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Why Turning A Book Into A Movie Is Tougher
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One of my screenwriting Twitter followers asked me the question: Which is harder-turning a book into a screenplay or turning a screenplay into a book? Without any hesitation, I responded that it' s much more difficult to turn a book into a movie.
For one thing, you have much less room to tell the story when screenwriting. A novel can be 80,000 - 100,000 words and more, and take up hundreds of pages. A screenplay must, with very few exceptions, run 90 - 120 pages, with lots of white space on the pages. Average word count is somewhere around 20,000 - 25,000 words.
The reason there is a strict page count when screenwriting is that the rule of thumb when shooting a movie is that one screenplay page equals one minute of time on the screen. It doesn't always work out that way but you still need to be very careful with your page count.
So you can see the problem from the outset. Books have much more room to develop their stories and themes. They can spend a lot of time describing a scene or a character, and delve deeply into their backstory. Although it is important to keep an eye on page count because of production costs and marketing, novels have less exacting word counts.
Novels can be more flexible. They allow the writer to spend time on what interests them most. Novels also allow authors to have fun with the language, to show off their poetic flair, if they want to. For many people, including me, part of the joy of reading a great novel is the writing style of some of my favorite authors.
Novels can reveal what a character is thinking. In a screenplay, you can only write what can be seen and heard on the screen. Sure, there can be voice overs, but most producers and directors prefer not to use them unless they feel it is absolutely necessary for the story.
Screenwriting must be minimalist. Character descriptions tend to be very general, in order to allow for more casting options. Also, movie dialogue must be much shorter. Every sentence and every word must move the story forward in some way.
Novels have room for several subplots. The majority of movies only have one or two, if any. There's simply not enough time for them to develop in about 90 minutes.
Another reason that the screenwriting process is so demanding is that the audience only has a quick moment to get all they can form each scene. When people read a book, they can go back a few pages if something is not clear. People can't do that in a movie theater.
In novels, words tell us the story. In movies, images, along with dialogue, tell the story, but images are preeminent.
On the other hand, for the reasons already mentioned, turning a screenplay into a book is a much easier process. The writer can use all those ideas, characters and subplots he or she had to discard because of limited space and time constraints. They can have more fun with the language and more easily reveal the thoughts, emotions and motivations of their characters. If your novel is a few thousand words more than your editor asked for, you can probably get away with it. But if a screenplay is too short or long, it gets thrown away without even being read.
One challenge that a screenwriter may encounter when turning a screenplay into a book is that they now have to be more specific with details of locations and the visual appearance of their characters. So, although writing a novel is not easy, it is easier that writing a screenplay.
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