Somebody wrote in the other day, asking which is easier to adapt to film--a novel or a screenplay--and why. Here's what I told him.
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Hmm. Methinks thou art a trifle confused. Asking that is a little like asking which is the tastier fruit, an orange or a shoe. There is no comparison because a screenplay is the film in written form. It's the directions for every character, setting, and scene within the film. I suspect the confusion arises from your using "screenplay" when you meant to ask which is easier to adapt, a novel or a stage play (which is the written form of a theatrical or stage production).
While neither is a breeze to adapt to film due to film's unique reliance on camera placement, evolving scenes, lighting, special effects, etc., I think I would prefer adapting a stage play to film due to the fact that the stage play has already blocked out the dialogue, scenes, flow, and other elements necessary for a visual presentation—that is, a performance. In so doing, it has eliminated all non-visual aspects of the presentation commonly contained in a novel.
A novel, on the other hand, uses tools unique to that genre, such as internal dialogue (thoughts), complex imagery, narrative, differing points-of-view, and a never-ending evolution of scenes, none of which is reliant upon or limited by the boundaries of visual representation.
In short, adapting a novel to film is similar to starting a race from the starting block. Adapting a stage play to film is more like starting a race from the halfway mark. Both still require a lot of work to reach the finish line, but one is a little quicker and easier to accomplish than the other. At least, that's my take on it.
Of course, other writers may disagree. But that's an argument that needs to be fought in a court of higher opinion. Until that day comes ...
Smoke if you've got 'em.
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D. J. Herda is author of the new e-Book series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere. His blogs appear on his Website at www.djherda.org. You can also check out his columns, "The Author-Ethicist" and "Fury and the Beast," at Substack. They're free; they're entertaining; they're informative, and they run weekly. Well, almost weekly. Occasionally weekly. Sometimes weekly. (Hey, he does his best!)