Devising a Play from a Novel

I’m in the middle of reading Kate Atkinson’s gripping novel Life After Life. The  novel is fascinating: it’s the story of a girl who keeps dying.

The book begins with short chapters and these keep getting longer and longer as the story develops. Each time the character dies, the author rewinds and we see a different chain of events which lead to her not dying – or rather, just dying later.

I was thinking that this would be a really interesting book to use as a stimulus. The novel is set in the early 20th century and tells the story of Ursula, a middle class girl living in London who’s still in the city when the Germans attack. I’m not going to continue with the plot because as a plot, it’s not that interesting (yet). However, the way the story is told, going backwards and forwards in time and from the main character’s mind to reality plus the variety of well-drawn characters that populate the novel make it a must-read.


The structure would make it an interesting book to adapt or take inspiration from. Having to re-tell a story where the events change ever so slightly but where the setting and characters are the same, is a creative exercise.

You would need to decide how much to change the dialogue, how much to change the details of the stories and whether the characters changed or not, depending on the event you were telling. Which mannerisms will you highlight for each character? Which actions? Will you highlight the pivotting moment in each scene, the moment where the character’s fate changes? How will you depict a character’s death? In the book, the author repeats “darkness fell” or at least mentions darkness as a way of telling us the character has died. How would you do it? How could you repeat again and again a moment, while keeping it fresh?

Once again, I hope this short post gives you a bit of inspiration when devising a play. And do read Kate Atkinson’s book, it’s quite unique.

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