Screenplay-to-Novel: A Q&A with William Schreiber

Screenwriter William Schreiber turned his award-winning screenplay Someone to Watch Over, into an award-winning novel.

Creating your own IP, by transforming your script into a book, is one of the ways you can add value to your story to help you sell it to "Hollywood".

William Schreiber shares more about his story and how & why he decided to go from screenplay to novel.

Q: How did you become a screenwriter?

My nose was always into a book as a kid. I was big into Clive Cussler and The Hardy Boys. I won a blue ribbon in a writing competition in sixth grade, so that felt pretty good. I didn't know what I wanted to do after high school. I was working on a loading dock in the hundred-degree Florida heat, and that taught me what I didn't want to do for the rest of my life. I recalled the natural kind of joy I felt when writing, so I went back to school to study journalism.

After graduating from the University of Florida, I worked as a magazine writer and editor. Then, I had a chance to write my first screenplay after my wife and I moved to Athens, Georgia. I had never written a screenplay before. So, I approached it based on an understanding of music theory, which I had taken in college. I write and play music, and I sensed parallels between songwriting and storytelling, both of which create emotional experiences rooted in expectations and defying those expectations. There are structures and movement, setups and resolves.

That screenplay was produced as a feature film called Captiva Island.

Q; Tell us about your story Someone to Watch Over, which started as a script and then became a book.

After Captiva Island, I began to study screenplay form, and I wrote Someone to Watch Over while I was working as a freelance writer.

The story revolves around a search for a child the main character had been forced to give up for adoption as a teen. The protagonist is a woman. There's been a lot of conversation around the question of whether or not a writer can write about a life experience he or she hasn't had. I've found the most beneficial tools in my writer's toolbox are an ability to listen, be aware of what's happening in the world around me and pay attention to other lives being lived.

The script won or had top finishes at an array of industry and film festival writing competitions, including the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting Program. I wanted the eyes of Southern readers on it because it's set in the South, and I wanted to make sure it resonated in its authenticity.

I entered it in screenwriting competitions at the Nashville Film Festival, the Asheville Film Festival, the Austin Film Festival, Worldfest-Charleston and the Charleston International Film Festival, where it either earned the Best Screenplay award or had a top finish.

Q; Why did you decide to adapt the screenplay into a novel?

As time passed, I grew frustrated not being able to get the picture made for reasons I finally came to accept were beyond my control. However, writing a book and getting the story out was within my control, and so I decided to write Someone to Watch Over as a novel based on what turned out to be a solid three-act story outline. The book went through a number of drafts over a period of a couple of years from 2017 to 2019.

Q: Are there any differences between writing a script and writing a novel?

Essentially, the three-act structure of most films can generally apply to novels as well. Knowing screenwriting helped immensely writing the book because I was able to transition the story's three-act screenplay structure into a different literary form built on the same structure.

Screenplays are written from the outside-in, and novels are written from the inside-out. In writing screenplays, there is the necessary economy of language and time restrictions, which novels don't have. In a screenplay, you're painting visual impressions with a broad brush, but in a novel you have to paint every little piece of the canvas. 

 


 

William Schreiber earned the 2019 Rising Star Ward from the Women's Fiction Writers Association for his novel, Someone to Watch Over. The book was adapted from his original screenplay, which has won or been nominated for many competition awards, including the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' prestigious Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting, as well as numerous Best Screenplay awards at film festivals throughout the country. A native of Augusta, Georgia, he grew up in Fort Myers, Florida, along the Gulf of Mexico and now lives in Seattle, Washington, with his wife, Pam.

Someone to Watch Over is available on Amazon and bookstores everywhere.

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