Adapting: Second Drafts and Sets of Eyes

by Jake Lipman · May 24, 2015

adapting by Jake Lipman

Novelist Elinor Lipman and adaptor Jake Lipman

As I wrote in April (Adapting: First Things First), I am adapting my favorite novel, The Inn at Lake Devine, into a play with music, premiering a production this fall. 

Before I started writing, I targeted 2 important deadlines:  

  • Producing a staged reading of the script-in-progress on April 23
  • Submitting my final draft to the novelist on May 15 

Then I worked backwards, adding goal posts for drafts, revisions, and read-throughs.  Plan in place, I flexed my fingers and sat down to type.

First Draft: No Judgment
Starting that first draft was daunting.

 My friend, Jessica Ammirati of Going to Tahiti Productions, has adapted several books into plays.  For the first draft, she recommends turning every action and dialogue into an active scene, resisting the urge to judge what stays in the final play. 

So from November 2014 to January 2015, I turned a 253-page novel into playable scenes.  Draft 1 of the play was a mammoth 177 pages long.

 My goal for the fall production was a 110-page script with an approximate run time of two hours.  Time to start revising.

 Second Draft: Cutting and Condensing
For Draft 2, I focused on:

  • Trimming exposition about characters, time, and place.  Onstage, the cast, costumes, and set would flesh out those details.
  • Paring down characters (a big undertaking in a play about 3 families) and creating 2 catchall characters, MAN and WOMAN, to play multi-track roles.
  • Selecting songs to serve as shorthand for key plot points.  Thanks to public domain song catalog sites and YouTube, I picked royalty-free songs to move the story forward.

This draft was 128 pages—down nearly 50 pages from the first draft.

 Before I revised any further, I sent Draft 2 to novelist Elinor Lipman (no relation) to make sure I was on the right track.  She wrote back, “Love it; love the whole thing!”

 Now the script needed outside feedback.

Subsequent Drafts: Readers, Read-Throughs and Rewrites
My timeline for rewriting included: 

  • Deadlines for when I would complete each draft.
  • When to send each draft to my readers.
  • Due dates for the readers to send back comments.
  • 2 actor read-throughs at key points in the process, to hear the script aloud.
  • Deadlines to review and incorporate reader and actor feedback.
  • 3 rehearsals leading up to our staged reading performance on April 23. 

Every time I received feedback, I combed through the script, looking to address it.

The most consistent note I got was: show, don’t tell.  I cut all narration, stripped down dialogue, clarified intention and stage directions.

 Over the subsequent eight drafts, I got down to 112 pages for the April 23 staged reading script, Draft 10 (2 pages longer than I had hoped, but hey, what’s 2 pages among friends?).

I sent the novelist Draft 10, got her thumbs up, and started rehearsing the reading.

The Staged Reading
The audience at our April 23 staged reading was comprised of the novelist, her agents, friends, donors, and potential collaborators on the fall production.

 Having the staged reading performance illustrated what worked, what needed tweaking, and what could go away.  As an actor first and foremost, it was satisfying to show the novelist how actors could embody her story.  She was thrilled.

 I gathered feedback from the audience by comment card, rather than hold a talk back, so they can be as candid as possible and anonymous.

 From there, I catalogued every comment—suggestions, questions, and kudos—and again, combed through the script, revising.

 Next Steps
On May 15, I sent the novelist my last and (nearly) final draft, Draft 11.  She’ll review by mid-June, and we’ll finalize Draft 12 for the October production.

While I now have a dozen drafts in my DropBox, that number belies the nearly hundred sets of eyes that reviewed, read aloud, and saw it performed in the staged reading.  Those sets of eyes made each subsequent draft exponentially better.

Writing can be a solitary practice, but creating theater is a collaborative one.  In my next installment this summer, I’ll write about assembling an artistic team of collaborators for the October premiere of The Inn at Lake Devine.

For more information about Jake and her company, Tongue in Cheek Theater Productions, visit her website.





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Broken Bone Bathtub
After being asked who is comfortable with audience participation, we are lead one by one into the small room and guided to our seats. A young woman sits amid pleasantly floral scented bubbles, face turned away from us.
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The fifth (and last) in a five part series on adapting a play from a novel as it occurs.