The Transition from Literature to Film

For decades, audiences have witnessed pieces of text translated into film adaptations, such as Dracula, Murder on the Orient Express, etc. Writer participation within the film making is usually nonexistent or very minimal, which is found to be strange considering they are the ones who have created the story, characters, etc. Literature translating to film will most likely continue but should the writer be more involved within film making?

  • Note: there are quite a few films where the author of the literature serves in a consultative role. Examples of this are the author of Inspector Morse in the eponymously-named series and the author of the Twilight series. – J.D. Jankowski 11 months ago
  • Three thoughts: 1) There is quite literally an entire field of academic study -- Adaptation Studies -- devoted to this exact premise. I'm having a hard time picturing what a short article with such a general scope might be able to add to the discussion that hasn't already been well-trodden territory in that field's many journals and monographs. If you're interested in reading some introductory material on the subject, I'd strongly recommend either "A Theory of Adaptation" by Linda Hutcheon or "Film Adaptation and Its Discontents" by Thomas Leitch. 2) If the intended focus of this article is the question of authorship, and particularly the lack of creative involvement the authors of source texts typically have in the creation of adaptations, then why do you only mention long-deceased authors (i.e. Bram Stoker and Agatha Christie)? It doesn't seem very likely/possible that either of them will have much input in contemporary film adaptations of their novels. Living authors by contrast, retain copyright over their works, meaning they get some degree of choice over who is given film-rights to their books. Even when they don't have screenwriter or consultant credits on the finished film, the fact that they sold the rights to such-and-such studio and/or filmmaker arguably acts as somewhat of a tacit endorsement, no? 3) J.D.'s suggestions are certainly more instructive, and there are no lack of similar examples. A few that immediately come to mind are GRRM's consultant role on Game of Thrones, Mario Puzo co-writing the screenplay for The Godfather, John Patrick Shanley writing and directing the film version of Doubt, etc. The list can go on and on. However, what I think might be more compelling -- and perhaps more relevant to the issue you seem to be raising -- are instances wherein the original authors are famously displeased with the films made out of their books. I believe this to have been the case with Milan Kundera's reaction to the adaptation of Unbearable Lightness of Being, as was Umberto Eco's to that of The Name of the Rose. (Interesting that both of these cases concern quintessentially postmodern novels, in which the form and content are inextricably linked; that said, Vonnegut apparently really liked the Slaughterhouse-Five movie, so who knows?) If you want to go even further back, prior to copyright restrictions, Dickens was famously displeased with stage adaptors in his own time writing and producing theatrical versions of his novels. What especially concerned him was when they did so prior to the novel's completion in monthly serialized publication, forcing these playwrights to make wild guesses at the endings … sometimes correctly, sometimes not (see Karen Laird's "The Art of Adapting Victorian Literature, 1848-1920" for more details). Anyway, hope some of that helps. – ProtoCanon 11 months ago
  • I'd suggest doing a lot more research on what is actually done when adapting films from literature. Generally the author may not be in a consulting role (for instance when not alive) but there are always organisations that have copyright over the text. A great example of this is the Tolkien Society that has to approve any pitches relating to any films or series that are based on Tolkien's plethora of literature. – cjvisser 11 months ago
  • I would say yes, writers of novels or other literary pieces set for adaptation should be more involved with the filmmaking process. Firstly, many undergraduate and masters level creative writing degrees are drifting towards a broader approach; making students take screenplay/play writing, prose, and poetry classes for their degrees. It would be silly to not use the creator of a piece if they have been trained in scriptwriting. Secondly, I believe that if a writer of say a novel has captured the attention of a readership, they should at the very least, be in a creative consulting role. The author knows the intimate ins and outs of their story, and more importantly to companies, what the audience does and does not like. If the readers pick up on this shift, you can bet the adaption isn’t lasting long, case and point the unfinished “Divergent” and “City of Bones” movie series's. – Nabs 7 months ago

Want to write about Literature or other art forms?

Create writer account