By Parinda Joshi
A writer should concern himself with whatever absorbs his fancy, stirs his heart, and unlimbers his typewriter, said award-winning American writer EB White in an interview to The Paris Review in the early 1900s. Timeless as that little nugget may sound, Mr White would perhaps have to rethink that if he were alive today and writing for the screen.
For one, the only use a writer can find for a typewriter in the current digital age is perhaps as a prop for a distinctive old-world charm kinda Instagram photo. More importantly, it can be argued that writing a screenplay is perhaps the antithesis of ‘whatever absorbs your fancy’. There are rules to be learnt and formats to be followed. Ironically, one of Mr White’s books, Stuart Little, was adapted into a movie series, but well after his death, so my argument still holds.
Writing a book and writing a screenplay are two entirely different things.
Assuming one can do the latter because one is experienced at the former is like assuming one can fly a military helicopter because one steer a ship. Okay, perhaps I exaggerate. A more realistic parallel would be skiing and snowboarding; both sports require familiarity with navigating the snow but the similarities end there. Essentially, an entirely new art form needs to be studied for a novelist who wants to venture into the screenwriting space. It’s not all just about tools and techniques either. It’s a personality thing; some people are just better suited for a specific type of craft. Screenwriting, for instance, is more dialogue heavy and requires a knack for it.
There’s an age-old debate that’s doing the rounds on the geek circuit on whether books are better than the movies they inspire. The jury is still out on that but we can all agree that the two mediums of storytelling have different aspects and prerequisites for what makes them good. Books are wonderful because they allow the reader to be a part of the story, giving insight into the character’s thoughts and emotions. There’s more detail, more focus on character development and more depth.
On the other hand, the great thing about movies is their ability to show, and the overall experience of watching one. Books allow readers to employ their imagination to make their own flights of fancy, whereas movies are a director’s interpretation of a writer’s creation; they immerse you into the story in a different way than a book including with music and visual effects. Both are potent in their own ways.
For a writer to be a part of both mediums (that is when a book gets adapted for screen) can be exciting but confusing and challenging as well. For starters, you often go from being the solo pilot of your aircraft to multiple co-pilots. It can easily get crowded. And writers are hella opinionated. Imagine those razor-sharp opinions flying at breakneck speed in that tiny cockpit.
With the screen medium, while the heart of the book will be retained, everything else can and may be developed or modified. The screenplay will also need to add layers if they’re missing in the book. And this will come with many changes, such as the voice, the tone, the sequencing, the dialogue, and sometimes, the direction of the story too.
Certain changes may be for the better, others because you were out of luck. Which means the apple can potentially fall far from the tree. Really, really far. But it will still be your apple. Except that it won’t look like the apple that you originally created. The more the apples differ in taste and aesthetics, the more they’ll be compared. And guess who the spotlight will fall on when it comes to answering those questions?
On the bright side, this transition will bring financial rewards and may open up a new world of opportunities. Just make sure to embrace both the apples.
First published in eShe’s March 2020 issue
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