Books To Movies — Need To Focus

Thanks to the self-publishing revolution, many thousands of novels are published every year. Given the competition, how is an author supposed to break out of the pack and get noticed?

One possibility for expanding your audience is to try to convert your stories to movies. Sounds like a great idea, doesn’t it? Watching movies is a lot less work than reading. It stands to reason that the movie-watching public will always outnumber the reading public.

Not that the conversion process is easy. Novelist and screenwriter skills don’t necessarily equate. In fact, a novelist is likely to be too enamored of her sprawling story and plethora of characters to do the necessary trimming. That’s why I’m paying a pretty penny to have experts do this surgery to each of my beloved novels. These screenwriters are reputed to have experience in harnessing such sprawls into treatments, or outlines, which form the basis for screenplays. The process requires stripping away everything but the essential story, figuring out which scenes are cinematic, and employing various other tricks to increase dramatic impact.

It’s not only the plots that must be simplified, but the characters as well. My original rendering of The Rock Star’s Homecoming featured a shy college coed with two high-powered roommates whose personalities tended to squash hers. In the cinematic version, the two roommates are combined into just one girl, who has some of those Superwoman qualities but whose impulsiveness is more self-destructive than admirable. The movie would also reduce a campus-full of characters to one representative of each type … jock, Jesus freak, hippie, cheerleader, etc. Either way, the once-timid heroine learns not to be intimidated by any of them.

The movies’ endings will get my heroines closer to “happily ever after” than the novels do. Secretarial Wars features three D. C. secretaries who set out to outsmart the bureaucracy, each in her own way. In the novel, they overreached and crashed down to earth, with only the main heroine landing on her feet. In the cinematic version, all three will find the career success and romance they seek (once they get out of jail)!

Let’s Play Ball revolves around the question of whether the shady characters involved in a plot to kidnap a major league ballplayer will be brought to justice. In the movie, naturally, the villains are identified through the heroine’s amateur sleuthing and are arrested in a dramatic scene near the end. The novel, by contrast, features a much larger, less resolvable conspiracy. It takes time for the evidence of guilt to percolate all the way to the top of government. As it does, it takes down some of the participants and allows others to wiggle off the hook. In the end, the “happily ever after” feeling mingles with the suspicion that there are still mischief makers lurking, capable of striking again.

Do the simplified versions work better as stories? There’s no denying that they’re more dramatic. But I still maintain that novels can and should be different from movies. It’s okay to let them sprawl in every direction, like real life. It’s okay for your characters to be as complex and inconsistent as real people.