Regarding great novels written by great writers:
Why must people who write scripts for movies, use their "creative license" to make sometimes drastic changes and deviate from the original story of a popular novel? Why can't they "stick to the book?" If the book was good enough to be chosen to be made into a movie, why can't the original content get tranferred over to film? Of course, I have seen movies that followed the storyline, but most are changed, sometimes creating a whole new story? Why?
Anyone out there got any thoughts?

02/20/09 - Booted up my computer this morning, and guess what popped up on MSN? An article entitled "How Hollywood takes good books and makes them into bad movies." Talk about perfect timing!!!

Charlotte Williamson

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The notion that we should write the way people talk in real life comes from the keep-it-real school of creativity. It sounds like an attractive concept until you ponder what should be "kept real," and what should be supressed. Thirteen-year-olds also say "fuck" a lot. In fact, many of them, in conversation with their peers, swear more than adults. Should we write conversations between thirteen year olds with equal frankness, or should we sanitize them? What about stories about child molestation? Should detailed descriptions of sexual intercouse between middle-aged men and adolescent girs be encouraged? Are we therefore writing "cozies" if we discourage or censor such explicitness?

To me the desire for candor holds a clear and present danger (please accept my apologies, Mr. Clancy). If we practise realism in one area, we should demonstrate it across the board. People say "fuck" in real life, they also have sex graphically in real life. Even many romance novels avoid it, and mainstream movies proscribe it.

I agree that there are times when nothing but realism and frankness will do, but I think restrictions can be overcome with creativity and that profanity generally subverts, rather than enhances creative dialog. Then agains, I guess it depends on one's expectations. I want creativity, not necessarily realism. Memoirs and documentaries are much better suited to frank depictions.

Out of the critiques my works have received, not one, not even the scathing ones, have pointed out the lack of profanity. I think I'll just take their names and continue showing my stuff to the same people.
I agree with Jon. There are writers who use profanity as a crutch, but, when used well and in character, it's the same as any other language choices, and should be just as creative. I can't think of anything with more profanity than DEADWOOD, and few things have been better, or more cleverly, written.
Responding here to Pate--once again the little reply tabs seem to have disappeared in an extended sub-thread.

Yes, if I was writing a story about thirteen-year-old boys, I'd want to give readers a sense of how they actually talk. I don't know any thirteen-year-old boys, though, and can't think of any reason I'd want to write about them--so as a real-world scenario it's not likely to happen. Nor would I be interested in writing about child molestation; not sure why anyone would, and not sure how this equates, in any case, with grown-up, working-class characters talking to each other the way working-class grown-ups talk, in my experience.

I do, indeed, want to keep my characters as real and as engaging as I can make them, with the knowledge that not all potential readers are going to be comfortable with all of the language or images in my books--I do some pretty explicit stuff with sex and violence, too. That's fine--if people are put off by adult language/images, there are literally thousands of other fine crime writers they can turn to. Ultimately we write, or try to write, books that we'd want to read. That's pretty much the only restriction I impose: no matter what, it can't suck.

Also, yes, cozies by definition do not contain profanity, explicit sex, gore or much (if any) on-screen violence. Not at all my cuppa joe, obviously, but if people like them it's fine by me.

Again, I think you're setting up a false choice when you say you "want creativity, not necessarily realism." They're in no way mutually exclusive--that seems obvious to me. The authors I like manage to do both, in abundance, and also manage to make it look easy.
Yeah, but the Hays rules were absurd, and went way beyond limiting explicit sex, profanity or excessive violence; they were really about controlling the message and suppressing potentially subversive content.
One of my favourites is a pamphlet handed out by the studioes written by Ayn Rand. It laid out very clearly what movies should contain, including things like, "Don't diefy the common man," and "Don't smear industrialists."

Linda Richards has a new book out called Death was in the Picture that takes place in LA in the 30's and involves the production code.
I'm opposed to censorship. This is not to say that I don't find much of what is "out there" (nasty term) appalling and that I don't react with anger at certain things (for example novels and short-stories that rely on sadistic sexual abuse of women for their sales appeal).
As for realism in novels: you cannot clean up the language certain characters use without making the scene absurd. The language is part of the atmosphere and of the character. I don't know about explicit sex, but surely people feel something. If you don't use some detail, you may well end up writing the sort of "description" that appears on the final page of a Barbara Cartland romance and sends most readers into gales of laughter.
The "author" of a movie is the director. It's HIS story. Where it came from (the novel) is only one source of input.
Yes, I think you're right, there are many sources of input for a movie.

And movies can have different "authors." I've worked on sets with first-time directors and often in that case producers have more input and even DoPs. Sometimes a movie is driven by its star.

Sometimes directors are sort of "traffic cops" and direct only the filming - all the pre-production stuff, setting the budget and casting and all the post-production editing and music etc., are handled by the producer (sometimes producers really get the short end in these discussions, but they aren't always know-nothing hacks only worried about money).

A producer once said to me there are about five directors in Hollywood that run the whole show - not the same five all the time, of course, but rarely more than five who have final say over everything in any given year. The sheer amout of things that have to come together for a movie to work is staggering.

We always complain about that committee-style approach to storytelling, but sometimes in the movies it actually works well. Here in Canada we have completely bought into the auteur method so our directors almost always have complete say over every aspect of their films. Hasn't made them very popular, or for me, very good.
Thanks for your comments. But, why buy the book if you're not going to use the contents? Is it to be used as only, "based on a book by...?" And I totally agree that a few bad books were made into movies. "What were they thinking?" was my thought. Again, as in many of the comments received, the "old" masters continue to dominate. Appreciate your taking the time to comment. I certainly have learned something.
Screwed it up: "Catch 22": the book as written is probably unfilmable, but it was inevitable that someone would try.

Got it right: "The Unbearable Lightness of Being": a terrific book and a nearly perfect movie.

Improved on the book: "Being There." A brilliant performance by Peter Sellers; the book (perhaps unfairly) suffers in comparison.

As for Forrest Gump--didn't read the book but it's hard to imagine anything worse than the movie. Yet another example of popular not equalling good.
"Screwing it up," for me, means making a bad movie out of a good book. The problem with "Gump" the movie was its unbelievably saccharine sentimentality; after the first reel or so, I found myself hoping a serial killer would jump out from behind a bush and kill everyone. After the second reel, I hoped a serial killer would jump out from behind my seat and kill me. I saw it for free in the Holiday Inn bar in Provincetown, and I still wanted my money back. People booed and threw things at the screen--at least that was entertaining.
My observation: Americans have an incredible taste for stories of the handicapped bravely overcoming. Not sure if it started with Helen Keller, but it's still going strong, and the sentiment is always nauseating. I saw with dismay Sunday that my 8-year-old granddaughter has been brain-washed to bring home a Helen Keller book from school. There ought to be a law!


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