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Screen Play vs. Book
by Michael J. Lee
A little while ago, my friend Vivi Anna talked about adapting her books to the big screen.
I have a slightly different perspective on that. My Frankenstein was originally a screenplay that I turned into a novel. Also, in the past I worked as a reader for a production company and I sometimes read novels with an eye towards adapting them into movie projects. It was an amazing experience and it really opened my eyes to the differences between the two story telling forms.
For starters there’s a huge difference in just the number of words. Novels don’t even start until around the 50,000 word limit. Screenplays on average have around 15,000 words. A screenplay is between 90 and 120 highly formatted pages. Novels can be over a 1000 pages single spaced.
So how do novels fill out all that extra space? Well you could describe every single item and action down to the last molecule. But if your goal is a compelling story rather than a cure for insomnia you have to use a different method. Sure a novelist has to describe a lot more than a screenplay writer. But most of novels fill out those blank pages with what I call lateral movement. These can be subplots that are taking place away from the main characters, personal histories, or private thoughts. Things other than the forward movement of the main plot. This results in a deeper, richer story. It’s a useful tool because a character who physically just entered a scene can have an entire history described in a few paragraphs. In a screenplay he just walks in and the audience knows nothing about him. All that richness has to be expressed in some other way.
Screenplays on the other hand are all forward motion. It’s a very linear method of story telling. There’s no time for remembrances of things past. Your characters aren’t there to watch sugar crystals melt into coffee cups. They are there to do something. Action is character, character is story. The writer here is also part of a team. Directors, DP’s, editors, and production designers are all responsible for creating the mood and setting. Stunt people and FX wizards are there to provide the magic and the adrenaline. Your main job as a screenplay writer is to give the actors something to do. And that means more than just good dialogue (although that helps immensely.) It means creating and maintaining believable character motivations from the beginning of the script to the end.
The problem with converting books to screenplays is often you have to cut a lot of material. The problem with converting screenplays to novels is you have to add. What’s easier, cutting or adding? That depends on the story and the writer.
Michael Lee is a script consultant, judge and entertainment blogger for The Wrap.com and has lived in Detroit, Connecticut, Ohio and Los Angeles.
March 3, 2011
In a small village in early 19th Century young Eva is enthralled by the new young baron, Viktor Frankenstein. Viktor promises to transform the traditional little town into a beacon of science and gives the book loving Eva access to his fantastic library. Eva becomes his student and assists him in a secret experiment, though she is kept in the dark about its ultimate aim. Soon after that Viktor introduces Eva to his “cousin” Adam. Adam is horribly disfigured with stitches running across his face. Viktor claims he is mute and simpleminded, but Eva takes pity on him and sets out to teach him to speak.…
What follows is a combination of tragic romance and classic horror as Eva is pulled between Viktor, who grows jealous and takes murderous steps to ensure his secret, and Adam, who possess tremendous strength and rage yet deep inside is innocent and vulnerable.
In his debut fantasy novel, Michael J. Lee retells the classic story by Mary Shelley as a dark romance with steampunk overtones.
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