Thursday, May 27, 2010
Liked the Book Better? Don't Blame the Screenwriter!
Today’s blogpost stems from two Twitter Chats I attended recently. In last week’s YAlitchat, writers and educators were discussing how teachers influence what teens read. The subject of movies from YA books came up, causing the usual waterfall of tweets exclaiming, “Oh, my students were so disappointed in the movie!” and “I tell my students the book is always better than the movie!”
Usually, I agree with that. But lately, I get a sinking feeling in my stomach whenever I hear someone say it.
Because I wrote a screenplay. Adapted from my book.
And I have a different perspective now, because I know just how hard it is! Movies are a different media than books – you can’t slap a book into Final Draft and call it a screenplay. Even if you want to use voice-over narration for most of the film – and unless we’re talking about A Christmas Story, that’s probably a bad move – there are some things that just don’t translate from book to screen. And unless you’re talking about a very short book, you probably aren’t going to fit all the events into a two hour movie anyway. Thus – the adaptation.
Later that same week, Scriptchat was discussing Plot vs. Story. Basically, plot is what happens in the movie. Story is why we care – why we connect with characters, root for them, cry for them, and applaud at the end. When it comes to a book adaptation, I think viewers have to accept that the plot of the book may be changed to fit the screen, but the story should remain the same.
When I first read about the real, true Fox sisters, it was their story that drew me in. Two adolescent girls pull off a hoax that catapults them into fame. One of them is conflicted by guilt, but is persuaded into participating for the good of her family. Fame is the reason she meets the love of her life, but it also might be the reason she loses him. In We Hear the Dead, I adapted the real events of Maggie Fox’s life to fit the plotline of a novel. In the screenplay, I adapted them again – to play well in a movie. There are some differences, yes, but I believe both versions are faithful to Maggie’s story. There are even some true events that made it into the screenplay that didn’t fit in the novel. Go figure.
So, the next time you go to the movies to see your favorite book – expect the changes. Think kindly of the screenwriter, and judge the movie not on how closely it adheres to the plot of the book, but on how well it retells the story.