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What screenwriters should know before they turn books into movies


Screenwriters - 2

Adapting a book into a screenplay can be the stuff of nightmares if not executed properly. We like to think we know a thing or two about books and movies here at Playster. You could even say that submerging ourselves in so much entertainment has made us experts!

So what exactly goes into making the best book-to-movie adaptation possible? Here are some top tips for screenwriters looking at the latest bestseller:

1. Books require LOTS of detail

Because reading requires people to use their imagination to its fullest potential, authors are tasked with offering as many details as possible to help their stories jump off the page. Dialogue needs to be supported with eloquently described actions and all characters and places need to be carefully planned out, and penned out.

Something as simple as a kiss needs plenty of detail to play with a reader’s emotions. Why do you think romance novels sell like hot cakes? Despite whatever opinion you may have of them, romance authors are extremely detailed in their writing to ensure their readers feel their characters’ emotions. Books leave more time for chemistry to build between characters, whereas movies always seem rushed in their plot.

However, not all writing translates well. Take the final battle of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, for example. Christopher Orr of The Atlantic states that the Battle of Hogwarts translates better on scene than page. An action-packed scene will almost always better translate on film than in a book for the sole reason that our eyes can digest what’s going on more easily.

2. Changing the storyline isn’t necessarily a bad thing

Sometimes, making your film adaptation stand out from the original work can turn into a huge success. Not many people know that Forrest Gump was derived from a novel. The Academy Award-winning flick’s screenplay was loosely adapted from the book, making it shine as the more important piece. Another example? Stephen King’s The Shining. Both are seen as great pieces of art, but are arguably different. Which leads us to our next point…

3. Think of them as two separate mediums

Not everything will translate well to the big screen. While it might have been nice to have more symbolism in Katniss’ mockingjay pin than the movies allowed for, sometimes it’s just not tangible to add that sort of detail into a 150-minute film. Movies are generally great at bringing your favorite novels to life, but you cannot expect them to be exact replicas of their literary counterparts. Celebrate the fact that you are creating a new artform and do not limit your potential. That being said…

4. Giving nods to the original work makes fans happy

Never, ever edit out a scene or detail that was deeply cherished by fans. People are upset to this day that Harry Potter’s eyes were not green i.e. the color of his mother’s. If you plan on adapting a cherished piece of work, please delve into its fan community first to get a better sense of what will make them happy. It’s a great way to ensure that, even if your film isn’t a cinematic masterpiece, it will be loved by the community who made the script happen in the first place.

Do you have any tips for screenwriters looking at the latest bestseller?

(The above content is from Playster and does not necessarily reflect TeleRead’s opinions. Time stamp changed to increase the readership of this item, which originally appeared April 17.)


  1. My biggest complaint is when the movie changes the fundamental point of the book. The worst example that has always bugged me is the ending of The Natural. It turns the story into hagiography, which was the exact opposite of the point of Malamud’s novel. When a movie makes substantial changes it should just use a different name. I respect how A Prayer for Owen Meany was re-named as Simon Birch. Very different stories (and both enjoyable on their own terms)

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