Writing – books and screenplays and why some work and others don’t

I have been reading a lot of screenplays and books lately. Everyone wants to turn a book not a movie and I have to say, it is my experience that most books are better left as books. Many screenplays are better left as short stories. Just because you have it, doesn’t make it so.

It’s hard to pinpoint what makes a book especially appropriate to hit the big screen. Sure, there are series books like Twilight and The Hunger Games but more serious books don’t always make the transition well. Remember, when we read a book we use our imaginations to create the world written for us. In the movies, someone else is doing it for us.

I recently read a book which hasn’t been published yet, written by a well known author in order to see if it might be a good movie. I enjoyed the book and thought ‘Well done, you’ve written a good book. You have lots of experience writing good books. Imagine how many people would like to be you.” Did I suggest it be made into a movie? No. I passed. Why? Because something’s don’t translate. The world created on a page is not always substantive enough to last for two hours of dialogue and action on a big screen. Characters have to be complex, stories have to be deep and winding and there has to be something special, something that we haven’t seen before, something that makes this need to be more than just the most brilliant piece if writing someone can produce, a book.

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Interestingly, though there are a good number of well written screenplay I often, more often lately in fact, find myself telling people that their screenplay might be better off as a short story or indeed, a short book. It’s just the opposite way of thinking. People write presumably because they have something to say. Does this something need an actor and settings and someone else other than the reader creating it? Are you writing it so Angelina Jolie can star? Most often, the stories that work best for screenplays have something important to say or something very funny to say. A relationship needs to be explored or history needs to be uncovered. Lately, much of the work I read, the small screenplays about ‘life’ or a group of people, don’t need to be seen. A movie needs an audience, just as a book does. Who is going to see your screenplay?

Lastly, to those brave self-published authors and there are more and more of them out there. Social media is your friend. That’s no secret. When you transition from self-published to company published and get an agent who gets your work to an editor and so on, other than the writing, what people look for are numbers. How many have you sold, yes? But also how many followers do you have on Twitter, Facebook and whatever other outlet there is. It’s about selling the story, not telling the story. Reviews are great but unless you’ve got 1,000,000, it’s not that impressive to an editor.

Be happy with your accomplishment, There is not always a next step to another medium. Keep at it and maybe someone will see that there is promise in your Harry Potter novel for a set of movies to bring in billions. Perhaps not. But you wrote it, didn’t you? And that’s what counts. Write where you feel the most comfortable and don’t do it for anything but that medium. Write a book for people to read as a book and as screenplay for people to perhaps see on the screen. Don’t think too far ahead. We only have the here and now. All I can write is this blog post and I expect nothing more of it.

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