Adapting a book to a film can be a very difficult process. Not everything is going to reach the final script, you have to choose what to keep, what to ignore and where to add your own bits in. Sometimes it can be a masterpiece or it could become a disaster. Let’s talk about it…

A good example: Lord of the Rings

Bonus points if you can name the characters above from left to right.

The first example of a great book to screen adaptation that comes to mind is Lord of the Rings (Game of Thrones is a very close second but that’s still ongoing). The Lord of the Rings trilogy is colossal in size. The first film, The Fellowship of the Ring is two hours and 58 minutes. The second, The Two Towers, is two hours and 59 minutes and the final film Return of the King, is three hours and 20 minutes. That’s a total of 557 minutes which is around nine and a half hours and that’s excluding the scenes for the extended editions, special editions, extra special editions and the bonus features. The series has won countless awards and generally the director Peter Jackson has stayed true to the source material.


An okay example. The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

perks wallflower

This was one of my favourite books as a teenager and remains one of my favourite adaptations. In short, it’s a coming-of-age story about a boy called Charlie who sends letters to an anonymous stranger about his experience in high school. The adaptation has good points and bad points going for it. To start with it was written and directed by the original author Stephen Chbosky and therefore it’s close to the source text. The protagonist and narrator is extremely familiar to the viewer as everyone has gone to school and faced similar problems in their life. The bad points are Emma Watson’s attempt at an american accent and the fact that one of Charlie’s favourite songs (a key part to the story) has been replaced.

A bad example: The Hobbit.

The Hobbit dwarfs
Bonus points if you can name all of these guys. I honestly can’t and while watching the film I made up names for them.

Yes, we’re going back to Middle Earth. When fans heard Peter Jackson was doing more films they were thrilled. When it was revealed he was padding out The Hobbit, a children’s story, into another trilogy they were apprehensive. Locations and characters from the original trilogy were shoehorned in, unnecessary subplots were added along with far too much CGI. The films met criticism from fans despite their success at the box office. In my opinion, he could have told the story over an hour or two.


What can we learn from the examples above? Staying true to source material is always a good thing? Not necessarily. The CW shows Arrow and The Flash have started their fourth and second series respectively and are vastly different to their comic counterparts. Arrow is more brooding and mysterious, almost Batman like, while Flash is younger, and has a different story arch altogether. The opposite is also true, a director and screenwriter can’t copy from the original text word for word or they’ll risk a boring movie.


Some stories work better in certain medium than others. A good example of these are Stephen King stories. Bag of Bones the film was awful whereas The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile are considered classics. Some aspects of writing (internal struggles) doesn’t have the same effect in films.  Likewise the Superman films have been hit or miss. In these cases the problem wasn’t with the story or the script it was with the films budget, special effects or the cast.

I did a module on Adaptation and Dramatisation in university. I had to adapt the first 15 minutes of A Land Without Jasmine by Wajdi al-Ahdal into a film script. It was surprisingly difficult. Where should I use flashbacks (if at all), voice-overs, which point of view (POV) should I use? There were clues scattered throughout the novel that we had to plant into our scripts and we had to write a new ending as the novel left it ambiguous.


So what actually makes a good adaptation?

  • Staying true to the source material but still being creative.
  • Ensuring the story is changed to fit the new medium of TV. (Adding or removing scenes)
  • Ensuring the special effects, actors and set are up to scratch. (More of a director’s job than a screenwriters)


Did I miss anything? What do you think makes a good book to screen adaptation? What’s your favourite? Let everyone know in the comments down below.

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