Many fiction writers would love to see the creative vision of their story come to life on a movie screen, but they may not want to shape their initial story idea into a screenplay. Writing novels, as you can learn with this course, and writing screenplays are quite different. With a novel, the writer gets to explore all of the internal landscape of a character’s mind. The writer gets to include several complex subplots, and the story is often one that takes months to write and several days to several weeks to read. A novel provides the writer with the space to describe what’s in their mind in detail and shape a character’s development over 300 to 400 or more pages. Of course, stories conveyed through the medium of a novel are meant to be read. Novelists want people to read their books.
The Storytelling Limits of Screenwriting
Screenwriting, however, is a strictly visual medium. Learn more about it with this Screenwriting course. Screenplays aren’t written, in the end, to be read; they’re written to be translated into a visual story, complete with dialogue, sound effects, and film score, on film. Everything that is in a novel cannot be communicated on screen. A character’s inner thoughts aren’t something that can be filmed. A novel usually includes detailed descriptions of every event that takes place in a story, and this can run up to 400 or more pages. A screenplay is limited to somewhere around 100 to 120 pages.
Obviously, when adapting a novel into a screenplay, much has to be cut. There are also many rewrites that take place on a screenplay before it’s finally locked in to what ends up being filmed. That means that if a writer writes their story in screenplay form to be filmed, their original vision will be changed several times. For this reason alone, many fiction writers embrace writing a novel over a screenplay. What is a writer to do who loves to write stories and would love to see their story in movie form, but doesn’t want to be a screenwriter
The answer is to write a great story that lends itself to being adapted.
Hollywood’s Response to Literature
Hollywood’s response to literature, especially young adult literature in the past several years, has given fiction writers much to hope for. Many of the most popular movies that have been released in recent years have been adaptations instead of original stories. Filmmakers are seeing the appeal of many novelists’ work and translating the creative vision of these novelists into feature films. Here are just a few examples of movies that have been adapted from novels.
- The Harry Potter series
- The Hunger Games
- The Chronicles of Narnia
- The Lord of the Rings
- Warm Bodies
- The Fault in Our Stars
Writing Adaptable Stories
If you’re going to write novels, your end goal shouldn’t be to write a novel that gets turned into a film. That kind of goal will only discourage you when your story doesn’t ever make it to the big screen. Instead, your goal should be to write a great story. However, there are some key storytelling strategies to learn from novels that are turned into successful movies.
- Memorable Characters
The most significant thing about successful movies that have been adapted from novels is the characters from those stories. When you think The Hunger Games, you think Katniss Everdeen. When you think Divergent, you think Tris Pryor. When you think Harry Potter, you, of course, think of Harry Potter. These are stories that are about specific characters, and the authors who have created them have spent considerable amount of time developing these characters into people we recognize for who they are. We know Katniss Everdeen by her choices, such as her choice to volunteer for her sister, to ally herself with Rue, to defy the Capitol with a handful of nightlock berries. Harry Potter has a deep and complex back story that is the foundation of who he is. These aren’t just stock characters. They’re people with personality, history, flaws, and dreams for what they want out of their lives. People identify with these characters because they feel like real people.
- An Imaginative Story World
The most popular movies that are adapted from books usually feature a very distinct and very different story world from the one we’re used to. It’s usually a story world that is so well developed that the reader feels like they’re experiencing it in their mind. It’s a story world that a reader wishes they could see and experience. Those are the types of story worlds that translate well to film. For many stories, the setting is incidental. The story could happen anywhere, and it would still be the same story. With most novel adaptations, however, the story world is integral to the story. Without the story world, it wouldn’t be the same story. The story world is almost a well developed character in the story itself. Who could imagine The Lord of the Rings without Middle Earth, Harry Potter without Hogwarts, Divergent without the dystopian faction-divided Chicago, or The Hunger Games without the nation of Panem. The story world is important, and if you want to create a story that sticks with readers, you need to spend time developing your story world. Here are a few questions to get you started with the development process of a unique story world.
- What is the story world’s history?
- What is the government like?
- What is the culture like?
- How are people divided?
- What do people value?
- What is considered a crime?
- An Emotional Journey
A significant part of what makes the characters memorable from novel adaptations is the emotional journey they take throughout the course of the story. A story has a plot where one event follows one after another, but what makes the best stories stand out is the amount of emotional investment a reader makes in the character’s journey. This means that the reader feels something from what happens to the character and what the character goes through. There’s an emotional investment a reader makes in Katniss Everdeen volunteering as tribute for her sister, Harry Potter witnessing the death of Dumbledore, Tris dealing with the guilt of shooting her friend, Frodo giving up all that is comfortable about his life to travel to Mordor. When you’re writing the events of your story, you want to write what will make your reader feel what’s happening to the character. You want the reader to make an emotional investment in the story.
Novels that effectively combine these three elements have brought about a very mutually beneficial response to literature from filmmakers. Authors such as J.K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins, and Veronica Roth have gotten to see their stories come to life in the movies that have been adapted from their books, and this in turn is causing many moviegoers to go back to read the original source material. If you’re a fiction writer, you might want to consider writing in the realm of young adult fiction, which you can learn about in this course, because young adult novels tend to grasp these elements better than most. Writing a great story won’t guarantee that your story will one day be on the big screen, but your goal should always be to deliver a story that captures the attention and emotion of readers.