Thursday, February 6, 2014

Should Your Novel Be a Movie?

-->by Rick Barry

If you’re like most novelists, in your mind dwells a hope that your novel will someday become a movie. However, if you’re like most novelists, that hope is in vain. Only a small percentage of novels transitions to the silver screen. Does that mean you should dump the dream of presenting your Christian-worldview story to the masses through movies? Not necessarily. However, you might need an adjustment in thinking.

Doing the math                     
In autumn 2013, I had the privilege of attending Movieguide®’s script-writing seminars “How to Succeed in Hollywood (Without Losing Your Soul).” I learned that, if your novel doesn’t sell at least 100,000 copies, Hollywood will likely reject any notion of adapting it. Consider: with the thousands of books published each year, only a fraction can be produced on film. If one novel sells 5,000 copies but another sells 500,000 copies, which one will a producer want?
But wait…
Dr. Ted Baehr, president and publisher of the Christian non-profit Movieguide® offers hope. Although a novel that hasn’t achieved massive sales might not be considered for film, a story that’s never been published can receive consideration. An untried story might contain excellent potential for a movie.
Here’s another nugget: Undeniably, movie studios have created plenty of films loaded with sex, profanity, and violence. However, the brains running these businesses increasingly realize there’s an ocean of customers who want family-friendly movies with uplifting themes. In fact, Dr. Baehr’s statistics show that clean movies with redemptive messages reap more dollars at the box-office.
For that very reason, even directors who have little interest in Christianity want wholesome scripts to round out their production schedule. But where are the believers who know how to write faith-filled movie scripts?

Is this is for you?
Dr. Baehr and the staff of Movieguide® are pursuing a vision of training Christian authors to craft and pitch movie scripts as well as they craft and pitch novels. Several times per year, Movieguide® offers classes for Christians interested in creating scripts for Hollywood. Enrollment is limited to 8-10 to maximize one-on-one attention.
As additional encouragement, with a grant from the John Templeton Foundation, Movieguide® presents an annual award called the Kairos Prize.  This is “an ongoing competition to inspire first-time writers to produce compelling, entertaining, spiritually uplifting, redemptive, and faith-friendly screenplays. Each year, it awards three winners  cash prizes of $25,000, $15,000 and $10,000. Also, the Grand Prize winner is sent to more than 80 leading studio executives, producers, filmmakers, and television artists in Hollywood for their consideration and/or feedback.”[i]

Pluses of screenplays
Are you an author who struggles with POV? With screenplays, POV problems practically vanish, because dialogue forms the bulk of a script. Films show characters in a third-person objective way: You see them. You hear them. But you don’t enter their heads.
Another plus of screenplays is that scripts don’t include detailed descriptions of setting. The scriptwriter includes minimal clues, which a set designer creates.
In fact, a screenplay also doesn’t include all the character actions that novelists agonize over. Professional actors and directors don’t need excessive directions. That fact frees the scriptwriter to concentrate on plot and dialogue.
Of course, crafting a quality screenplay isn’t easy. But there is good reason for believers to study the craft. As Dr. Baehr states, “Another key to winning the culture war is to equip Christians to produce successful mass media products. Throughout history, the church used drama to communicate the gospel. We need to reclaim the power of dramatic communications by producing quality television programs, films, and radio programs…. To produce these good movies and television programs, Christians are going to have to take up scriptwriting and learn that craft much better than the hacks in Hollywood. That means not only learning the principles of powerful communication but also refining the craft, paying one’s dues, and going the extra mile.”[ii]

The course offered by Movieguide® isn’t the only way for Christians to learn scriptwriting. (See also However, as a graduate of the class, I attest that the 4-day intensive class fit my schedule, fit my budget, and sent me away with both information and inspiration.
If you’d like to learn more, the next session of concentrated classes will be held April 10-13, 2014. The cost is $1,000 (which includes meals). For information, call Tahlia at (805) 383-2000, or email her at

[ii] Ted Baehr, How to Succeed in Hollywood (Without Losing Your Soul) (Washington, D.C.: WND Books, 2011) p. 538.

Rick Barry has freelanced hundreds of articles and short stories, had 2 novels published, and has 2 more novels in the pipeline. His next project is a family-friendly screenplay.


  1. Nice post, Rick. You know, often times, I see the movie in my head and decide to write a novel about it..

  2. I think perhaps it's easy to visualize and "hear" a scene since most of us have seen countless films. But creating a novel version of a story requires delving deeper, so that the reader experiences all the sensations of the main character: tastes the saltiness of seawater, feels the bone-weary fatigue of staying awake 48 hours, smells the acrid smoke of burning tires. In short, the novelist can and should enter his main character's brain (POV), but the scriptwriter doesn't. (This puts the burden of conveying emotions and sensations on the actor.) Interesting differences.

  3. Rick, so true! It's so much easier to write the movie then the novel. So many possibilities can happen with the movie in my head. I can explore new story arcs in a Sunday afternoon.