the best books I’ve read in ages and is now a foreign film is A Man Called OveOve is a curmudgeon. He is litigious and angry but this story will expose your heart, lay it bare and make you cry and know what it is to be human. This would never have happened with a “likable” character.
Ove is interesting because we all see a little bit of him in ourselves or those we know and love.

They Do Bad Things for Good Reasons


Game of Thrones is all about this. In one episode we are screaming at the television wanting X character to die and the next episode we are rooting for that same character to win. Cersei Lannister is a terrible, horrible, awful and probably irredeemable character…but she does what she does because she is a mother and will do ANYTHING for her children.

And frankly, you know you cheered when she leveled half the city and took out the High Sparrow in last season’s finale.

In Breaking Bad, Walter White doesn’t one day go, “You know what? I am going to enter the world of crime!” No he is a struggling high school chemistry teacher who takes to making and selling meth in order to secure his family’s financial future when he finds out he has terminal cancer. Do we agree with his decisions? Probably not, but they make for fascinating film.

Never Write for the Market

I hear this all the time and, my POV? It is terrible advice. Or at the least incomplete advice. If you are only writing about vampires because vampires are selling and frankly you hate supernatural stories and really want to write cupcake bakery mysteries? Then don’t write vampires. It isn’t your passion and that will show through and make for a blah book (and then forget about film optioning).

But then I also see the converse side of this where writers are writing what THEY love…and only entertaining themselves. They aren’t reaching out and serving the audience and so we just feel like unwanted guests on this writer’s personal holodeck.

Remember we (writers) are in the entertainment business. Business is the other half of that word and business is about supply and demand and we are wise to study what is in demand and give it to them.

And there is no reason we can’t get super creative on this. The same but different. Offer up something audiences didn’t know they wanted until they saw it. But even in those cases? If we look, the hallmarks of great story were still there. Writing a novel in second person is just being pretentious. Writing a fantasy series with a young boy as the protagonist (Harry Potter)? That is genuine risk-taking.

What are your thoughts? What are some of the best risks you have seen filmmakers take on? What were some one that fell flat?

I love hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of NOVEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

TREAT YOURSELF!!!! Check out the Upcoming Classes

Remember that ALL CLASSES come with a FREE RECORDING so you can listen over and over. So even if you can’t make it because the holidays are crazy? No excuses! Take time to be good to yourself! All you need is an internet connection!

How to Get Your Book Made Into Film

Class Title: How to Get Your Book Made Into Film
Instructor: Writer/Producer Joel Eisenberg
Price: $45 USD Standard
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: WEDNESDAY November 30th, 2016 1:00 PM E.S.T. to 3:00 P.M. EST

How do you cull the essence of your novel into a feature film? How do you expand your short story for a television series? Finally, when the written adaptation is complete, how do you navigate the Hollywood maze for real money and credits?

Joel Eisenberg has been there. As an independent producer of over 20 years, Joel has developed content or sold projects to networks such as TNT, CBS-Decades, FOX Studios, Ovation TV and more. As the former head of EMO Films at Paramount Studios, Joel is also a professional networker, having hosted entertainment network events at the Paramount lot, as well as Warner Brothers, Sunset-Gower Studios and more. His work has been featured in many media outlets, including CNN, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, NBC, The Los Angeles Times, TV Guide and even Fangoria.

Important Class for After NaNoWriMo! You might have a New Year’s Resolution to query a novel. Doesn’t matter. Treat yourself to an early Christmas present!

Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter & Synopsis that SELLS

Class Title: Pitch Perfect—How To Write a Query Letter & Synopsis that SELLS
Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: $45 USD Standard
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: FRIDAY December 2nd, 2015 7:00 PM E.S.T. to 9:00 P.M. EST

You’ve written a novel and now are faced with the two most terrifying challenges all writers face. The query and the synopsis.

Query letters can be daunting. How do you sell yourself? Your work? How can you stand apart without including glitter in your letter?


Good question. We will cover that and more!

But sometimes the query is not enough.

Most writers would rather cut their wrists with a spork than be forced to write the dreaded…synopsis. Yet, this is a valuable skills all writers should learn. Synopses are often requested by agents and editors and it is tough not to feel the need to include every last little detail. Synopses are great for not only keeping your writing on track, but also for pitching your next book and your next to that agent of your choice.

This class will help you learn the fundamentals of writing a query letter and a synopsis. What you must include and what doesn’t belong.

So make your writing pitch perfect with these two skills!

Plotting for Dummies

Class Title: Plotting for Dummies
Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: $35 USD Standard
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: SATURDAY December 3rd, 2016 2:30 PM E.S.T. to 4:30 P.M. EST

Are you tired of starting book after book only to lose steam and be unable to finish? Do you finish, but then keep getting rejected? Do you finish, but it takes an ungodly amount of time? Sure, great you land an agent for your book, but you don’t have FIVE YEARS to write the next one?

This class is here to help. The writers who are making an excellent income are not doing it off ONE book, rather they are harnessing the power of compounded sales. This class is designed to help you learn to plot leaner, meaner, faster and cleaner (even for PANTSERS!)

Learn the basic elements of plot, various plotting techniques, how to test your seed idea to see if it is even strong enough to be a novel and MORE!

Blogging for Authors

Class Title: Blogging for Authors
Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: $50 USD Standard
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: FRIDAY December 9th, 7:00 PM E.S.T. to 9:00 P.M. EST

Blogging is one of the most powerful forms of social media. Twitter could flitter and Facebook could fold but the blog will remain so long as we have an Internet. The blog has been going strong since the 90s and it’s one of the best ways to establish a brand and then harness the power of that brand to drive book sales.

The best part is, done properly, a blog plays to a writer’s strengths. Writers write.

The problem is too many writers don’t approach a blog properly and make all kinds of mistakes that eventually lead to blog abandonment. Many authors fail to understand that bloggers and author bloggers are two completely different creatures.

This class is going to cover:

How author blogs work. What’s the difference in a regular blog and an author blog?
What are the biggest mistakes/wastes of time?
How can you effectively harness the power of algorithms (no computer science degree required)?
What do you blog about? What topics will engage readers and help create a following?
How can you harness your author voice using a blog?
How can a blog can help you write leaner, meaner, faster and cleaner?
How do you keep energized years into your blogging journey?
How can a blog help you sell more books?
How can you cultivate a fan base of people who love your genre?
Blogging doesn’t have to be hard. This class will help you simplify your blog and make it one of the most enjoyable aspects of your writing career.


For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook


4 pings

Skip to comment form

  1. Great article! You’ve given me a lot to think about.

  2. Interesting points. I join you on the troglodyte bench. Don’t much like literary fiction and never have.

    Interestingly, I’ve never read the books or saw the movies you mentioned. They never appealed to me.

    Okay, GoT appealed to me, but I learned very quickly that the violence, rape, etc. was not for me. So now I catch recaps the day after a new episode airs.

    Perhaps my interests just aren’t main stream enough.

    • Karen Kanter on November 16, 2016 at 2:07 pm
    • Reply

    Would like to register for screenwriting course, but cannot make time. How do I order tape? Second request. Thanks, Karen

    On Wed, Nov 16, 2016 at 11:07 AM, Kristen Lamb’s Blog wrote:

    > Author Kristen Lamb posted: ” Last Friday I introduced my movie producer > friend Joel Eisenberg who has been generous enough to teach a class for me > over at WANA International (and yes the recording comes with it for free if > you cannot make the class). This is an important class to” >

    1. I thought I answered this before. You just register for the class and after class is held and the recording rendered, we send you the recording. We don’t per se sell the tape of the class. We sell the class then you get the recording if that makes sense 🙂 .

  3. Another wonderful post. That Star Wars/Lanister meme is winning the internet today though.

  4. Reblogged this on Entertaining Stories and commented:
    Kristen Lamb is delivering some wonderful writing advice today. Also go there for the Princess Leah meme.

  5. Straight-forward tough-talking no-nonsense advice, as always. Selling lots of books would be fab, having one brought to life as a movie must be awesome! I wonder what Tolkien would think if he could see the movies made from his books, or if he could even imagine how much his characters would be loved in the future. I wish he could have seen that.

  6. I loved Melancholia but then I was excited to see a film where the world actually ends for once! I am so bored with plucky heroes always saving the day at the last minute. I think I might be broken inside :oP I agree that none of the characters were likable but I found the film strangely hypnotic, almost serene, although that was down to my own experience with depression more than anything.

    Cersei blowing up High Sparrow was infinitely satisfying. My only disappointment was that we never got to find out what was going on with Margaery. She was definitely up to something and now we’ll never know. Personally I would like Cersei to be killed by Jaime. Whilst there would be an element of satisfaction if Tyrion were to off her, it’d be far more tragic if Jaime felt that he had no choice but to kill her.

  7. Kristen, excellent post. I do want to comment on writing for the market, though. There’s a good reason for this advice. Usually, it takes years to get from script to screen. So, what’s hot now is most likely going to be yesterday’s news by the time the movie is released. Writing for today’s market is dangerous if you are following some hot new trend. That said, staples like horror and romance are always good—they’re perennial favorites. I would say you should write what you’re passionate about. If the story is great, Hollywood may come knocking.

  8. Kristen,

    You gave me a great idea. Cupcake eating Vampires or even better, Vampire eating cupcakes. Now all I need is a flawed protagonists who cant look into a mirror but loves sprinkles.


  9. I’m a bit disturbed by there being maybe a bit too much of this rooting for horrible people. Sure, one dimensional good guys are no use, but I prefer the hero to have some kind of basic goodness, a moral code. Look what happens as a result, you get someone like Trump as president! Not commenting on his policies here, just he a very dislikeable person who has a disgusting track record with women.

    Rape culture is just fed by stuff like GoT and things where someone is horrible, but oh look why he or she is horrible, so that’s OK. No, it is not OK! Show us people who rise above this horrible upbringing and *don’t* resort to rape and murder despite provocation! I don’t think it’s more mature to root for horrible people. Sure we should have empathy for people going through tough times, we all go through tough times and we hope to get empathy from others as we do so. But if we have more examples of such people rising above them then it is uplifting for us and for society. If our examples say it is OK for the tough times to make you a villain, criminal, rapist, cheat, bigot, whatever then that will just lead to society spiralling ever downwards.

    1. Have you read any of the examples I gave? In “Big Little Lies”, they stand up to bullying and a woman is freed from her husband who is secretly beating her. In “Girl on the Train” she rises above alcoholism because she gets pulled into a murder mystery. In Bosch, he rises above his anger to solve the mystery of his murdered mother who was a prostitute and the system dismissed. In “A Man Called Ove” he is angry because his wife and the only thing he loved has died. It is an immigrant family who reaches out and befriends him who changes his heart. In “Luckiest Girl Alive”, yeah she is mean and sniping, but it is because she was brutally raped and the story gives her the courage to stand up to the powerful people who attacked her and bring them to justice.

      And in “Game of Thrones”, sure there are terrible people, but the protagonist John Snow is noble and good and rises above it all. And yeah Cersei is awful but if you understand her story, she has good reason for being who she is and she was brutalized and victimized by High Sparrow who she takes out (re: rape culture)

      Many of these stories have “horrible people” because they show they are seriously damaged and it gives them somewhere to arc. You mention “rape culture” but almost every example I gave involved people who had been brutalized who at first seem terrible who become heroes despite the damage done to them.

      Often people who are actually victims come across as terrible. It is only through story we see they really are heroes. People who go through this kind of stuff are in a bad place and “being a good guy” falls flat if life is all daisies. It is only through big obstacles and the crucible we see them for truly being heroic.

      Before you criticize, maybe try reading more. And in the end, it is all preference.

      1. And I guess when I mean “horrible people” I am talking those who are misunderstood. In the 90s when sit-coms were all the rage, I felt so alone, like I was outside of it all. My father abandoned us when I was a kid. My mother went off the deep end and was committed. I was a high school drop out twice. We lived in poverty, always afraid the lights would go out, scrabbling for enough food. To top it off the rich girls at school took great pleasure in tormenting me every single day of my life because I owned two pairs of pants and four shirts.

        I was NOT a nice person from all the things done to me and I never felt there was anyone in story who really spoke for me. All the romance novels were these perfect innocent damsels. TV was full of rich happy families who got along. That wasn’t life. At least not my life. I think when some of us damaged folks see our lives in hyperbole and see that a bad background doesn’t mean you can’t rise to be a hero, it speaks to us. Not the sanitized nonsense of the 90s.

      2. I wasn’t criticising your examples, just the general trend. And I did read several books of GoT before I had to stop because it was depressing. It wasn’t just one or two horrible characters, and they weren’t all horrible of course, but there was so much nastiness and it kept getting unrelentingly worse.

        I’m not saying no stories should be about people with a dark side. But you said “one of the trends I am seeing is the trend of horrible people [as protags]” and you depict that as a good thing, implying that writers should keep doing this more.

        By the way, I’m not a troll, I’ve been reading your blog for years, occasionally commenting, and recommend it to writer friends. I just believe writers do have an influence on society and I feel the responsibility that it should be a good one rather than a negative one. Not that I’ve got past the first draft stage and I do feel the pressure of this social responsibility! Maybe too much. But I would like to see more well-rounded heroic heroes than “horrible” antiheroes.

        1. LOL. I never saw you as a troll. Some fiction is light and nice and there is a market for that, ergo the remake of “Anne of Green Gables.” That’s why I said it was in the end preference. ((HUGS))

          1. ((hugs back )) 🙂 I don’t mean all fiction with a good moral MC has to be light or nice though.

          2. Yeah I get what you are saying. I am with you and need a nice dose of Anne of Green Gables, LOL.

  10. YAA! This the kind of kick ass, bad ass articles I love to see. Please make more like this, i’m going to read this a second time and realy let it sink in. I too think you have got to write what you love. Expecually when you get to that hump point were you kind of hate your book as it’s the 5th + revision as your going thought all the chapters again to make sure the plot, theme lines up (among other things like looking for loop holes..) *draws in a breath* as I can’t find beta readers o have to do it my self. Um were was I? *blinks* Whoops ranting again. 😛

    I love gritty characters, from a magical clone trying to separate her self from her masters and prove she has a soul, to an assassin that sacrifices everything because he’s the only one that can.

    II think that’s the whole problem, we are sick of Mary Sues and Gary Stue’s, we want what’s closer to real life but make them bigger then life.

    If characters can grow and change in a book then people in real life can too, I think that’s what’s happening, very slow but it’s there.

  1. […] Source: Your Novel as a Movie Part 2—Writing Novels that Translate Well Into Film […]

  2. […] via Your Novel as a Movie Part 2—Writing Novels that Translate Well Into Film — Kristen Lamb’s… […]

  3. […] Your Novel as a Movie Part 2—Writing Novels that Translate Well Into Film […]

I LOVE hearing your thoughts!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.