ATLANTA – Written by M.L. Childs, Author, Screenwriter, Copywriter and Dramatic Historian
Avid readers tend to despise films based on the novels they read. What’s the reason? They believe that the film doesn’t follow the story line in the book the way it should. So, just why are films so different from books?
After learning screenwriting myself, I now know the answer to this puzzling question and I will try to answer it the best way that I can. For starters, most people aren’t novel readers. So, the details that work in a book won’t necessarily work on the big screen because most people will become bored with the details. Most people want the point to be made as quickly as possible and they want to be thrilled by what they are watching. This is one major reason why movies differ so much from the books on which they are based.
Another major reason is that screenplays — which are the driving force of any film — are a different beast from novels. Fiction books can include extensive narrative information but screenplays should not — there simply isn’t enough time to do so. A film is generally 120 minutes long which equates to one page each of a screenplay. This is about half or even a quarter of the pages of most novels written. So, screenwriters are under the pressure to fit everything into a small space. Not only this, film is dialogue, action and conflict and each scene should be filled with plenty of it; otherwise, people get bored with the movie and leave the theater or turn the television off. So a screenwriters task is not only to work within the confines of a tight space but also must play up the most interesting and critical scenes from a novel.
So, yes fellow novel readers, some of our favorite scenes in the book just may not make the cut in the screenplay because they may not come across on screen as fantastically as they do in the book. Or, the budget for some of these novel scenes just isn’t available for film scenes. Keep in mind that films are expensive projects and one extra minute of action may be costly.
“Trim the fat and get to the meat” is the name of the game when it comes to movies so try to be cognizant of this the next time you judge a film based on a novel.