November 8, 2019

Why The Book is Always Better- Part 1

By Dan Walsh

If you follow me on FB or Twitter, you might already know…one of my Bucket List items is likely going to happen, likely in the 2nd half of 2019. That is, one of my novels is being made into a feature film (The Reunion). It’s been in the works for 2 years, but after chatting recently with Nick Vallelonga, the writer/director who’s adapted the book into a screenplay, some very big name actors and investors are already interested and reading the script. They’re hoping to have the casting and all the pre-production tasks completed by the end of this summer, then start shooting in the Fall.

We’ll see. I sure hope that’s how it goes from here.

In any case, I couldn’t be happier with the guy who wrote the script. You may have heard of him, Nick Vallelonga. In 2018, Nick won 2 Golden Globes and 2 Oscars for Best Original Screenplay for his movie, Green Book (it also won in the Best Picture category - here’s a pic of Nick holding his 2 Oscars).

Clearly, my book is in good hands. And Nick and I have become good friends. He’s kept the script as true to the book as possible, including the faith elements. Even with all that said, I’m pretty sure after the film is made (and hopefully becomes a smash hit), people who’ve read my book and also see the film will undoubtedly say, “The movie was good, but the book was better.”

Why do I say that? Because that’s what everyone always says about a book-turned-into-a-movie. “The Book was better.” A couple of years ago, I was speaking at a charter school to a middle-school group of honor students. It was a creative writing class, and all the kids said they wanted to be writers when they grew up.

Knowing most writers are avid readers, I asked how many of them liked to read novels. Every hand went up. I said, “Name some books you’ve read that were turned into movies.” Everyone began calling out popular movie names, lots of examples were shared. Then I asked, “Keep your hand up if you liked any of the movies better than the books?”

Every hand went down.

I asked it another way, “Did any of you like any of the movies better than any of the books? Raise your hand.” No one did. So, then we talked about why this is so. That’s what I want to talk about with you, this month and next month. Why the book is almost always better than the movie.

See, having worked fairly closely with Nick (and several other movie creative types) in the last few years, I’ve learned a little bit about that world and some of the unique storytelling challenges they face.  The first one I want to address goes directly to the reason the book is always better.

Turns out, most movie scripts are only between 100-120 pages long. The rule of thumb is, 1 page of script per minute of film (so, a 2-hour movie script would only be around 120 pages long). You can see the challenge right away. Most full-length novels average 300 pages, or more. The Reunion is just a few pages shy of 300.

Talking with Nick, that was his biggest challenge adapting it into a screenplay. Nick absolutely loved the book, as is. As novels go, he thought it was perfect and wouldn’t change a thing. But, there’s the rub. Even as a 2-hour movie, he had to cut out almost 2/3 of the book to get the story to fit the time constraint.

Of course, you can shave a few pages because you don’t have to describe very much in the script. One pan of the camera, and you set the scene. But that only takes out a little (especially in my books, I’m definitely a minimalist when it comes to descriptive paragraphs).

But see, this kind of challenge happens every time a novel is made into a movie. Can you imagine completing your full-length novel then having an editor hand it back to you saying, “Okay, we like it, but we need you to delete 200 pages, but still keep the best parts of the story intact.”

There are other reasons why I believe people always like the book better (we’ll talk about some next time). But this one alone has given me a new depth of sympathy and appreciation for screenwriters who try and tackle such a seemingly insurmountable storytelling challenge as this.
Dan Walsh is the bestselling author of 21 novels (all available on Amazon), including The Unfinished Gift, Rescuing Finley, When Night Comes and The Reunion (now being made into a feature film). Over 750,000 of his books are in print or downloaded. He's won both the Carol and Selah Awards multiple times, 4 of his novels have been finalists for RT Reviews Inspirational Novel of the Year. Reviewers often remark about Dan's rich, character-driven storylines and page-turning suspense (even with his more inspirational books). He's been writing full-time since 2010. He and his wife Cindi have been married 42 years, have 2 grown children and 4 grandchildren. They live in the Daytona Beach area, where Dan grew up. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter, read his blog, or preview all his books by visiting his website at Dan’s books: If These Walls Could Talk - DAN'S NEWEST NOVEL, When Night Comes, Remembering Dresden, Unintended Consequences,  Perilous Treasure,  Rescuing Finley, Finding Riley Saving Parker and  The Deepest Waters (2nd Ed)

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