Screenwriting: Activity 3

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Developing a Screenplay from a Book

If a book is adapted to film, a screenplay also must be developed for it. To begin this activity, have your students view the film Sense and Sensibility—either as a class or individually at home. Then, have them read the book. As they read, ask them to make notes on how the book differs from the film.

The book and the film revolve around Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, who with their younger sister and mother are left in reduced circumstances after the death of their father. They are taken in by a kindly cousin, but their lack of fortune affects both young women's chances for marriage. Elinor forms an attachment with the wealthy Edward Ferrars, but his family dispproves.

The exercise on the activity sheet will require you or a student to read the following passage from the book aloud to the class. In this passage, Elinor is talking with Lucy Steele, a wealthy young woman whom she has only recently met. Elinor speaks first:

"But really, I never understood that you were at all connected with that family, and therefore I am a little surprised, I confess, at so serious an inquiry into her character."

"I dare say you are, and I am sure I do not at all wonder at it. But if I dared tell you all, you would not be so much surprised. Mrs. Ferrars is certainly nothing to me at present,—but the time may come—how soon it will come must depend upon herself-when we may be very intimately connected."

She looked down as she said this, amiably bashful, with only one side glance at her companion to observe its effect on her.

"Good heavens!" cried Elinor, "what do you mean? Are you acquainted with Mr. Robert Ferrars? Can you be_____?" And she did not feel much delighted with the idea of such a sister-in-law.

"No;" replied Lucy, "not to Mr. Robert Ferrars—I never saw him in my life; but," fixing her eyes upon Elinor, "to his elder brother."

What felt Elinor at that moment? Astonishment, that would have been as painful as it was strong, had not an immediate disbelief of the assertion attended it. She turned towards Lucy in silent amazement, unable to divine the reason or object of such a declaration, and though her complexion varied, she stood firm in incredulity and felt in no danger of an hysterical fit, or a swoon.

"You may well be surprised," continued Lucy; "for to be sure you could have had no idea of it before; for I dare say he never dropped the smallest hint of it to you or any of your family; because it was always meant to be a great secret, and I am sure has been faithfully kept so by me to this hour. Not a soul of all my relations know of it but Anne, and I never should have mentioned it to you, if I had not felt the greatest dependence in the world upon your secrecy; and I really thought my behaviour in asking so many questions about Mrs. Ferrars, must seem so odd, that it ought to be explained. And I do not think Mr. Ferrars can be displeased, when he knows I have trusted you, because I know he has the highest opinion in the world of all your family, and looks upon yourself and the other Miss Dashwoods, quite as his own sisters."—She paused.

Elinor for a few moments remained silent. Her astonishment at what she heard was at first too great for words; but at length forcing herself to speak, and to speak cautiously, she said with a calmness of manner, which tolerably well concealed her surprise and solicitude—"May I ask if your engagement is of long standing?"
"We have been engaged these four years."
"Four years!"
"I did not know," said she, "that you were even acquainted till the other day."

This passage is very similar to the corresponding scene in the film. However, Jane Austen tells us a great deal about what Elinor is thinking and feeling. In the film, we must rely on the writer's ability and the ability of the actress who plays Elinor (Emma Thompson, who also wrote the film's Oscar-winning screenplay) to show us what she is thinking and feeling.

Screenwriting: The Language of Film

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Complete Screenwriting Activities Guide (PDF)

Activity 1: Structuring a Screenplay

Activity 2: Formatting the Script

Activity 3: Developing a Screenplay from a Book

Activity 4: Learning from the Winners

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