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Before I start, let me clarify that this is not a dilemma I am facing currently. It's just a question I had in mind for many established and aspiring authors.

Many best selling novels get made into films. So assuming that you're an established author and currently are working on a novel, would it be overtly presumptuous to write the novel from the POV that it will get converted to a film later? Does it alter the focus of writing the novel in the first place?

Or would it be a classic case of "Counting your chickens before they're hatched"?

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    Would thinking about screen adaptation creatively empower, or impede your writing?
    – Alexander
    May 11, 2022 at 19:20

4 Answers 4

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It would depend on track record. I believe Michael Crichton had sold the film rights to Jurassic Park before the novel was published. He agreed a deal with Spielberg while the novel was still being written.

Films are rarely close to the original screenplay, let alone a novel, so it would be pointless letting the film rights issue affect the writing. Any scenes too difficult or expensive to film, or that would not work in visual form tend to be re-written anyway.

Where it might influence a writer is at the conception stage. Let's say you have a couple of ideas for your next novel, and you think one of them would work very well in film, that could lead you to prioritise that story.

There are also trends to follow in film/TV, but the writing process takes so long, for most, that if you were to try to hitch that bandwagon you could be too late by the time it was written. A spec script takes less time to write than a novel. You could always then follow up with a book, which may well be published before the filming was complete.

I am not a literary agent.

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No, it is not presumptuous. A movie differs from the novel in that the movie must be primarily visual. A novel is guiding the audience's imagination, And novels depend much more heavily on exposition, description, and dialogue than a movie does.

Movies depend on music, images and sound. Listen carefully to the dialogue in a movie, you will notice is far, far more sparse than the dialogue in any novel. Movie directors count on imagery, acting expressions and body language and tones of voices, to carry the meaning of words. Just the word "No," correctly spoken with the right expression, can be more effective than several paragraphs of exposition in a novel, we can see the emotions, the tears or anger, the regret, the fear, or the love in that one second of film time.

To turn a novel into a movie, you must write a visual story, with action and emotions.

Also, you must understand a movie is a collaborative process. Unlike a novel, the author of a screenplay has little (or zero) control over the sets, the music, or even what the actors look like. Sometimes not even their gender!

The screenplay is akin to a blueprint for a builder; the author is the architect of the story, the builder is the director that will choose the details, atmosphere, music, etc, and may even revise the blueprint to suit their own tastes.

Understanding what goes into writing a movie script, one can write a novel with a movie in mind. But it is best to seriously study movie plot construction, expectations and norms if that is what you want. Many novels are not adaptable to movies. You need a similar structure.

Novels can support more sub-plots and stories within stories than a movie script can. A novel has much more space for side-trips, a movie does not, you get 110 pages, give or take a few, and that's it.

A great deal of sweat is expended on conciseness of both set descriptions, dialogue and emotional state description. You really have to learn to trust actors and directors and set builders to take sparse notes and still get it right. Word choice can be paramount here, to save space.

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It is not that it's presumptuous, it's that it's unwise.

Perhaps your idea is cinematic. Perhaps it's not. But if you have your eye on making it cinematic, you will not have all your attention on making it the best possible novel.

If it's not so good as it could be, it might never be published as a novel, and then it certainly will never become a movie.

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A good example I remember is the follow up to "The Silence of the Lambs" (made into a film with Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster)

"Hannibal"

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hannibal_(2001_film)

Compared to the previous books in the series, this book seemed like it was written for the big screen, and imho was a poor imitation of his previous work.

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