What makes a good book a good movie? What makes a good book a bad movie? These are two questions that many people (especially those in the movie making industry) would probably like a clear and concise answer. Unfortunately, everyone knows that there is no clear, concise answer. In some ways, it’s a guess, a spin of the roulette, if you will. A gamble.
While this blog post doesn’t answer this question (how could it?), I will give my opinion on the subject, since everyone else does. Besides, I need to write about something. It might as well be this.
The movie, “A Wrinkle in Time,” which is a book I’ve read more than once, was recently released.
Now, I’m not going to delve into the reasons why this movie didn’t do well. Others have done it better than I could. I have also yet to watch the movie, so I can’t truly comment on it. This, however, brought up the question: why do some books make good movies and why do other books-as-movies fail?
I have a few ideas about why this happens. First, I’m going to look at a book that has done well as a movie (or three).
The Lord of the Rings – Peter Jackson and his team turned this book series into a rather successful series of movies. Though he couldn’t put every character and plot that was in the book into the movie (Tom Bombadil, where were you?), he did keep the spirit of the movie and characters. Not to mention, there were dramatic moments in the book that transferred well to cinema.
Now, to be honest, not everyone thought it was going to be successful. I remember reading one critic that said it was going to be the most expensive made-for-television movie ever made. Obviously, they were wrong.
But what made it successful?
I believe one of the most important things to do is to keep the spirit and theme of the book. When a director turns a beloved book into a movie, it is not for them to make it as they wish. Yes, they may have the right, but that is not what I’m talking about. Many directors have taken a book and put their own spin on the themes contained within. This was one of the most pointed arguments against “A Wrinkle in Time.” The themes and spirit of that book were abandoned. (Again, I can’t really form my own opinion as I have yet to watch the movie.)
This seems like commonsense. People who are fans of the book are more than likely going to watch the movie. You may or may not attract others. If you change the movie (not just the plot), you are going to make a lot of that fan base angry. If you can’t rely on fans of the book, then who can you rely on?
There is another book series that turned into a successful movie series.
The Harry Potter Movies – Again, when you read the books, the movies capture the same tone, spirit and themes of the original story. The Harry Potter in the book was the same Harry Potter in the movies, even if other elements were altered. So, when people went to see the movie, they were familiar with the characters.
In my opinion, it is rather disrespectful to change certain elements when creating a movie from a book. Now why do some directors do this? I have a few reasons. One, I think they are trying to capture an audience already in place. They are using the name of the book, but that’s about it. They don’t truly care about the source material. If they did, they wouldn’t make such drastic changes. Another reason may be less nefarious and more self-serving. They change the themes simply because they can. It is an arrogance. Another reason may be just to “put their stamp on it.” Now, I understand that some elements in a book don’t transfer well to cinema. Unfortunately, that is not why things typically change. It is also not the type of change I’m speaking about.
More than once, I’ve seen a movie diverge from the book and asked my wife, “Why did they change that?” If the reason isn’t obvious, then perhaps it should’ve been left in. That’s just my opinion. I’m sure directors have reasons, though not all reasons are legitimate.
Another reason (and the last one for this blog) why I think some books fail as movies is the lack of the visual, lack of the dramatic. This is true especially for the types of movies such as the ones mentioned above. Directors sometimes try to build those scenes into the adaptations of the book, but if they aren’t there in the original reading, it’s going to fall flat.
I think those types of stories, fantasies, need the climactic-worthy scene. Something that will evoke the emotion in the viewer. Some books don’t have that in their stories, and that’s fine. It doesn’t take away from the book. However, maybe it is not a movie-type of book, which is fine as well. In the end, some books lend themselves to be movies, while others aren’t. That doesn’t say anything about the quality of the book at all.
To quote a “popular” saying, “It is what it is.”
On Valentine’s Day of this year, I finished book three of my Scar of the Downer series. Though I have yet to come up with a title and have some editing left to do, I now see the light at the end of this tunnel.
It has been a long journey, one that I’m not quite finished with yet. Nearly thirteen to fourteen years ago, the idea of Crik first came to me. I didn’t know him by that name then, but the character was still the same, and so was the story. From the beginning, it was always going to be about a group of runaway slaves yearning to live free.
When I originally wrote the very first draft back in 2007, the three books were all in one 120,000-word volume. Over the course of several years, as the world in my story expanded, I decided to break the book up into three separate, yet smaller, novels. No one was going to publish a young adult novel that large from someone unknown, someone like me. It’s difficult enough to get a book published at all.
I can honestly say that from the very beginning, I always knew what the end of the story would look like. I always knew where my characters had to go.
I’ll be honest, it felt strange to write what I wrote this week. Some of you may understand, some of you won’t. I’ve talked about this moment for years with my wife, and now it is here. It’s one thing to read a book and come to its ending. Sometimes it happens in days, sometimes weeks, sometimes months. I’ve never experienced something this massive. Nearly thirteen years of life dedicated to this one story. But now, now it’s coming to an end.
For these past years, I’ve lived it.
There hasn’t been a day that I have not thought about Crik and his plight. Though most people in this world have never heard of this book or this series, let alone have read it, it is a part of me. If people don’t know this about me, they really don’t know me.
How can this story not be that interwoven with who I am?
Besides God and family, I can think of little else that has occupied my thoughts more than this book, more than these characters. To most people, understandably, these characters have little to no impact on their lives, but for me, they’re as real as unreal people can get.
How do you say goodbye to something like that?
The short answer is you don’t. I doubt any other story will stay with me as long as this one has. It has been a project that has been with me before my oldest daughter was even born.
I know this sounds melodramatic to the reader, but this is a chapter that is closing in my life. I will be moving on to other projects, perhaps never to write about Crik again. Never to talk about what he will do, only what he has done. It is a bittersweet thing.
Like time, however, stories march on.
Because my last blog post was slightly negative, I decided that I am going to focus on something good, something positive, something that will stir the hope in the heart. We all need it, right? What stirs hope more than life? What stirs hope more than springtime after winter?
Well first, a bit of history. Though it’s a little outside the topic, I thought it was interesting.
Spring was once called Lent, which was derived from the Latin word lencten meaning spring. Makes sense, I know. Eventually, however, it became known as springing-time in the 14th century. It was the time when the plants were springing up. Again, makes sense. Then over the next two to three centuries it was shortened to spring-time, and then to just spring.
As we have crossed a threshold and are now nearing the middle of winter, the expectation of springing-time, of hope, has entered the bloodstream. On those brief warmer days, you can even smell it. Though I love the snow and how the sun gleams off its surface, I do also enjoy the warmth and greenery of spring and summer.
What stirred these thoughts? I’ll tell you.
As my family and I were driving to Old Forge this past weekend (just before a snowstorm hit), we drove past Whetstone Gulf, one of the great New York State parks situated on the outskirts of the Adirondacks. This past year, my family and I camped there several times and it now has become one of our favorite pastimes.
There is something primal in it, something that harkens back to a lost time.
I love waking up and smelling the early morning air in the woods. Much to my surprise, my children love it just as much.
They love to hike the ridge that lines the gulf, which when seen from the peak, leaves those who are frightened of heights a bit wobbly in the knees.
They also love to swim in the cool water that flows through the park, which I must admit is bit cool for me.
They love to get ice cream from the gatehouse. They love to ride their bikes around the campground. They love to eat over an open fire.
Do you see the trend? They love…
And I love that we get to spend time together as a family away from the modern world (for the most part).
So, as we wait in expectation for springing time to return, we wait in hope that another summer will begin with those same words: They love…
If I can begin a sentence with that, it is a sentence worth writing.
I’ve changed over the years and, as I look at myself more closely, I see that I’m still changing. Now, the changes that have taken place have not always been huge, dramatic changes. In fact, most of them have been incremental, infinitesimal, so minute in some cases that they weren’t noticed until years later. In short, I am not the man I was yesterday, nor will be tomorrow. Yet, I am still the same. Strange, isn’t it?
This blog post isn’t going to be a deep, philosophical treatise on this topic, but I did think it was important to mention.
There is an inevitable question that most undoubtedly is running through people’s head as they read this: how have I changed (according to myself)? Well, I will give you three examples that I’ve observed in my own life.
I don’t feel as happy as I once did. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to confess that I’m deeply depressed nor that the life has gone out of me now that I’m 40. And maybe “happy” isn’t the right word. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve lived through a decade of cynicism in my own life and this just may be the byproduct of that outlook. Lewis himself states, “A man whose mind was formed in a period of cynicism and disillusion, cannot teach hope or fortitude.” I would put an addendum to this and say, “A man whose mind spent a time in a period of cynicism and disillusion, must find hope and fortitude again.” I, however, don’t like this change in me. God has blessed me with a good life and I don’t want to express an ungrateful attitude toward Him over that. It’s just that things that once excited me have lost their flair. I see it in my writing and things that once inspired me.
Perhaps it is not that I’ve lost happiness as much as it is that the way I’ve seen the world has changed. OR, perhaps the way I now see the world has contributed to this perceived loss of happiness. (This is not to say that I’m not happy. I’m just saying that I don’t feel AS happy as I did in my twenties.) Maybe this is a part of growing older, coming to grips with one’s mortality. (Wow! I know. It just took a dark and depressing turn.) Oh well, whatever I’m feeling and whatever the cause may be, it is one minor change that has grown on top of another over the years. Perhaps this why a portion of the books in the Scar of the Downer series center on finding hope in the darkness.
One more thought, which was brought to my attention by my wife. Now the meaning was in the words I’ve written, but the word itself wasn’t. Words are important, however, so I should not fail to mention. Contentment. That is the true goal, not happiness, since happiness is circumstantial and fleeting – a truly difficult, intangible element to hold on to for very long.
The second change I’ve noticed sort of ties in with number one. When I would write in my late twenties, I would wait until my wife and daughter were asleep before I sat down at my desk and typed away. Throw in a few years and some gray hair, I don’t find myself writing at night that much anymore. If truth be told, I find myself falling asleep on the couch. Back then, I didn’t need much inspiration to sit me down and write. I had drive. That, alone, was its own motivation. As the years went on, however, the drive had lessened. But I was in luck. I found the thing to motivate me – two things actually: movie trailers and music. Weird, right?
Well, as the years progressed even further, I discovered that the trailers and music are losing their inspiration. I sometimes find myself stuck staring at a blank page. I know where the story is going, but I’m not so sure anymore how to get there. Even after having two books published, I sometimes find it is more difficult to write now than ever before. See! More incremental changes that have taken place. My creativity could be waning. More pressing matters in life could be pushing it out of my mind. I don’t know. I do know it’s been a struggle as of late.
A third change is the gray hair in my beard and on the side of my head. There’s really nothing more to say on that.
I’m sure if I looked more closely, I could find more incremental changes. Now, all of these changes do not have to be permanent. Even the gray hair can be colored if I so desire. Perhaps some of these are nothing more than then the normal fluctuations of life. We’ll see. Who knows? Maybe this time next year I’ll be writing how I’ve changed again, but with a darker head of hair.
Scott Keen is the author of two young adult fantasy novels, Scar of the Downers and Rise of the Branded. His third and final book of the Scar of the Downer Series should be released sometime next year.