A Word to the Novel-Adapting Movie Maker

By: F.B. Wood
Part of the Expecting Goodness Short Film Festival

F.B.’s Twitter.

F.B. is currently a student at USC Upstate and a prolific writer. To quote his Twitter page, F.B. uses the written word to “smith together sentences for both fiction and ad-copy while simultaneously tending to the needs of my 3 year old daughter.”

I have seen many movies that were based on or adapted from a novel or short story–A Clockwork Orange, Watchmen, and Children of the Corn. In each and every case I understand that there is a new creative director at the helm of the project. They want their ideas to be expressed alongside the ideas already presented in the story or novel. In some cases there is no choice but for this to happen as sometimes the author has passed on and in other cases the author is too busy. This passing of the “wand” is something that should happen as fresh eyes always help bring to light new perspectives. With that being said, I wanted to share a few guidelines that I, as an avid book reader and movie viewer, would like to share about adapting the novel for the silver screen.

    1. Maintain the original plot.

This is the base for both the novel and the inspiration that drove you to want to make the movie. In the movie making process, there are a lot of decisions to be made in regards to the final product. Many parts of the novel have to be removed. But don’t let someone talk you out of the original plot. In some cases, the backdrop of a story is the inspiration of the film and a new plot is generated; such was the case with Children of the Corn. If this does indeed happen, avoid future condemning from book enthusiasts and just pick a new title for the movie.

    1. Do not introduce new main characters.

Many times you want to help explain a protagonist’s choice in certain circumstances. So, instead of embracing the inner monologue that prose gets to many directors choice to add in a scene of dialogue to help explain. This in turn generates a new character in order for the protagonist to bounce ideas off of. It’s fine if you create a gas station attend that hears the protagonist mumble and then questions him, but please do not add a whole new sidekick like in Children of the Corn thus completely changing the dynamic of the main character and his decision making process.

    1. Have characters make new decisions based on their old personalities.

If you do decide to take the plot in a new direction, but find the characters to irresistible to let go make sure and keep them true to who they were originally written as. If the character is faced with a new choice to make research how they might act on this to help better decide which way they would go. Alex in A Clockwork Orange breaks into the Home residence by himself in Kubrick’s movie, but does it with his droogs in the novel. This launches the protagonist into a new height of absurdity in the movie.

    1. Change the ending as little as possible.

This is a problem that runs rampant through quite a few movies. Directors feel that because they add so much to a story that they are then free to create how they choose. This is fine as long as you change the title of your movie. The reason you’re turning the book into a movie is because so many people were moved by the novel as a whole. Try to keep that in mind when presenting it for the silver screen. Many times characters’ personalities are destroyed by a new ending; take Watchmen, for example.

    1. Keep as much of the original dialogue as possible.

If the character was written with a Scottish accent then he should maintain the same speech patterns in the movie that he was given in the book. He should use the same slang in the same manner. When you take creative liberties with something like this, it radically changes how the character is perceived by the audience.

If you are only using a portion of the story, like just its characters or setting, make sure to stay as faithful to that character or setting as you can. The changes you make beyond that are yours. My biggest piece of advice would be to change the title and say it was inspired by this novel. However, if you are trying to stay faithful to the novel in its truest form, make sure to keep these guidelines in mind.


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