Whether you’re writing a game, app, musical, or a screenplay, John August explains how to innovate for your audience.
Key Insights
  • Honor the audience’s expectations so they can trust you. In whatever world you are creating, make sure the audience understands enough of the rules so that you can more successfully subvert their expectations. 
  • Listen to and investigate your fear - it may lead you to places and projects you never expected
  • Books, screenplays, stageplays, games, and emerging media worlds all have very different story engines - you need to honor the form and adapt accordingly.

Adapting a book into a screenplay 

  • When adapting a book into a screenplay, it’s the job of the screenwriter to anticipate where the audience is at.
  • Books contain much more detail than a screenplay - movie adaptations must be simplified and rely on the most potent imagery.
  • A screenplay should group together common elements from the book that want to be “movie moments” and build them around a consistent through-line. As in Big Fish, John literally created a circus tent to encapsulate story points even though it wasn’t in the book.

Adapting a screenplay into a musical 

  • In a screenplay you are writing scenes to show non-verbally the thing a character wouldn’t say. The opposite is true in a musical, where you will make a character sing things they otherwise wouldn’t say.  
  • There are certain standard song types in musicals that guide the audience through a protagonist's development - these include "welcome to the world" and "I want..." songs.

Books vs. Screenplays 

  • Time and detail function very differently in books than in screenplays - you have much more space to show and explain the world and what’s happening to characters.
  • Revising books requires a village - you’ll need lots of readers to help point out inconsistencies and logic errors simply because the author cannot hold all the information in their own head.

Screenwriter, Novelist, Software Developer
John August is a screenwriter, novelist, and software developer. His feature credits include "Go", "Big Fish", "Frankenweenie", "Corpse Bride", "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", and both "Charlie’s Angels" movies.

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