49. Faithful Adaptations
This week Kelly and JJ discuss FAITHFUL ADAPTATIONS: what makes a good or faithful book-to-screen adaptation? Also, we answer some listener questions and have A LOT of books and movies to talk about, so prepare thyselves.
What makes a faithful adaptation of a book? Kelly and JJ think that an adaptation that is faithful to the spirit if not the letter of the source material.
Film (and TV) are books are two different mediums and therefore require different types of storytelling, so what works in a book may not translate well to screen.
Example: internal dialogue makes for an awkward screen transition—constant narration or voiceover is gimmicky. Film is inherently a third-person POV.
An adaptation too slavishly faithful to the source material can be detrimental to the film if it does not stand on its own.
Film adaptations that have a distinct directorial vision can be hit or miss, but there is a difference between an auteur and a workhorse when it comes movies. Regardless of who is adapting the work, there should be a symbiotic relationship between the spirit or tone of both the book and movie.
Books and Adaptations Discussed
The Martian by Andy Weir (film)
The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (film I, II, III, and IV)
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone/Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling (film I and II)
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling (film)
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling (film)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling (Part I and II)
A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett (film)
Watchmen by Alan Moore (film) (the opening credits)
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (film I, II, and III)
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (film I, II, and III)
The Princess Bride (and the book by William Goldman!)
American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis (film)
Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen (film vs. miniseries)
Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen (film)
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (film vs. miniseries)
The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (film)
What We're Working On
Kelly is still training for her 5K.
JJ is still working on book 2.
Books Discussed/What We're Reading
The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller
Batman: Year One by Frank Miller
The Vault of Dreamers by Caragh M. O'Brien
Birthmarked and Prized by Caragh M. O'Brien
The Rose & the Dagger by Renée Ahdieh
Scandals of Classic Hollywood by Anne Helen Petersen (her pieces at the Hairpin)
The Midnight Star by Marie Lu
Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
Off Menu Recommendations
What You're Asking
I massively struggle with dialogue (irl and on the page tbh)—any tips on making this more natural? —Vanessa Leigh
Listening to actual, real life conversations (don't Harriet the Spy yourself!) and paying attention to not the words but the diction and cadence. Good dialogue needs to have a purpose—it needs to move the story along in some way, either plot or character. Good dialogue also acts on two levels: the actual content of what is being said, and the emotional subtext. There is also a difference between realistic and naturalistic dialogue. Really realistic dialogue is actually awful to read. Naturalistic dialogue just sounds like it could be realistic, but like anything else in your work, it's a construct.
Dialogue issues can fall into the following:
Problems with naturalistic dialogue. If this is your problem, then going out into the real world and paying attention to how people talk should help. Also, reading a play might be a good exercise.
Problems with infodump. Maybe the conversation doesn't need to happen and the information can be conveyed in narration.
The Joss Whedon problem. Everyone speaks in a heightened, stylized way. This depends on the reader, some people like it, others don't. In this case, I think stylized speech really needs to be rooted in characterization.
Also know that what people don't say can convey just as much information as what they do.
I had a question, as someone who can't seem to find a balance for this: when should you take the time to research, how do you know when you've done enough? How do you find reliable material? I am drawn primarily toward sci-fi and fantasy, and I will either bluff my way (unsuccessfully) through things I'm not directly familiar with, or I'll try (in vain, usually) to research the topic, only to get sucked down rabbit holes.
Bonues question: once you have the research, do you have tips on incorporating that information, without unnecessary descriptions, or infodumps? —Meghan
JJ feels your pain, don't worry. As to the first question: how do you know when you've done enough? Well, if the research is becoming a way to procrastinate from writing, then you've probably done enough. As for how to manage information and how to convey it in text, there are generally two stages of research for JJ: general or tone research, and incidental research. The former takes place before writing, when you're reading and absorbing material that interests you. The latter takes place as you're writing, to fill in the logistical holes that may arise. In real life we're not walking encyclopedias; we hold as much information as we need, and if we don't have it, then we look it up (nowadays on our smartphones).
Now, when you're writing outside your culture (a.k.a when does it become appropriation?), the first question you need to ask yourself is why are you writing this POV? It doesn't mean you can't include characters from a culture outside your own, but writing from inside that POV is a little suspect. But if you want to include diversity, then part of the research you need to do is immersion. Read primary sources. Read books by authors of that background. Consume their media. Follow important voices on Twitter.
Was wondering if you two could have an episode dedicated to what happens to the manuscript, in terms of editing, after it gets accepted by an agent. How willing is an agent to accept a manuscript that has significant plot or character issues, but shows a lot of promise? Will they accept the author on the assumption that they can help them clean i up? And the same question for the editorial side as well. —Sarah
As with a lot of other parts of this business, the answer is it depends. On the agenting side, it depends on whether or not the they are editorial, and it can also depend on their workload. A newer agent would have more time to dedicate to prospective clients, whereas an established agent would be spending more time on their existing list.
On the editorial side, the editor needs to be able to envision a place in the market for work on submission. The editor will need to know how to position it, how to market it, how to publish it, and then they will need to convey that vision to the editorial board so they will authorize the money. In this case, the story needs to be intact. It doesn't need to be perfect, but the structure needs to be sound: the beginning, middle, and end.
What You're Saying
Never Miss an Episode ★★★★★ writelikeyourerunningoutoftime I discovered this podcast only a month or two ago, but in between new episodes I have been catching up on old ones. Every single one is informative and entertaining. I'm not even scared to click Play on an episode titled "Contracts and Clauses," for example, because the hosts are that good. I want to be their friend!
First of all, A+ Hamilton reference in your username. Secondly, thank you so much!
That's all for this week, next week we'll be talking about TRANSFORMATIVE ADAPTATIONS. As always, you can leave us a comment if you any questions.