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.