So I’m about a third of the way through the Ichabod screenplay project now, and it’s teaching me quite a few things–the only trick is that I’m not entirely sure yet what those things are. Some things are obvious: my dialogue needs some work here and there to get it up to snuff. Thinking about someone actually saying what I’m writing in a conversation is different than writing it, if that makes sense. I should keep that in mind when I’m writing my next project. On the other hand, other things this process is teaching me are muddier. For example, I’m cutting out a lot. The book’s something like 70,000 words, give or take. 110 pages, where the length of “pages” in this case doesn’t really matter–it’s just a way of breaking it up. They’re Times New Roman single spaced pages, if that makes you feel better. Anyway. I’m shooting for 110 screenplay pages. For those of you who haven’t seen a screenplay page, there’s a lot less real estate to work with. Courier, for one thing, and dialogue is centered and has drastically reduced margins. So when you have a lot of dialogue, you burn through your page count pretty fast. I’m having to really be picky about what I put in and what I leave out.
As I do that, though, I find some sections that can really be cut without too much of an impact on what I’m trying to do. This leads me to ask myself why I kept those scenes in there in the first place. For a while, I was thinking that I really ought to trim down the manuscript, as well. But then I realized that there’s always something to cut. If you keep at it, you can get the Lord of the Rings down to a sentence: Furry small people have to throw a ring into a volcano or everybody dies. But what’s the fun in that? So much of the interest in literature isn’t just found in the plot. It’s found in all the different layers. Characterization, dialogue, setting, subplots. To trim too much of one would be disastrous, just like watching a film without any soundtrack would really detract from the film’s power.
I suppose what I’m trying to get at is that I’ve studied adaptation a lot, but it’s one thing to study it and another to do it–and even another to do it to your own work. I put those things I’m cutting out in there for a reason. Sometimes it pains me to cut them, but *surprise*–books aren’t movies, and movies aren’t books. You’ve got to change things to be successful. So the next time you go into a movie and come out saying “it wasn’t as good as the book,” maybe you ought to ask yourself what you wanted in the first place, because that’s like biting into an apple and saying “it wasn’t as good as an orange.” Sure, they’re both fruit, but they both of drastically different evaluative standards to determine a “good” apple or a “bad” orange. I like my apples crisp, for example. If I bit into a crisp orange, I’d probably spit it out and wonder what was wrong with it.
And if you’re *still* thinking about how bad a job the movie you just watched did of adapting the book, start to think about what it was that went wrong. Why was it such a bad film? Because if your only justification is that it didn’t capture what you liked about the book, once again, I’d say your expectations were in the wrong place. Think about how you would go about adapting the book. What would you have kept in–and more importantly, what would you have kept out? Because no one wants to watch a seven hour exact filming of a book, regardless of what you might believe. At least, not enough people want to watch it that the movie would ever be profitable. The difference with books is that there are enough people willing to go through 900 pages or whatever. That make sense? ‘Cause if it doesn’t, I’d be happy to elaborate. 🙂
I’ll get off my soapbox now. Thanks for listening.