Screenwriting Advice

The moment this became clear to me in practice, as it related very specifically to something I was writing—The book is not the movie—the separation became easy, as clean as a yolk from an egg

It takes a very specific process to adapt a piece of literature from one medium to another. This article by Matthew Specktor over at is called How to avoid writing an awful screenplay is about one writers journey in the struggle of turning a book into a movie.

It’s an honest look at the process, ‘my incompetence, as I hashed out a first draft, was staggering’ and focuses on the critical point of adaptation in that you can’t take Square Peg A and shove it into Round Hole B. One is not the other. What works in book form will not necessarily work in movie form. A book is not a movie. And to try and merge the two, rather than have one be an inspiration for the other is a huge writing mistake. This is a great read for any student who is thinking about writing a screenplay or adapting a book into a screenplay.

Now. Having said that, I was astonished at the changes between book and movie with Silver Linings PlaybookAnd I didn’t necessarily like the book more, but I certainly liked the movie less. I know full well I’m in the minority with this opinion. But I hated that movie because of the changes made between book and movie. Which is weird. I totally believe the mantra – the book is not the movie. Everyone repeat with me: the book is not the movie, the book is not the movie, the book is not the movie.

BUT when character development decisions between book and movie are made that, to my mind, take away from creating action, well, it just makes no sense. Aren’t movies supposed to be about action? For example:

  • In the book, there is a decided crumbling in the relationship between Pat’s mother and father. In the movie, there is no tension between them in that regard.
  • In the book, everyone is obsessed with the Eagles. Everyone. Even Pat. In the movie, it’s really just the dad and in the movie. And it’s a money-motivated obsession rather than an emotional obsession.
  • In the book, Pat blacks out on his relationship with his ex-wife for most of it. In the movie he knows right away everything that happened.
  • In the book, Pat and Tiffany dance against twelve-year-olds. In the movie it’s semi-pros.
  • The book is about the meaning of humanity, what does it mean to be human, to be sane?
  • The movie is about a bet. It is reduced to being about money.

That last one is the one that really galls me. And I didn’t even like the book! I am in no position really to carp about this, the movie as it stands was extremely successful. Therefore the transition from book to movie was successful. Yep.

When is it a good thing to remove elements of a book to serve the movie? When is it a bad thing to remove elements of a book to serve the movie?

About the author

Lindsay Price

1 Comment

  • I’m glad I’m not the only who who disliked this movie. I found the characters to be thin and motivated by the needs of the plot rather than their emotions. Whether this had anything to do with changes made during its translation from novel to film, I can’t say since I haven’t read the book. Regardless, viewers shouldn’t have to read a book in order to appreciate a movie, let alone understand its characters.