You’ve written a book with great characters, memorable dialogue, and an engaging plot. In fact, readers enjoy your book so much, they keep telling you what a fantastic movie it would make! But you’re wondering: Just because it’s a good story in book form, would it make a good script for a film?
We’ve put together a quick quiz to help you determine if your book could make a good screenplay for mainstream audiences. To appeal to mainstream moviegoers, Hollywood producers look for very specific elements before they will option the rights to your story.
On the other hand, independent filmmakers are usually more flexible and will take on unusual stories. So if you read the following questions in our quiz and think, Nope, that’s not my book—don’t give up on a movie deal just yet. Your story might resonate with an indie film audience instead.
Quiz: Would Your Book’s Story Make A Good Hollywood Movie?
Is your story “high-concept”? If your story is high-concept, then the main action can be quickly summarized in a single sentence: It’s the story of a soft-spoken German watchmaker who used his family business as a façade to smuggle refugees out of prison camps. If your story can’t be summarized in a few words on a poster, your great book might not make a great movie.
Is the action significantly external with an emphasis on viewable action? Often what readers say they love most about a book is being able to live inside a character’s head. It’s also what they say they miss most when a book is turned into a movie. If the forward action of your story happens mostly in your characters’ minds and doesn’t show up in their larger-than-life actions, you might have a great book—but not necessarily a Hollywood blockbuster movie. Will the action of your story be fun to watch?
Does your story follow a traditional cinematic structure? Author Blake Snyder’s story template, laid out in his book Save the Cat, offers a traditional account of a hero’s journey that many producers swear by. To know if your book could make a good movie, study Hollywood story structure. Not all big releases follow the format, but many do. And Snyder’s story structure has become so pervasive, some critics think it’s curtailing creativity in Hollywood.
Does your book already have a mega-huge readership? If your book is not already selling like gangbusters to book readers (the audience it was intended for), Hollywood executives won’t be easily convinced your story will sell to moviegoers (an audience it wasn’t intended for). So the bigger your book sales, the better your shot at a film option.
Is your book based on a true story or inspired by true events? Readers and film audiences love larger-than-life stories that are also true. Bonus points if your story introduces an obscure narrative that’s framed by a larger, popular subject. For example: The astonishing true story of a little-known hero who did something unexpectedly courageous in a very well-known battle of World War II. If you’ve got a story like that, you might be looking at a film that’s Oscar bait.
Is your movie genre crystal clear? Your book should fit nicely in an existing Hollywood genre. With a little Internet research, you can create a list of upcoming movies and their genres. Does your book fit into any of these popular movie genres? Can studio executives pinpoint your target audience? And how wide is your audience? Is it limited to middle-aged women, or is it a four-quadrant film?
Will your story appeal to overseas audiences? More and more American movies are being made for global markets. If your story has overseas appeal, it can be a hot commodity for the film industry.
A Word About Exceptions
As with writing stories, novels, and memoirs, there are no rules about what will work and what won’t on the big screen. Studio executives are often surprised by what appeals to audiences and what doesn’t. Short stories that eschew traditional plot structure can be retooled to become blockbusters. And cerebral novels in which nothing blows up and nobody saves anybody’s cat can become wild hits.
So while every book isn’t destined to become a best seller at the movie box office…who knows? One of the books that does make it may be yours!
QUESTION: What was the last book-to-movie film you saw? Did the adaptation work?
A enjoyed reading this article, it merely proved I am right about both of my novels! My first’ Echoes’ was given a producers plan – John Crye and he loved it saying it would make a great gothic film like ‘The Woman in Black’ but it all comes down to money and as I don’t have any, nobody will give me any help to getting it to screenplay 🙁
Movies are changing. Look at “Wild”–starring Reese Witherspoon. Nothing blows up, no blood (or very little) and still very successful. We are missing so many good stories because Hollywood tries to fit a square peg into a round hole.
Hollywood is no longer character driven like it was 50 years ago. The attention span is hollywood’s fault by the way they structure a script.
Look at movies in the 40s and 50s. We need more stories with depth of character. We don’t have to blow up something or gut the villain in order to have a story!
My book, The VASE with the MANY COLOURED MARBLES meets all your quiz requests.
The latest book to movie that I have watched was ‘TRACKS’ written by Robyn Davidson about a woman’s solo trek across Australia.
The film was fantastic and so well #projected.
My novel Retaliation, very shortly to be published by Pegasus books is an utterly riveting story of a beautiful woman turned vigilante with an unusual ending which keeps the reader interested to the end.
In my opinion, life is a drama – life history, a long journey, ups and downs, everything compiled together would make a movie. Especially failure in life would educate others. Movie story not only fantasy and luxurious life style. It has to include rough and hardship as well.
Hollywood seems to be suffering from the same infection that the music industry has: people who think they know more than they do syndrome. The money has become so huge in the business and it has become so much ‘who you know’ oriented, that no one has the wherewithal to take much in the way of risks. Its sad, because there are great stories out there that will never get the acclaim they deserve.
My first two (fantasy) novels, Ghosts of Avernus and (to be released) The Insignificance Paradigm, both were first written as screenplays before book and have met good reviews, but I doubt they will ever see the silver screen. I’m not a best seller (yet) and have no money, so that’s reality. Either you have money, or the right friends, or tons of luck, or you have nothing.
It is hard to get a handle on what the public, publishers or movie producers are looking for in books or movies anymore. Most of the popular movies are in serials or remakes of old movies which were much better in the day in the first place. I will submit a movie idea from one of my books,if its what they are looking for fine if not..I am writing all the time anyway.
Interesting story, but where would you even begin to have your book looked at? Is it only best sellers? Luck? Who you know?
I have a movie/TV mini-series option for my first novel FLYING BOATS & SPIES. We have pitched to Sony, Lions Gate Entertainment, Warner Bros, and other smaller companies. As P.J Roscoe says above, without money or sales in the millions, the chances are slim. Still I encourage all of you to keep trying and never quit. As Hans Solo said in The Empire Strikes Back, “Never tell me the odds.”
Any story can be boiled down to a single sentence. Books with lots of cool action get turned into dull movies all the time. The overseas market is more action-driven than story or character driven because little gets lost in the subtitles.
The only way to ever know if a given book would make a good movie (or TV adaptation) if for someone to actually adapt it. Which is a tremendous risk.
For Jamie Dodson: It’s Han Solo, not Hans.
I would not separate characters from an action.
“Rio Bravo” is an unforgettable iconic movie as it unifies both.
My book, Gossamer Wings, would make a great movie. In the last 24 hours, Neil Grayson has lost his job, his car, and been kicked out by his wife. Follow his comedic life-changing journey in his attempt to get his life back, a journey that ends in the explosive revelation of a secret from Neil’s past that not even he knows about. I plan on writing a movie script from my book, in hopes that I can spur interest in the project.
My books would make great movies, High School With Britt ‘n’ Gabby one and two, My Brother a Different Shade of Me, and Workplace Drama.
I have a book I have written, If Trees Could Speak. It’s a story about an African American family who had their land stolen in the 1800s and what was done to retrieve it.
I believe my book would make a great movie or television mini series.
My book is a true story about an African American family’s bi-journeys to Africa to reunite with their people and ancestral land by any means necessary. Fueled by a full blown obsession and desperation propelled them to leave with $400 in American Express checks. Traveled from West to East for 45 days and returned with the initial $400. Read how this was achieved: 360° by Tauheedah Muwwakkil
My Book “HOLDING ON – ‘I Sued the Mafia and Lived to Tell About It’ (The Story of Sundance Dane and Kerri James)” by Doug Dane Fenske is a true story (I really did sue the Mafia) that has all the qualities to make a good Hollywood movie. It has a website – Just google “Holding On by Doug Dane Fenske” and check it put. Please get back to me with coments. Thanks: DDF