Here’s some Friday fun!
You’ve read a novel, loved it, and heard there’s a movie in the works. There’s some cheering you do before circling the film’s release date on the calendar. As the credits roll you notice there’s a screenwriter AND the novel’s writer. Two different people? What gives? Why didn’t the novelist write the screenplay? Why pay extra for another version when one writer is as good as any another?
In a word, specialization. Like a mason doesn’t install windows, a brain surgeon doesn’t do gastric bypasses, and a software programmer doesn’t assemble computers, novelists don’t often write screenplays. Sure, there can be some crossover and salsa dancers could learn how to tap dance while a baker barbecues your brisket. People can do anything.
For me, I “see” my books as I write them. They’re already movies in my mind and that’s why scriptwriting comes easy to me. It’s actually my format of choice.
But how are the two forms different? I’ll show you! Here’s an excerpt from what I’m working on at the moment. I’m literally switching from Safari to Word to get this, that’s how fresh it is.
“I do. Now, if you can stand, we need to get going.” He went to his horse, opening a saddlebag for the blankets.
She tried standing, unable to get her legs to cooperate. After a little bit of struggle, Ellen rolled to her side, then stomach. She did a push up from there, to on her knees. Bracing herself and with a little grunt, she pushed herself to stand. The sound of Del snickering caught her attention. She faced him, grimacing. “I suppose you think this is funny?”
“I’m trying not to, but…” He shrugged. “Can I help that you are so adorable?”
Ellen stared up at the sky. “If I could walk, I’d go over and show you how lovely I don’t feel this morning.”
Uncivilized-script ready (I’m rusty on exact format)
EXT IDAHO MOUNTAIN FOOTHILLS-MORNING
The landscape is blue from the east sun being above the horizon but behind the mountains. Pomme the horse is saddled and ready. ELLEN is on her bed as DEL opens the saddlebag.
I do. Now, if you can stand, we need to get going.
ELLEN struggles to her feet as DEL snickers.
I suppose you think this is funny?
I’m trying not to, but…. Can I help that you are so adorable?
If I could walk, I’d go over and show you how lovely I don’t feel this morning.
In reading the two, you can see how the novel writes out everything for the reader. I could probably add in more sensory information like the morning chill, Pomme’s snort, maybe the smell of dew in the air. Not a good idea to add all that in the second example. Only when a new character is introduced or a current character is changed in a script is there some description of their looks. It’s handled like the description of the setting. Not long, but enough to give the casting person some direction of who could play the part. The script must be far more sparse with words and rely on the director and his film crew to fill in the blanks.
A screenplay shows everything with action and dialogue. It tells as little as possible to the people that need to know. A script’s paragraphs need to be concise, descriptive but not overly so, and must be vital to the story in some way. A novelist gets to wallow around in examining feelings, smelling the flowers, feeling the touch of sandpaper along with other sounds and sights. Sure, a screenplay can show all the senses with audio and visuals, but a novel can use as many words as necessary. And that’s the crux of it all. For a lot of writers, leaving out all that sensory information is tough. Tough enough that Hollywood would rather hire it out to tried and true screenwriters than risk a flop with a first time novelist turned screenwriter.
Not many writers can take their own work and cut it down into 120-145 minutes of screen time and not every writer wants to. Who better to adapt a book into a movie than someone who hasn’t poured their heart into their words? Bottom line is your favorite writer could transfer their work to the big screen, if they have the skills and thick skin to cut deep into their work.