Genre Based Writing: A Film Is A Film, A Play Is A Play And A Book Is A Book

“I watched that film but it bugged me all the way through, it wasn’t anything like the book.”

How many times have you heard this from people who are disappointed that their favourite read didn’t keep their favourite bits when it was adapted for screen or stage…

They followed its new incarnation but something about it wasn’t right.

New characters appeared, dialogue altered, the plot wasn’t the same or bits were cut out.  For them it made story a sort of Frankenstein of the original.

“Why did they do that,” they ask, deflated, “what’s that about?”

Genre based writing – the mantra

Writers often talk about writing for a specific genre. “Know your genre,” is a mantra.

Genre means the particular style of a particular work of art. Think about selecting a film to watch or a book to buy, they are often grouped, advertised and sold in genres.

Action movies aren’t the same as historical romance, well not usually

Horror isn’t the same as a musical. Even the Little Shop Of Horrors is a comedy rather than blood, guts and gore.

Genre works because it fits the style of the medium a book is being adapted into.

A writer thinks about the genre when they are looking at adapting a book to screen or stage.

The genre affects the adaptation

Holding a new book in your hands is a different experience than sitting down in front of a live or on-screen performance.

You are the only person in charge of turning the pages so there’s no time limit on how long you take to finish it, that isn’t the same with a play, film or TV show.

Aside from the editing the publishers or you did to make the content and the word length fit the book format, the length and everything else is in the hands of the writer: what they decides goes.

With a produced performance there’s a time limit to how long the story has before it’s told. Some characters and plot devices translate better from the page onto the screen as well and they may not survive the cut.

Book reading – you colour in the blanks

Then there’s the imaginative element. When you are reading a book it’s your imagination that colours in the blanks; that hears the voices of the characters, sees what they are wearing and visualises the settings.

In the world of performance, the art director, actors, costume designers and stage managers are doing that for you. There are even composers to add to your emotions and the setting too.

A play, a TV show or a film is a visual medium. A book isn’t.

Adaptation – the work of the team of writers

The work of a writer or team of writers is to approach the book as the basis of what is produced.

The word ‘basis’ is important here.

Telling the story in a linear, literal way as it is on page will not necessarily fit the visual genre and time limit on telling the story on screen or in a live performance.

A writer or team of writers have to view the book through a lens or as an audience member

And that changes how it’s told.

Breaking the rules

Adaptations can be done sympathetically and in some cases, they enhance the original.

The BBC TV series Wolf Hall took Hilary Mantel’s writing and turned it into a historical drama that authentically looked and felt like Tudor England.

“It’s such a long, long, book,” said someone, “it’s filled with minutae of detail that sometimes goes on for pages. I really liked the adaptation, it showed the best bits I felt.”

Sidney Lumet’s 1957 film 12 Angry Men was adapted for film from a teleplay. The film has 96 black and white minutes and only one set to tell a story and tell a story it does so very well.

The writer, Reginald Rose, adapted it for stage and it recently closed at London’s The Garrick Theatre, to rave reviews.

However the ‘genre’ rules still apply; there were differences between the original TV screenplay, the film screenplay and the stage performance.

A book is a book….

Reading a book is an imaginative experience and the 3D experience on screen or in a play is created in the mind of the reader.

The book is them and they are the book.

In the visual and performance mediums of TV, stage or film, the writers do that job for you.

This can change the original but sometimes it’s done so well, it becomes a classic in it’s own right.

Copyright Surbiton Writers Group 2016.

What’s your favourite adaptation?

Do you think the writers did a good job?

What book do you think is ripe to be turned into a play, TV show or film?