Another stack of papers moved!

Whew!!! As of this second, I have finished writing all of the articles I promised to write for people over the last six months. I now take a holy vow: No More Articles. It’s hard enough to stay on top of family, books, speeches, mail, and life. I do not have enough brain cells for articles.

Next project? Write the speeches I have to give this fall. Then it will be back to book writing.

I had a fun time speaking at Cornell on Wednesday. Gorgeous campus. The highlight for me was spending time in their Rare Books & Manuscript Collection before I spoke. Cornell houses the papers of E.B.White, author of Charlotte’s Web, etc.

I often point to Charlotte’s Web as having the best opening line in children’s fiction: “”Where’s Papa going with that axe?” asked Fern.” It was with profound joy that I discovered that White struggled through many, many different opening lines and scenes – several of them clunky – before he hit on that magical combination of immediacy and suspense. If revising over and over again was something that even E. B. White had to do in order to make his writing sing, then I feel better.

Thanks, btw, to kramtark and the other folks who came to hear me at Cornell.

ftjoshua wrote: “Do you think it is “right” or “fair” for Hollywood to make changes without the author’s consent? I understand the author usually signs away the rights to film, and that an author who doesn’t is less likely to have a film made of her book. But in spirit, do you agree with this practice?”

If you don’t sign away the rights, you won’t be offered a contract; plain and simple. Directors don’t want book authors bossing them around. Is it right? Is it fair?

To answer those questions fully, you should learn a little bit about screenplay writing. Screenplays are the scripts that are used to shoot a movie. There are standard requirements about screenplays – the length of time each page takes to shoot, etc. Many novels have complicated structures with layers of sub-plot and characterization. It is impossible to cram all of that detail into a 2-hour movie. Then you get into budget issues. SPEAK was made on the barest-bones budget imaginable, and it cost one million dollars. No producer is going to take on a project that comes with an author attached who will insist on seeing a fully-accurate representation of her book on the screen because it will bankrupt the project.

Is it right? Is it fair? No, but life is not fair. Life is just life.

9 Replies to “Another stack of papers moved!”

  1. After taking an acting class, i gained a new respect for some of the decisions that films make. You have to physically represent certain things (like thoughts) that could be shown in writing, so if you can consolidate a few important details by altering a scene or subplot in a way that makes it easier to phsyically portray the important themes, then it makes sense to do it. I forgive certain differences on these principles. But i still have a hard time with wide swings away from the author’s intentions or mood.

  2. hmmmm

    Well I have a question. I just got your book speak today and just finished it today, and now im wondering, does the tree in the book have a symbolic meaning?

  3. What EBW hated was the wholesale moving of scenes for no other reason than the whim of the scriptwriters. He didn’t allow his books to be made into movies, for the most part, because every time he saw the script, these changes had been made to what he’d written, and that seemed to get under his skin. There are quite a few letters he’d written (they’re somewhere in “Letters of E.B. White”) stating this. So White definitely would not have approved these so-called adaptations of his books that have been coming out all over the place.

    BTW, I would LOVE to go to Cornell and look at White’s collection. Oh, Laurie, you are so lucky!!! Man! Obviously I’m a fan of White’s. Back in the early 90’s, when I started college, I ran into White’s New Yorker essays and for a couple of years there I was sucking down everything he wrote. It was great. He is the boss.

    If you want specifics of how many drafts it took White to come up with the first sentence, there’s an essay at the beginning of the 50th Anniversary printing of Charlotte’s Web, originally printed in the Horn Book, detailing this. Very interesting stuff.

    Okay I’ll settle down now.

  4. From what I have read over the years, it is true.

    First off-
    A novel simply cannot be transferred word for word or even scene for scene-it’s flat out impossible. Huge chunks of a book MUST be cut out or drastically revised and shortened.

    Although there ARE exceptions- where large chunks of ‘story’ must be ADDED to the screenplay to HAVE ninety minutes of film…
    Sarah Plain and Tall is one (and rare)example.
    (It’s a slim 58 pages thick!)
    There are also examples where say, a short story from a magazine can be easily transferred to the big screen as the story usually takes up only fifteen or twenty pages and a movie is at LEAST ninety minutes long.

    Another ironic example I just read about was the author of the illustrated childrens book, THE ANT BULLY. (1999)John Nickle.
    It was rejected twenty times by various publishers.
    One day recently Tom Hanks daughter (yes THAT Tom Hanks)brought it home from the library and he bought the film rights.
    Basic childrens book is only 32 pages long and half of that is artwork so we’re talking transferring 16 pages of dialogue into a ninety minute film!

    I am not aware of actual numbers but yes, if the author is lucky, (and this is above and beyond the luck of getting published!) the director or screenwriter will ‘go over’ a rough treatment of the screenplay (maybe)before the author signs the contract…and then the author chews their nails to the bone waiting to see the film a year and a half later.

    But many authors know that even if the film bombs, theres always the book.

    And nobody goes out of their way to MAKE a bad film.

    After all…the director and screenwriters usually spend two years on a project and then that gets added to their resume and affects if and when they are able to do more projects.

    And they all know theres a built in audience for the film from the book. (and the bigger the sales on the book the larger the potential audience will be for the film: Davinci Code ($210 million total)and Bridges of Madison County ($70 million total) for example.)

    But it has always been a crap shoot for all involved.
    As William Goldman has said over and over again, “Nobody knows anything.”

  5. I guess that’s why

    books are always better than the movie version. Books have all that intricate detail that cannot possibly be shown in a movie adaptation. The only movie that was as good as, as well as followed the book completely was Holes (Louis Sachar) Amazing book; amazing movie. They were interchangable with one another to what I would call complete accuracy. I am yet to see another fine example of a movie made out of a book. (I did like the Speak movie though; it just didn’t follow the book how I wanted, but it exceeded my expectations and made me second guess my philosophy of movies-suck-and-destroy-literary-enjoyment.)

  6. >White definitely would not have approved these so-called adaptations of his books that have been coming out all over the place.

    I’m curious which adaptations you mean? I try to keep abreast of these things and am wondering if I missed some. The new Charlotte’s Web movie’s not out yet, and the old one, it’s so painful to say, was made when White’s wife was very ill and he was forced to see the movie rights to CW to pay her bills. He’d been holding off for years and years, as every time they offered him a deal, they wouldn’t promise not to change the ending and have Charlotte live. Well, in the end of that movie, she did die, but that may have been the only thing in that movie that was “faithful” to the book. Ugh!

    Oh, I just realized you probably mean the Stuart Little movies? I never saw ’em, but they looked pretty appalling.

    I was lucky enough to work in the Rare and Manuscript Collection at Cornell and look at the collection myself. It really is something to see. If you’re ever in Ithaca, it’s worth taking a look at it (and some of their other popular treasures — the handwritten copy of the Gettysburg Address, I’ve seen parents break down while reading it to their kids — the cuneiform tablets, the jade statuettes, the facsimile of the Book of Kells, the phenomenal Audubon collection). In the White collection I’m particularly fond of the diorama for CW that some elementary school class made for him.

    A brief thought on movie adaptations. I watched Speak with my heart in my mouth and my fingers gripping the seat — rather the same way that I read the book. But I’m pleased to read ‘s analysis of the end, which makes perfect sense: I knew that I felt like both book and movie ended “right,” but I couldn’t have formulated why. And even though I’m very much a “book-is-always-better-than-the-movie” champion, every so often there’s something that can perhaps be done best visually. The opening scene — Melinda with stitches over her mouth, there’s an image I can’t shake. And then the rape scene.

    For the most part, being outside of Melinda’s head instead of in it was distancing. In this particular scene, having to actually see what was happening, see her trying to scream and being silenced — aaahhhhh! That nearly gave me nightmares, in a way that the book, which was overall more traumatic to experience, didn’t do. I’m so glad to have both. I think the Speak movie is one of a very, very, very small number of adaptations I actually like very much — perhaps even as a kind of complement to the text.

  7. Yes, I mean the Stuart Littles and the Trumpet of the Swan. I see previews of these from time to time on my daughter’s DVD’s, and keep shouting out, “That wasn’t in the book! That wasn’t in the book! Oh, that totally was not in the book.” I mean it’s not moving a few things around, it’s just taken the name of the book and the main characters and a few situations and just made hash of them, and then ate the hash.

    Oh, Ayelle, you are so lucky to have worked there! But I had no idea that all those other neat things are up there. I remember reading about that diorama. Maybe I should make a pilgrimage one of these days.

    I did see one movie that remained pretty true to the book, and that was Oprah’s production of Beloved by Toni Morrison. I actually felt I understood the book better after I saw the movie — that doesn’t happen very often! So I was really impressed by that. She did a good job.

    Oh, BTW, my name’s Melinda too! And actually, Laurie, I met you at the 2001 SCBWI NY conference — five months pregnant (I don’t know if I was showing) and I told you your books kicked literary ass. Except I had to tone it down because you were talking to a member of your critique group. Fun conference, even though I wanted to barf occasionally. But that was my fault and not the conference’s.

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