The Right "Write" For the Screen

Quinn Banford ’15 / Emertainment Monthly Editor

What makes a book “screenwritable?” Here’s the question that too many people aren’t asking themselves before they start adapting Finnegan’s Wake into a 1,000 page magnum opus. If you can write that into a beautiful film, give the Rosetta Stone a try, too. The only thing stopping you is probably your wild and uncontrollable insanity. Or maybe you’re James Franco.  He seemed to be able to adapt Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying into a feature, which is a bold statement against most book-to-film conventions. Why touch the untouchable?

Look at Stephen King’s apparent success as a “screenwritable” author. His novels are often filled with visual descriptions that the common reader can run along with right away. He has an accessible prose for the masses, and the same may be true for the film versions of his stories. There is not, however, a solid answer for King’s success. In his own words: “I think one of the things people relate to in my books is this warmth, there’s a reaching out and saying to the reader, ‘I want you to be a part of this.’” Well-rounded characters, interesting plots and sub-plots, and innovative storytelling help to entice readers. When readers are involved with his novel The Stand, they are experiencing it with the same level of attraction as they might with the characters in Stand By Me, a screen adaptation of King’s short story The Body.

Another literary icon, J.K Rowling, illustrates the idea that there is this single and enormous detail which captures the audience and whirls them around like a tethered ball, never letting them go, even when reality actually exists. Rowling can describe the world of witchcraft and wizardry better than most people can understand their own surroundings. This immersion is present in King’s works as well as C.S. Lewis’s, Lewis Carroll’s, J.R.R. Tolkein’s, and loads more. If you can write a world as detailed and intriguing as these writers, there’s sure to be a film producer looking for you with a sign saying, “Wanted: Writer, Dead or Alive.”

Aside from the almost-slightly-ridiculously-unachievable impossibility of becoming the next great fantasy writer, you may find your dreams twisted into the hope of writing a screenplay. If you can adapt a novel of theirs, you will be partaking in their imaginative world and broadcasting its inner workings to the visual world. That’s a beautiful thing. Keep in mind, the literary folk have a tough time writing screenplays because of their addiction to prose and pretty-sounding things. Ray Bradbury has a good story about this, and Fitzgerald famously sucked at it. Either way, you can be one or the other, (or hey, maybe both), but keep that dream alive and make the world you’ve created a connectable one.


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