Why movies aren’t novels (1)

Next month, Michael Hauge and Steve Kaplan will be in Australia for two weekends of story classes. This month we run a special guest contribution by Michael Hauge plus we give Melbournians the chance to win a free ticket to the event (worth $445).

Moby-Dick Book Cover

Many fiction writers, at one point or another, consider adapting their own work into film. Because both novelists and screenwriters use characters to tell fictional stories, and since both wish to reach the widest possible audience with their work, it may seem logical to assume the transition is a natural one.

Consider the wide gulf that
separates these two forms of fiction.

But before you begin such a difficult and often disappointing endeavor, stop to consider the wide gulf that separates these two forms of fiction.

The next time you’re in a book store, look over the section marked “Cinema” and you’ll see that almost every successful motion picture based on an original screenplay has been “novelized,” but only a small percentage of successful novels have been adapted into film.

This situation exists because screenwriters must conform to very narrowly defined rules and parameters, while novelists have much greater latitude in the ways they can tell their stories.

Lipeäkala 1955Only a small percentage of successful
novels have been adapted into film.

Novels may follow the structure that movies do, so the film to fiction transition is fairly straightforward. But movies must conform to a number of rules that novels don’t have to, so the adaptation process becomes very difficult, and the result is often a film that pleases neither the audience nor those who loved the original work.

Before you can adapt a novel into screenplay form, you must accept the fact that, no matter how much you love the original work, YOU MUST ELIMINATE ALL THOSE ELEMENTS WHICH DO NOT CONFORM TO THE RULES OF SCREENWRITING.

The result is often a film that pleases neither the audience
nor those who loved the original work.

This can be painfully hard, but the process is essential to creating a movie that will reach a mass audience.

(Continued next week)

-Michael Hauge

Creative Commons License photo credits: Hyokano and Tant C
MICHAEL HAUGE is a story consultant, author and lecturer who works with screenwriters, novelists, filmmakers and executives. He has coached writers, producers, stars and directors on projects for Will Smith, Julia Roberts, Robert Downey, Jr., and Morgan Freeman, as well as for every major studio and network. He is currently on retainer with Will Smith’s company, Overbrook Productions, where he was involved in the development of I am Legend, Hancock and The Karate Kid. For more info on Michael, visit www.ScreenplayMastery.com.
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Michael Hauge

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