January 10, 2014

Writing a Book from a Movie

Dear M,

What do you think of book adaptations?

Some match our expectations so perfectly. One example of a great book made into a great movie is To Kill a Mockingbird. There are also poor adaptations and better adaptations. Yeah, sometimes we say the book was better; sometimes that the movie is better.

What exactly happens when the book is turned into a movie? Many pages get squeezed dry. You cannot have all the scenes in a two-hour movie. You need to decide what you want, to keep the core of the story intact. There will be a lot of philosophy in the book that can be reduced to one or two lines of dialog; a lot of characters will be wiped out of existence. Essentially, the book gets shrunk into a film, but the visual effect gets enhanced - because reading about "a blue sky" and seeing a blue sky create completely different impressions on our mind. And the background score adds the heartbeat to it, of course.

Now think about the other way - imagine you are writing a book based on a movie. Each scene has so much you can write about, so much detail you can skip or incorporate, so many thoughts that run through the protagonists' minds that no one gets to hear in the movie, so many slices of authorly wisdom you can dole out to the readers. If you really concentrate, you can also bring the background score into the writing.

Isn't that what we, writers, are doing (or trying so hard to do)? We have a movie in our mind. Directed by us, seen only by us. It's our job to expand - or adapt - it into a book for the world to perceive.


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