February 23, 2009

Best Book to Movie Adaptations

Valerie Thomas: I guess we thought that maybe Susan Orlean and Leroche could fall in love, and...
Charlie Kaufman: Okay. But, I'm saying, it's like, I don't want to cram in sex or guns or car chases, you know... or characters, you know, learning profound life lessons or growing or coming to like each other or overcoming obstacles to succeed in the end, you know.
I mean... The book isn't like that, and life isn't like that. You know, it just isn't. And... I feel very strongly about this.
~ (from the 2002 film Adaptation staring Nicolas Cage
and Meryl Streep)
I love this quote from Adaptation because it embodies the struggle that screenwriters go through in adapting a book to a film. I've attempted an adaptation before and it was alot harder than I thought it would be. You can't just pull chapters verbatim from the book and set them in scenes. So much more goes into an adaptation, like:
  • the emotion that the character will convey
  • establishing the background for a character
  • conversion into a classic three act type structure
  • making the screenplay dummy proof (suitable for the common man) with appropriate exposition and establishing scenes without spelling everything out and ruining the mystery or storyline.
  • worrying about writing "Spec" (technically correct and easily sellable to Hollywood) so you won't be made fun of or rejected outright.
  • worrying about how close you should stick to the classic three act story structure and Campbellian Monomyth
There are definitely more issues that screenwriters have to deal with but those would be beyond the scope of this blog. (Hopefully I haven't lost most of you by now ;-).

To move on, I've been reading adaptations for a long time and they are some of my favorite types of books. I just love comparing the differences in the film and the book and then finding the hidden story lines and subplots that didn't make it into the film adaptation. So, as promised, here are some of my favorite adaptations:

Next time you go watch a new movie, check and see if its an adaptation then pick up the book. Result=increased enjoyment!

(photo by Andrei Z from Flickr)

Josh Self is the writer and editor for The Horse, The Wedding PhotogBlog, Storycrafter, and a writer for The Terminal, Birmingham's most popular hyper-local blog. He always watches the movie first and then reads the book...


  1. Fight Club the movie definitely did the story a whole lot more justice than the book did. Ha.
    I still need to see Blade Runner, 'specially since I just picked up a Philip K. Dick short story anthology... and watched A Scanner Darkly. Hell I still need to see Forrest Gump; how am I from AL and haven't seen that yet? Shame...

  2. Wow, you haven't seen Blade Runner (ultimate cyberpunk geek movie) OR Forrest Gump? (probably the best movie ever made?) We need to catch you up! ;-)

  3. Anonymous2:56 PM

    To Kill A Mockingbird? anyone?