Translating Humor from Book to Screenplay

Translating Humor from Book to Screenplay

What’s So Funny?

I’ve always heard that movies rarely live up to the great book from which they originate. Often, when the movie is spectacular, I find it was written originally as a screenplay and not a book.

What I have noticed recently is that books with a sense of humor do not translate well to screenplays. Two authors come to mind: Richard Russo and Liane Moriarty.

Richard Russo’s Pulitzer-prize winning book, Empire Falls, had wry humor throughout the story. In the television series, however, much of that was missing. I didn’t find myself laughing out loud like I did in the book. That’s disappointing. Still the series kept my interest. The characters, setting, and pace were all glorious. And the story was poignant and compelling.

The same was true of Russo’s Nobody Fool.  Perhaps the humor in the book would have made the scenes too comical in the movie? In this case, the author and the screenwriter were the same so I assume he left out the humorous lines because he felt they would not work as well in viewing as in reading.

In the last few months I have been engrossed in books by Liane Moriarty. After reading Big Little Lies, I decided to try the HBO Series. Truly, it is wonderful . . . suspenseful, delightful characters and a storyline that builds to a heart-pounding ending. However, where did the humor go?  As I read this book, I recall many laugh-out-loud moments. As I watch the series, none. Did I miss the funny lines?

Which brings me to the reason for this blog. Is it not possible to translate humor from a book to a screenplay? Does the script writer make that decision because it is too difficult or because it simply doesn’t work on the screen?

Big Little Lies works as both a book and a film series. But in my opinion, without the wry and clever humor of Moriarty, which is her signature, it loses something in the translation.

 

Turn the Page

Turn the Page

Chapter endings are as important as beginnings.  Read the endings of your chapters.  Go ahead.  Are they riveting? Are you anxious to turn the page? Will your readers be?  Take a closer look at the ho hum ones and begin to focus on endings that would compel a reader to keep going.

I skimmed through some books to see how those authors ended their chapters.  Here’s one from Deception Point by Dan Brown.  “Rachel felt weightless for an instant, hovering over the multimillion-pound block of ice.  Then they were riding the iceberg down – plummeting into the frigid sea.”  The reader is not likely to put the book down at this point, at least until they find out what happened to Rachel and her friend.  Brown could have ended with something like: “Rachel stood motionless on the block of ice and prayed the block wouldn’t fall into the sea.”  Nah.

Here’s another.  “Emergency Room.  Code Blue.  Susan ran for the elevator.”  This is from Chelsea Cain’s The Night Season.  What if Cain had stopped at Code Blue?  Would it have the same impact as her running for the elevator?

I believe this idea of compelling endings is not only important for fiction but for non-fiction as well.  Take Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken: “Sometime that day, or perhaps the day before, he had taken off his uniform, picked up a sack of rice, slipped into the Naoetsu countryside, and vanished.”  Vanishing, dying, running, falling, are all great ways to end a chapter on a high, cliffhanger note.

How about this from my mystery, Time Exposure: “As he sank to his knees, he lifted his head to gaze up at the Blackhawk.  Captain Geoffrey Farrell smiled down at him.  A boot to the head put him out.”  Or this from Pure Lies, in the form of dialogue: “Well, you may be nuts and I wouldn’t testify to this in court, but between you, me and the microscope, honey, these signatures were all written by the same person.”

Scene endings can follow this rule to some extent, but it might get tiresome if every scene did.  I think you have to let the reader rest once in a while and catch up with the action.

Not all chapter endings must end on an action note either.  Many can end with inner conflict or conflict between characters.  Gives the chapter tension.  What happens between these two people next?  Does Anna May leave her husband?  Does mom throw Maynard out of the house?  Does little Davey start to cry?  Is Barbara in danger of being fired, of losing her health insurance, of missing a plane to an important event?   If you care about the characters, you will turn the page.

 

 

Brattleboro Book Makes its Debut

Brattleboro Book Makes its Debut

A glimpse into my latest novel. Journey back in time over three centuries with a magical golden retriever and a wise, old sugar maple to solve four long-hidden mysteries.

Helen Ainsley is a best-selling mystery writer struggling with cancer. She begins to doubt her storytelling ability, so to restore her confidence, she returns to her childhood home in rural Brattleboro, Vermont for the serenity she hopes will rekindle her imagination.

Ainsley Hill Farm was originally an Inn dating back to the American Revolution. With a new-found friend, an old golden retriever, and an ancient sugar maple, Helen’s life is about to change. 

Initials carved on the tree trunk suddenly appear. . . then disappear. Helen is impelled to investigate. She realizes that the majestic tree is a portal into past injustices and it is up to her to bring closure to the lost memories of the dead.

From World War Two, Italy, and the anti-Nazi partisan movement, she moves back in time to events during World War One, in Nova Scotia, Canada, and the Halifax explosion, which obliterated the city in an instant and took thousands of lives. Next, Helen learns that Brattleboro was a stop on the Underground Railroad and runaway slaves used the Inn as a sanctuary on their journey north. Finally, she returns to the Inn’s early days during the Revolution, where she discovers that her ancestors played a significant and dangerous role in the survival of the thirteen colonies.

Through her venerable maple tree, Helen finds her own storytelling artistry re-emerge as she sets out to immortalize the heartbreaking past of the Ainsley Hill Inn.

History Keeps Changing . . . What?

History Keeps Changing . . . What?

As a writer of historical mysteries, I try to remain loyal to the details of the historical period I’m portraying.  I use real settings with real characters, then insert fictitious characters with fictitious events to create the mystery.

Staying true to the facts of the historical period is fairly straightforward . . . until those facts change.  You may wonder how historical facts can change.  After all, they happened in the past and they’ve been documented.  But historical facts can be altered based on new research and evidence.

So, what’s a writer to do?  Case in point.  My novel, Pure Lies, begins with a prologue in 1692, Salem, Massachusetts, where several witches are about to be hung.  It was initially believed that they were hung from a tree atop Gallows Hill.  In the last few weeks, we’ve come to learn that the hangings took place, not at the top of the hill, but at the bottom, on something called Proctor’s Ledge.  Oh well, you think.  Top, bottom, so what?  Proctor’s Ledge is now the site of a Walgreens pharmacy. (Methinks there’s marketing opportunity here at Halloween!)

Interestingly enough, this actual site was pinpointed nearly a century ago, but research was lost to time and replaced by legends and misconceptions.  Eventually the top of Gallows Hill became the “factual place of the hangings.”  If I had known, might I have written the hangings onto the Ledge?  Maybe.  The location is not nearly as literarily romantic as the hanging tree at the top of Gallows Hill.

There have been other examples of history changing over time.  For centuries we believed Pluto to be our outermost planet.  Now it’s been downgraded to a dwarf planet and is one of 40 other dwarf planets.  A bit of a disappointment for Planet 9.

One transformation that particularly bothered me was the reclassification of the most iconic of dinosaurs, the Brontosaurus, or “thunder lizard.”  Since 1903, the scientific community has believed that the genus Brontosaurus was really the Apatosaurus.  Now, after serious research, paleontologists provide conclusive evidence that the Brontosaurus is distinct from the Apatosaurus and has been reinstated as its own unique genus.  Yippee!

And then there’s the case of the 15th century king, Richard III, whose portrayal in both English history and English literature has created ongoing debate. It was long thought that he died in ignominy and was buried in a crude grave in an unknown location.  However, in 2012, archaeologists discovered his remains under a parking lot (not a Walgreens) and through forensic analysis learned that he suffered 11 injuries at or near the time of his death, indicating he died in battle.  More to come, no doubt, as further analysis is done.

History is a dynamic and ever-changing discipline.  As a novelist, fortunately, I can invoke artistic license and save myself the trouble of re-writing my books to conform to changing history.  Whew.

When history evolves . . . what’s a writer to do?

The Tree of Lost Secrets

The Tree of Lost Secrets

I am excited to announce the upcoming debut of my seventh novel: The Tree of Lost Secrets. It should be available in time for the holidays so watch for the announcement! Here is what BookBaby says about it:

“An ambitious and adventurous story, The Tree of Lost Secrets is a masterpiece of historical mystery.”

Enjoy a glimpse at this magical, historical novel set in New England over three centuries:

Helen Ainsley is a best-selling mystery writer struggling with cancer. She begins to doubt her storytelling ability, so to restore her confidence, she returns to her childhood home in rural Brattleboro, Vermont for the serenity she hopes will rekindle her imagination.

Ainsley Hill Farm was originally an Inn dating back to the American Revolution. With a new-found friend, an old golden retriever, and an ancient sugar maple, Helen’s life is about to change. 

Initials carved on the tree trunk suddenly appear. . . then disappear. Helen is impelled to investigate. She realizes that the majestic tree is a portal into past injustices and it is up to her to bring closure to the lost memories of the dead.

From World War Two, Italy, and the anti-Nazi partisan movement, she moves back in time to events during World War One, in Nova Scotia, Canada, and the Halifax explosion, which obliterated the city in an instant and took thousands of lives. Next, Helen learns that Brattleboro was a stop on the Underground Railroad and runaway slaves used the Inn as a sanctuary on their journey north. Finally, she returns to the Inn’s early days during the Revolution, where she discovers that her ancestors played a significant and dangerous role in the survival of the thirteen colonies.

Through her venerable maple tree, Helen finds her own storytelling artistry re-emerge as she sets out to immortalize the heartbreaking past of the Ainsley Hill Inn.

Remember- books make great holiday presents. Thanks for all your support!