Please forgive a Saturday morning ramble. Writing some Christmas cards for mailing here in the U.S. yesterday (I still do some, mostly for “older” relations), it struck me my uncle doesn’t get one this year and will never get one again. That’s the sort of moment it’s toughest: the holidays are indeed the worst of times after losing those you love.
I have one of his later books, which I’d borrowed earlier in the year from my mother, on my bookshelf behind my desk here. I can’t return it to her, of course (this year has, frankly, been awful in our family), and my father wouldn’t care that I have it. So it’s mine now, I guess.
It’s the hardcover version, and I was browsing through it last night – and remembering. Glancing at his dust jacket author photo, I recalled him being thrilled years ago when a respected Hollywood star (who you would almost certainly recognize if I told you her name) had optioned one of his earlier novels. Its main character was a woman detective, and she had thought it might be excellent for herself in the lead and wanted a chance to see if it could be produced.
With that, I had had a glimpse into the business ups and downs of what goes into seeking to translate a novel to the screen. The film never got made by her or anyone else (after her option had expired). However, he had joked with me that he had made a reasonable amount of money by selling her the film rights – for three years, I think – even though nothing ultimately had come of it.
I’d asked him if he had thought she would have been right in that role. He laughed. She was not precisely who he had had in mind, he revealed. He added, though, that he definitely wouldn’t have complained either – even a “flop” film would have made him a small fortune.
He’d also told me he didn’t write consciously with the big screen in mind. Long before I ever imagined I would write novels myself, I was intrigued by that assertion of his. He didn’t? Not at all?
But now I feel I understand much better what he had meant. A novel allows multiple events to occur simultaneously. Characters’ minds are easily probed. It’s profoundly personal to each reader each in their own way.
In comparison, a film is observed by us from the outside, as onlookers. We watch the characters, yes, but only rarely are we in their minds. Mostly we’re looking at “reactions.” Yes, the story on screen may grab us emotionally, but a film is never quite as intimate as a novel.
So a novel is one format. A film is another. Thus the need to “adapt” a novel well for film: it simply can’t be shot page by page, scene by scene, exactly as the book.
Also, because it’s not visual, naturally every novel reader imagines each character differently in his/her mind’s eye. But once created on screen by an actor, the character suddenly possesses a human form. I had read that book of his a LONG time ago now and I don’t recall who at the time I would’ve thought would have been right for that role on screen. However, I also recall I never would have picked that actress to play its main character.
That said, my uncle’s no-nonsense approach as a man in inventing a woman lead that a star actress imagined herself possibly portraying had eventually helped encourage me, too. I don’t know much about crime writing. However, I do know male writers two decades ago tended not to write female leads, so reviews at the time often praised his putting a woman in the fore.
When I decided to write, I was determined not to be fearful of writing women leads either. I do sense men are “uneasy” writing women characters. Women writers, in contrast, appear to have few qualms about writing male characters.
Ramble concluded. I hope you have a nice weekend, wherever you are in the world. 🙂