TTT: How to Make a Great Adaptation

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

This week’s prompt is a page to screen adaptation freebie, so today I want to talk about things that make a great adaptation. Despite what a lot of fans might want, I don’t think that something being different from the book is valid or really good criticism. However, there is an art to adaptation and I do think that you can easily butcher the source material. So here are (almost) 10 things that I think make a good adaptation.

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1. Understand the Medium

A_Series_of_Unfortunate_Events_Netflix
Unpopular opinion: I didn’t like this.

This is the most important thing going into an adaptation and really applies to all my other points. Adaptations that lift the entirety of the book from its pages and put it on screen tend not to work, because not all parts of a book work visually or in terms of pacing.

The first Pretty Little Liars book makes up just the pilot episode, because a slow burn book series might work but it doesn’t translate well to an addictive TV series.


2. Modernise It (If Needed)

The Jetsons

I don’t have a specific example for this, but I’ve found with classic sci-fi, there are a lot of brilliant writers who could think about the future in ways that still astound readers today. However, they were often short-sighted on gender and racial politics. Outdated race/gender dynamics, unless being commented on, would pull me out of the story immediately.


3. Casting is KEY

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The script might be good, the style might match the original, the tone might be fantastic but if the characters have been miscast, it’s really distracting. Whitewashing is a huge issue and if your character is informed by their heritage, that matters and affects the plot. I can’t watch whitewashed characters without being distracted by what a glaring mistake it was to cast them.


4. Know Which Scenes/Plot Lines are Unnecessary

spew
Does SPEW add to Hermione’s character and the world? Yes. Is it needed amongst the larger plot? Nope. Fanart by Sophia Canning via Twitter.

Purists are going to put me on a pyre, but I think it’s fine to cut things from an adaptation as long as it doesn’t take away from the story. A book can be 200 pages long, it can be 500 pages long, it can spend that time on things that build the world and add richness and complexity to the characters. Films and to a certain extent, TV shows, tend to focus on the bigger plot, and can’t always fit small scenes into the mix.


5. Know Which Characters are Necessary

the-lizzie-bennet-diaries
The Lizzie Bennet Diaries featuring Jane, Lizzie and Lydia

Some characters just can’t make the cut in an adaptation. Sometimes they’re cut completely, sometimes they’re combined into one character. The question has to be: does this character add and inform the plot? If not, then it’s okay to cut them.

Based on Pride and Prejudice, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries opts to cut two of the Bennet sisters out. In the original, they mostly function to add to the burden of financial troubles in 19th century Britain – 5 unwed sisters, unable to inherit, was a big problem and makes Lizzie’s rejection of suitable partners a huge issue but that just doesn’t translate to modern society anymore.

(Also, I had to Google the names of the other sisters, so that tells you how much of an impact they had. Sorry Mary and Kitty.)


6. You Can Build on the Source Material

Stardust
More time on a lightning-collecting pirate ship can only be a good thing.

I think people can have a lot of patience with books. If you’re not feeling it right now, you can take a break and come back to it later when you’re in the mood. You tend not to do that with films (actually, my parents hit pause on a film and will come back to it the next night, but that’s just weird…). So if there’s something extra added to keep you hooked, to explain things a bit better, to fuel the excitement, I can get on board!


7. Favour Clever Material over Tried-and-Tested

i-am-legend-british-movie-poster

What often frustrates about film adaptations is that studios opt to make a film that sticks to a formula. They tend not to take risks, dumb things down or focus on a different part of the plot. I Am Legend is such a clever book and the point of it lies in the ending, where the Hollywood version chooses to go down a safe, standard, apocalyptic route.


8. Audiences Shouldn’t Have to Read the Book

Read the Book

This one is pretty self-explanatory, but a good adaptation shouldn’t rely on anyone having read the book to understand it. Yes, adaptations  appeal to the original audience but they’re also inviting a new audience in and should be able to stand on its own. No one is obliged to read the book.


9. Is There Enough Story to Adapt? 

hobbit

Making the judgement between whether there is enough material to adapt something to a feature length film is difficult. Arrival, for example, is a short story but a high concept one so it works as a standalone adaptation. The Hobbit on the other hand, despite being a reasonably long book, is not an epic quest that was worthy of 3 films. Bulking something out to that extent doesn’t make it enjoyable to watch.

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What do you think? Are you a purist?

If you liked this, check out my post on which books I thought were actually improved in their adaptation here.

 

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20 thoughts on “TTT: How to Make a Great Adaptation

  1. Nice take on this week’s topic! I like the movie/series to follow the book as closely as possible, but I’m okay with some cuts and changes as long as the adaptation stays true to the heart of the book. As you said, sometimes things that are good in a book just don’t work for a movie or tv show. Here is our Top Ten Tuesday.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a good point – staying true to what the book is doing can make or break an adaptation because that’s what readers initially love about a book!
      Thanks for the comment – I’ll check out your TTT! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I heard a fan theory that The Jetsons live up in the sky because of how polluted and unliveable the Earth becomes in the future. Now *that* would be a grim modernisation!

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  2. Love this list. Although I love the HP movies, there were a few times where I had to explain a few things to those who hadn’t read the books. I thought it was a good choice to only have three Bennet sisters as well. I think the adaption still captured the essence of the story and I can’t imagine how chaotic some of those scenes would have been with five Bennet sisters running around.

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    1. Yeah – I feel like I understood the films better because I had read the books. It’s fine to have Easter eggs/fun references for readers but not explaining things alienates other viewers!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great list! And I have to agree. One of the problems I had about the Divergent movies (and I have to say I’ve watched them multiple times despite this) is that they got stupid little details wrong. Like the tattoos Tris got on her back. Or the fact that Natalie Prior listed the wrong street address for the safe house. That just showed me that the movie adapters lacked attention to detail. It wouldn’t have changed anything about the movie to get details like that right, but the fact that they didn’t showed that they weren’t really paying much attention to the book.

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    1. That’s a good point – missing out little details just seems like they don’t care or haven’t read the source material properly!

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  4. I think it can be done and that adaptations definitely doesn’t need to be 100% literal about its source material. Being clever about it without completely disrespecting it is possible and there are plenty of great movies to prove it. Your list is definitely a great one to follow to get things right. 😀

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  5. This is such a great post! I really agree about how books have to be changed in order to allow for different pacing. And casting is so important. Definitely agree that it’s okay to build on the source material. And yeah, as much as I love reading the book before, audiences shouldn’t have to! (some of the HP films actually spring to mind for that, cos I watched those with some people who hadn’t read the books and particularly with the third film, which I actually like the best as a fan, people I was with didn’t know what happened at the end!) And completely agree about the hobbit not being long enough to be three films!! Such a bad call!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Harry Potter is a big example that was made with the readers in mind but ended up with a huge audience that didn’t understand it fully (or thought there were plot holes where there weren’t!).

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I really like your example of the LBD. So true, sometimes you can cut characters and it works fine, even if it might hurt a little. 😀 Thanks so much for the Finding Wonderland visit!!

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  7. These are all good points, especially the one about understanding the medium. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to adapt a book to film, for example. I should remember that the next time I start one of my, “The book was better than the movie because…”

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    1. I know a lot of people want to see essentially the book as they imagined it but adapting a book to a screenplay is really difficult and not everything works on screen!

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