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Adaptation for Film (Online)

Course Times & Enrolment

This course is currently unavailable.

Course Summary

We will look at the challenges of turning a short story, a novel, even a poem into a story that will work on screen. Whether you’re starting from scratch or have an existing project that needs fresh insight and guidance, you will develop some of the skills necessary to turn source material into more powerful, authentic screen drama.

Course Details

Pre-requisites for enrolment

This course would be of interest to students interested in literature, film and creative writing. Students will need to be able to confidently use videoconferencing software and be comfortable with using websites.

Special Information

In order to participate in this course, you will need access to a computer with a speaker and an internet connection.

Content of Course

Overview: Nearly 50% of all films and television productions start their lives in some other medium – a novel, poem, or even a game. Filmmakers and screenwriters get a story ready-made but have to tackle what belongs on screen and what will work for a viewing audience. In this course, we will look at the challenges of turning a short story, a novel, even a poem into a story that will work on screen. Perhaps you have a favourite work that you would love to adapt for the screen. But where do you start? And how do you arrive at a finished piece that both honours the original and works as a script?

1. Introduction: What’s the difference between a book and a film? What are the challenges of taking a story from one medium to another? We will workshop a couple of short literary works as films. Just how easy or difficult is it?

2. The Storyteller’s Voice: Finding the angle on source material is the first important step in any successful adaptation. Working with different sources, students will be shown how to identify the protagonist, point of view in the story and how to deal with narration.

3. Should it stay or should it go? Some book sources are 500 pages long; others are just a few pages or a few paragraphs of a news story. Some exist as an interactive audio-visual game. Students will workshop different ways of shortening and lengthening material while retaining the essence of the story.

4. Writing for the screen: this session we will learn to look at scenes from the source material the way the camera does. What can setting, mood and pace do for you? And how do you turn a character’s interior journey inside out?

5. Writing synopses, treatments and step outlines: these are the mechanics of presenting your source material in its new screen form.

Teaching method(s)

Lectures, film clips, reading extracts, creative ‘work-shopping’ and group discussion.This course will be delivered via live online sessions.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  • Have an understanding of the different narrative demands of books and films,
    eg plots, characters, structure, storytelling techniques;

  • Practised writing from one medium to another;

  • Apply creative skills to their own adaptations.


Core Readings


  • Maccabe, Colin & Murray, Kathleen & Warner, Rick (eds), 2012. True to the Spirit: Film Adaptation and the Question of Fidelity. Oxford: Oxford University Press

  • Hutcheon, Linda, 2012. A Theory of Adaptation. London: Routledge

  • Krevolin, Richard, 2009. How to Adapt Anything into a Screenplay. USA: Wiley


If you have questions regarding the course or enrolment, please contact COL Reception at Paterson's Land by email or by phone 0131 650 4400.

Student support

If you have a disability, learning difficulty or health condition which may affect your studies, please let us know by ticking the 'specific support needs' box on your course application form. This will allow us to make appropriate adjustments in advance and in accordance with your rights under the Equality Act 2010. For more information please visit the Student Support section of our website.