Reactions: A Tale of Three Adaptations

Ever have a polar opposite reaction to something someone shared with you? Perhaps a friend urged you to read a book he found life changing or watch a movie she truly resonated with, then having tried it, you discovered you disliked it immensely. Maybe like me you questioned yourself, wondering how you could dislike something your wonderful friend loves so much.

That has happened to me with books I won’t name here that friends loved and I didn’t finish because I didn’t like them. In case you’re wondering, if I don’t like a book, I don’t finish it, unless my loathing for it is a late discovery, the book having taken an unexpected and unwelcome turn.

There have been many movies that reviewers loved and highly recommended that I loathed. I was prepared to loathe a recent Netflix adaptation, since the book adapted is my favorite of those written by the author. I didn’t like what the trailer showed, which told me the main character’s personality was markedly different from the book. (And yes, I know the book and the character well enough that a trailer would show that.) I told myself I would never watch the film because I didn’t want to see a dumpster fire made out of one of my favorite books. But I gave in after reading an article online on the subject of why viewers should see the film. Nevertheless, I didn’t have a good reaction to what the person said about the need to “freshen up” the story (hence the changes in the adaptation).

I was immediately reminded of Clueless, an adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel, Emma, which changed the setting to the twentieth century. I loved the novel Emma and I loved Clueless. The issue for me about Clueless is that though the situation changed to fit our times, the main character’s personality did not change. Cher (played by Alicia Silverstone) is a wealthy, likable young woman who thinks she knows all about matchmaking but is horribly . . . well . . . clueless. That is how she is in the book.

  

By now, you might guess the film that I have yet to name. And I still won’t. Even if you guess it, I will neither confirm nor deny. I watched it, and my immediate thought was, Can you dislike something and find it entertaining at the same time? I found that to be the case with this film. People who know nothing of the book but love adaptations of this era might be entertained, especially with the gorgeous scenery and well-known actors. People who know the book might also enjoy it. Or hate it.

For me the arch looks, smiles, and clever, sarcastic quips of the main character seemed antithetical to the character I sympathized with in the book. This is where I took umbrage to the remark to “freshen up” the story. You see, I went through what this character went through, which is what drew me to the story in the first place. I felt sad and broken and filled with regret. Therefore, I didn’t like the twenty-first century moralizing as the character archly judged other characters in ways people probably wouldn’t have done at that time. If “freshening up” a story means revamping the personality of the main character, you can keep your adaptation as far as I’m concerned.

The issue I have with some modern adaptations is the avoidance of deep emotion or weakness in a character. Characters must seem strong and clever most of the time, even while telling us how sad they are. (Insert laugh track here, since we gotta have humor.)

This is why I loved Dune 2021. I know I talk about that movie a lot. There are aspects I love about it way more than the first book. In interviews and books the director (Denis Villeneuve) and crew discuss their love for the source material, which inspired them to produce the film I instantly loved the moment I saw it.

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Okay. Enough of my opinion. I feel like Negative Nelly here. You might have a completely different opinion about this movie. But that’s where I am. And I know how easy it is to criticize something I haven’t done much myself (screenwriting). I just feel sad that I didn’t quite get what I had hoped to see—a great adaptation of a book I love.

Polar opposites Venn diagram from iSLCollective. Clueless and Dune 2021 movie posters found somewhere on the internet. Other photos by L. Marie.

Message Received?

In a movie review, Jeremy Jahns, a YouTube reviewer I usually watch, talked about social commentary in movies based on fictional stories in a way that I found very thought provoking. While he mentioned a specific film, what he said could apply to many films and other types of stories. Of course reviews are subjective, so take that with a grain of salt. Anyway, he said,

A picture is worth a thousand words. But this . . . movie would rather use a thousand words to paint a picture.

In other words, he felt the social commentary was too obvious and heavy handed and would have been better had it been more subtle and the story and characters better developed. I have heard statements like this about a number of movies. Though I didn’t see the movie he reviewed, Jahns’s statement got me to thinking about the messages I’ve noticed in some fiction books or on the screen in the last ten years or so. Obviously this is my opinion which you can take with a grain of salt, but sometimes the messages have seemed a little too obvious, with characters practically saying things like, “And that’s why _____ (fill in the blank) is bad.” Sometimes the whole reason for the existence of a book or film (again please keep in mind that I am talking about fiction, rather than nonfiction) seems to be to deliver a message.

I totally get the need to encourage change through a well-written story. That is the power of words. But I’m drawn to stories where the message doesn’t rest on top in a blinking lights kind of way. I like to glean the message for myself. I can read the Lord of the Rings trilogy and see the awful toll war takes on people, something Tolkien experienced firsthand, without having to be told by a character, “Do you see what disagreements like this could lead to? How awful everything is? How needful it is that we come together in peace and goodwill?”

What about you? Do you like messages that are a

and as obvious as this:

Or do you prefer the subtle approach? Are there some messages that need to be wrecking ball clear? Do tell! While you ponder that, Anne Westrick, get ready to receive a signed copy of Edie in Between by Laura Sibson! Please comment below to confirm.

    

Jeremy Jahns photo from famousbirthdays. Quote from August 27, 2021 review. Stupidly obvious messages from dreamstime and ebaumsworld.

Details, Details

Quiz time for fiction writers. No need to fear. This is easy.

  • As you think of the main character(s) in your work-in-progress, what color is that character’s hair? Eyes? (See? Easy-peasy.)

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  • Does he or she have a nickname? If so, what is it?
  • Where does that character live? Town, city, or rural community? What is the character’s street address (or what are the landmarks that lead to this dwelling if an address can’t be given)? This can be a made-up address like 1313 Mockingbird Lane. Kudos to whoever knows this address from an old TV show. Skip to the very end of the post to see if you are right.
  • What animals are in this character’s life (like a pet or a warhorse)? What are their names? Species? Colors?

Now think of a secondary character and answer the above questions. If you have fifty secondary characters, could you easily answer the same questions about all of them?

By now you are probably wondering why I’m being so nosy. Well, for one thing, sometimes I forget some of the information about my characters, especially in a book with fifty plus characters. That’s why I have to keep a list of people, places, and things, especially when I am writing a series. But I keep a list even for a standalone book with fewer characters. Nowadays I add to the list as I write the book. I remember how tedious it was to write the list after the book was done.

I’m wondering how many authors keep a list of pertinent character information. Some authors have told me they keep track of everything in their head. Do you? If you don’t keep a list, would you consider doing so? I ask this also as someone who wears the freelance book editor hat from time to time. I have had to email or text authors to inquire about hair and eye color, names, addresses, etc. because of inconsistencies found while editing.

Speaking of other useful things to have, I also think of a timeline sheet for a book. Do you keep a list of the day-to-day events (for example, June 4—the Fruit Fly Festival in Harbor Creek)? If you say a book starts on a Tuesday in April and ends on a Wednesday in May, do you check a calendar to make sure the timing of the story events works? If you’re writing historical fiction, do you search the internet to see if May 4, 1925 really was on a Monday as you mentioned in your manuscript? (It really was on a Monday, by the way.)

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Maybe you’re thinking, Why should I do any of this? The editor is going to check all of that. True. But why not do it for your own sake, instead of waiting for a busy editor to take time out of his or her day to ask you questions about inconsistencies. After all, none of us is perfect. Okay, I take it back. You are. But for everyone else, if you keep a list, maybe the questions won’t have to be asked by an editor (or a reader, who might not be kind).

This public service broadcast was brought to you by I-will-now-mind-my-own-business.

And now onto the winners (finally) of the following books written by Charles Yallowitz and Sandra Nickel respectively. (Click here and here for the interview posts with these authors.)

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New Charles Author Photo SandraNickel

The winner of The Stuff Between the Stars is Marian Beaman. The winner of War of Nytefall: Savagery is S.K. Van Zandt.

Marian and S. K. Van Zandt, please comment below to confirm. Thank you for commenting!

Address Answer: 1313 Mockingbird Lane is the home of the Munster family in The Munsters.

Author photos and book covers courtesy of the authors. Eye image from lolwot.com. May calendar image from dreamstime.

Adaptations

I recently watched and loved Enola Holmes, a Netflix original movie starring Millie Bobby Brown in the title role.

What’s unusual about this, at least for me, is that I hadn’t read even one of the books by Nancy Springer prior to watching it. (Not sure how I missed reading the first book at least when it debuted.) So I can’t say if the movie is a faithful adaptation or not. But watching it made me want to read the books. It had a great cast, an exciting plot, and decent production values.

  

Usually, if a film is adapted from on a MG or YA book or series, more than likely, I would have read the book first. Twilight? Check. The Fault in Our Stars? Check. Harry Potter? Duh. Hunger Games? C’mon. You’re not even trying.

  

One of my pet peeves is when the movie adaptation is so far removed from the source material that I wind up questioning why the film company optioned the rights in the first place. Why bother if you plan to completely change it? And I know: sometimes changes are made because the producers think new fans won’t care, since they probably didn’t read the book in the first place. If that’s the case, at least make it good.

When I think of my favorite adaptations, my go-tos are LoTR and the Harry Potter franchise. I also love Howl’s Moving Castle, though it is very different from Diana Wynne Jones’s classic novel. But since it is a Miyazaki film, I couldn’t help loving it.

  

I won’t go into my least favorites, because that would I don’t want to add a negative rant to this post. I’ll say this much: both begin with the letter E. I shudder every time I think of them.

What’s your favorite adaptation? While you think of that, I’ll move on to the winner of A Home for Her Daughter by Jill Weatherholt.

    

The winner is Ginger!

Ginger, please comment to confirm! Expect a signed copy of A Home for Her Daughter to be sent to you.

Thank you so much to everyone who commented!

Enola Holmes poster from vitalthrills.com. Deathly Hallows Part 1 poster from collider.com. Return of the King poster from goldposter.com. TFIOS poster from WordPress.com. Enola Holmes series covers from Goodreads. Other photo by L. Marie.

Salad Days

Back when I was in college, back when the transportation of choice was the covered wagon, I aspired to afford the salad bar at Fritz That’s It. What’s that, you say? It used to be a well-loved restaurant in Evanston, Illinois—part of the Lettuce Entertain You chain of restaurants. Alas, it closed in 1987. Click here and here for more information on the restaurant. Today, that name is associated with another establishment.

A menu from 1973 (I was not in college at this point, in case you were wondering.)

When I was a student, I was always broke. So I shared restaurant menu items with my friends, who were equally broke. As the articles I linked to above will tell you, Fritz was known for its extensive salad bar. It even had caviar and pâté! But the salad bar was an extra cost.

A well-stocked salad bar was the hallmark of Lettuce Entertain You restaurants. Rich Melman, the founder of Lettuce Entertain You, talked about the salad bar at RJ Grunts  (the first restaurant he opened) in this post at Foodandwine.com:

Instead of just iceberg and a few toppings, I would say we started with about 30 choices, maybe more, and it just kept growing and growing.

I loved having so many choices. Those were indeed salad days! But years later, many restaurants scaled back on the salad bars. Even Wendy’s pulled the plug on them back in 2006.

Yet salad bars live on at some restaurants (like buffets) and many grocery store chains. The grocery stores in my area have salad bars with multiple options (including soup) and charge for the salads by weight. (The photo below was not taken at a grocery store in my area, in case you wondered.)

The element of choice is one many people treasure, not just in a salad bar but in other areas in life. I love going to a craft store and seeing aisle after aisle of colorful skeins of yarn of all different textures in which to choose. Many of us love to binge watch seasons of shows on Netflix because we have multiple episodes from which to choose. (Unless the show is uploaded once a week like The Great British Baking Show is this season. Sigh.) And many make purchases on Amazon because of its staggering variety of items.

Another area of choice I love involves authors with multiple books just waiting to be discovered. Many, like Jill Weatherholt, John Howell, and Charles Yallowitz, have been featured on this blog. (To discover where to purchase any of these books, just click on the cover.)

   

What authors have you discovered recently, who have multiple books just waiting to be read?

Have you visited a salad bar recently? What do you like about it?

Kitty thinks her giant veggies will net her a fortune at salad bars across the nation. But I doubt that, since most edible vegetables don’t have faces.

Fritz menu from worthpoint.com. Salad bar image from Rochebros.com. Salad items from clkr.com. Kawaii veggies from etsystudio.com. Other photo by L. Marie.

Let the Sunshine In

In case you’re wondering, I did not have the musical Hair in mind when I wrote that post title. Because of the previous post, I thought I’d share this photo of the sunflowers, now that all are open.

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They look like eyes, don’t they? They see you!

Though this photograph doesn’t show dimensions, each sunflower is about the size of a dinner plate. Such happy, but huge flowers. They came at the right time, too, providing beauty and color to the walkway outside my apartment building. But the fact that they draw energy from the life-giving sun also reminds me of my need to refuel. Ever feel creatively drained? That’s how I’ve been feeling lately. When your tank is empty, there’s only one thing to do: fill it. (I learned that from Andra Watkins.) So recently I decided to take some time off to do activities that replenish me.

1. Visit bookstores. I spent a fun afternoon with a friend looking at books at Halfprice Bookstore and Barnes & Noble. It had been too long since I’d walked through either door. At B & N, I was pleased to find books by fellow VCFAers: Trent Reedy, Varian Johnson, and K. A. Barson.

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2. Hang out with friends and mooch meals off them. It’s great to have a home-cooked meal that someone else prepared, especially when good leftovers result. Even if they don’t, spending quality time with good friends is a gift I gladly gave myself this past weekend.

3. Have lunch with a friend at Panera Bread and dessert at Oberweis. Oh yes. We dared. If you aren’t familiar with Panera, click here. For Oberweis, click here. While Oberweis is known for milk and ice cream, they also have a chocolate layer cake my friend raved about and insisted that I sample. Who was I to say no?

4. Watch this funny, fantastic movie with another friend. I’d looked forward to seeing this movie for months! I’m grateful to say it did not disappoint!

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Chris Pratt, one of the lead actors, is just what the doctor ordered. I won’t spoil it for you, however. If you love Marvel movies or stories set in other galaxies (Star Wars anyone?), head on over to the theater.

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When you need refueling, what fills you up?

Book covers from Goodreads, except for Varian’s book, which is from his website. Oberweis photo from eatinwheaton.com. Chicken photo from donnahup.com. Chris Pratt photo from insidemovies.ew.com. Guardians of the Galaxy logo from static4.wikia.nocookie.net.

How Do You Know You Have a Jewel?

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I’ve talked about diamonds; now I’m moving on to geodes. But I assure you, this is not part of a planned series on precious minerals. It just happened that way.

220px-Geode_inside_outsideEver see a geode? We talked about them in fifth grade science. But more recently I was reminded of them when I watched Hayao Miyazaki’s 1995 animated movie, Whisper of the Heart (directed by Yoshifumi Kondō). The main character, Shizuku, was handed a geode. Geodes contain fragments of different types of crystals—quartz, amethyst, jasper, agate, and others. But the thing is, you don’t know what’s inside until you crack it open.

220px-J__K__Rowling_2010I watched Whisper of the Heart a month ago. But today, after watching the movie version of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (directed by Alfonso Cuarón—one of my favorites of the series; the book as well), and watching an interview with Jo Rowling and Daniel Radcliffe the other day, the subject of geodes returned to mind. (You can watch the interview at Ellar Out Loud.)

250px-Marauder'sMapObviously, I’m not the only one fascinated by the world Jo Rowling created, especially since Harry Potter is an international sensation now in its fifteenth year. But I still get giddy over elements of it. For example, one of my favorite aspects of Prisoner of Azkaban is the marauder’s map. So brilliant! I also love the time turner. There are so many great details embedded in the world. It’s like cracking open a geode and finding it chock full of diamonds. I love a series like that.

Based on the interviews I’ve seen, when the first book was released, Rowling had no idea of the impact her series would have on the world. Of course she was passionate about her world and excited to see it introduced to readers. But holding that geode in her hands, she didn’t really know what the fans would see inside of it—jewels or junk.

What are the characteristics of a world worth exploring? I can think of these:
1. Fullness of scope—The author embraces a 360-degree view of the world and doesn’t skimp on the details, even within multiple environments. Also, the magic system is well defined and compelling. There are real costs. In this whimsical world your sense of wonder goes on overload.
Buckbeak2. Characters—You know you have a great series when you can take any character—even a minor animal character like Buckbeak—and envision him and her as the star of a book.
3. Inventive challenges—All seven books had compelling obstacles that moved us deeper and deeper into the world. By the time the series was over, we were so ingrained, we had culture shock stepping out of the world.

And there are others of course. But I can’t help thinking about the above three as I craft my own world and series. What do I have in this geode? Are there priceless jewels inside (or at least semiprecious stones)? (I can only hope.)

In your own work, do you have a sense of how special it is? Is there anything within you telling you, “I’ve got amethysts in here”? What series have you read recently that made you think, This author has a winner here?

Shizuku looking into the geode image from Screened.com. Geode from Wikipedia. Marauder’s Map and Buckbeak from harrypotter.wikia.com.

Say What?

The other day, my sister-in-law forwarded a video of seventeen-month-old twins (Sam and Ren) talking to each other. You’ve probably seen it on YouTube, especially since it went viral in 2011. (Yep. I usually join parties late.) The twins seemed to enjoy their conversation greatly. Their excitement, apparently, rubbed off on the world.

I couldn’t help laughing, not just at the conversation, but at the subsequent videos where adults analyzed what the twins were saying. Nonverbal cues (lifting one foot; waving a hand) were analyzed with a depth of concentration known to neurosurgeons analyzing MRI scans. Could they be talking about a missing sock? Ways to open the freezer? The stock market? A secret plot to take over the world? (Okay, the last two are my guesses.)

It’s great that a conversation riveted so many people. If you’re a writer, wouldn’t you love for your audience to be this engaged with your dialogue?

You have my permission to stop reading right now if you think that in the next minute I’ll tell you the MILLION DOLLAR SECRET TO WRITING POWERFUL, EXTRAORDINARY, EFFERVESCENT DIALOGUE. (And yes, such a statement requires all caps.) If I knew that secret, I’d be writing for shows like Doctor Who or Downton Abbey, and I would have people like Steven Moffat, Julian Fellowes, Will Smith, and Bruce Willis on speed dial. (Not that I don’t. . . . Okay. I don’t.)

Still, I can’t resist sharing at least one tip about dialogue:

Subtext. According to Janet Burroway, Elizabeth Stuckey-French, and Ned Stuckey-French, authors of Writing Fiction, “Often the most forceful dialogue can be achieved by not having the characters say what they mean” (Burroway, Stuckey-French 80). In other words, it’s all about subtext—the “emotional undercurrent” of dialogue (82).

Think about the last time you experienced strong emotion. Did you spout words that rival a Shakespearean sonnet? More than likely, none of us can make that claim.

Considering subtext as you write dialogue is challenging, but doable. Burroway et al. include examples from literature, but for this post, I wanted to find my own example. I chose a scene from Little Dorrit, Charles Dickens’s tale of money and debt and the yawning maw of the debtors’ prison (the Marshalsea).
Little Dorrit coverSorry. I can’t avoid spoilers here. Feel free to stop reading RIGHT NOW, if you wish to avoid them. One of the main characters, Arthur Clennam, winds up in the Marshalsea, a place he only visited before. In this scene John Chivery, son of the head turnkey, invites Arthur to have tea in his (John’s) room. 

Young John looked hard at him, biting his fingers.

‘I see you recollect the room, Mr. Clennam?’

‘I recollect it well, Heaven bless her!’

Oblivious of the tea, Young John continued to bite his fingers and to look at his visitor, as long as his visitor continued to glance about the room. (Dickens 756) 

Seems like a pretty straightforward conversation on the surface—two guys shooting the breeze. But John simmers with grief and anger due to his unrequited love for the titular character, Amy Dorrit. The room is a reminder of Amy, who was carried there after fainting hundreds of pages previously. John is bitterly aware that Amy loves Arthur and believes Arthur shares this awareness. Arthur, however, is completely oblivious. He’s too mired in his recent financial failure. Though he has come to realize his own love for Amy, he never fathomed that she would return that love. 

In 2009, PBS aired a wonderful 2008 BBC mini-series adaptation of this book. For a scene between Arthur and John go here. But I recommend checking out Dickens’s classic. Then go for it; let your dialogue simmer. Or go the “da da da” route of Sam and Ren. Either way, your audience will be riveted.

For more tips on conveying emotion through dialogue, check out this great post by my fellow VCFA alum, Jeff Schill.

Burroway, Janet, Elizabeth Stuckey-French, and Ned Stuckey-French. Writing Fiction. Boston: Longman/Pearson, 2003, 2007, 2011. Print.

For more information on the Little Dorrit miniseries, click here.