Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway’s contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. We ,the bloggers who love YA Highway, post our response and then link it in the comments of the YA Highway site. Pretty fun!
This weeks topic: It isn’t surprising that this month’s Bookmobile selection, Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone, has sold film rights; the darkly magical world of the Shadow Fold begs for an on-screen translation! But that got us wondering. We’d like to know, in your opinion, what is it that makes some books seem ideal for a film translation?
I am inspired by this topic for a couple of reasons:
1) Like most readers, great world-building and character development are the food for my imagination. Envisioning the world, and “casting” a book I love is one of my favorite parts of reading.
2) With my screenwriting background, editing a book for movie translation is something I never seem to be able to avoid. Some books are easy (like when I read The Hunger Games, but Suzanne Collins used to be a screenwriter) some are hard (like Pure, with it’s multiple plot lines and sensory overload), all are fun.
I agree with the author of this topic, Shadow and Bone will lend itself well to film. It’s ripe with vivid images and told in a straight line by the narrator. Finding the visual narrative thread, and knowing what perspective to shoot in, should not prove too complicated for the writer tasked with adapting the screenplay. And that, in essence, is my answer. Book to film translation is so tricky for those very reasons: narrative voice and scope. When you read a book, the author has pages and pages of time to build and fill and maneuver the characters into the heart of the reader.
When writing a screenplay, every page (which is made up of minimally described scene, action and dialogue) has to do a lot of work. Each page of a screenplay is the equivalent to one minute of screen time. Most screenplays are 120 pages, (2 hour films) with some being much shorter and some being much longer. The Hunger Games screenplay, for instance, would have been roughly 142 pages for its 142 run-time. The book was 382 pages, a 140 page gap. This is not even taking into account the difference in word count per page.
My point? A book to screen adaptation is reliant largely on how easy the information given in the longer novel is to translate into action. Screen time is action driven, even if its a character piece. This is where the breakdown happens, I think, with a lot of books turned to film. For a book to work as a film there needs to be a strong action thread (By action I do not just mean running, fighting, or killing. Action is just anything that pushes the plot forward.) and one that is easy to show on film.
To drive this point home: the seventh Harry Potter book made a horrible movie. The last half of the book, as well as the second film, was easier to interpret because it was pretty purpose driven. The first part of the book, and the first film, was plodding and pushed forward by sheer will. We got through both because we were all fully vested in the characters. This will not happen for every book-to-film adaptation.
Divergent should make a pretty compelling film, as long as they remember Tris’ energy and don’t get too bound up in being overly-clever with storytelling. With first person POV translations, the trick is finding a new narrative voice (why I think Twilight was such a massive failure) to help the audience into the story.
All of this to say…book to film is always difficult because as a medium they are completely different. The best adaptations are ones with clear purpose, clean storytelling, and images that lend themselves well to screen.