Spangler’s From Sentence to Screen: Introducing Adaptation Theory

In the film industry, often when a new movie is being made it is another form of a story that has already been told. Sometimes though this is intentional and is called an adaptation, and most times this is when a movie is made from using material from a piece of text, a book, videogame, another film, etc. When this happens, we can examine it and look deeper into the film with the theory of adaptation. In my first blog of Spangler’s From Sentence to Screen, I will be explaining the ideas of fidelity, the essence of the medium, plot, and characters when it comes to movie adaptations. 


When an adaptation is made most people want the movie to be as faithful to the original work as much as possible. If not, they often get upset about it, which leads to poor reviews. This tends to happen when a film adaption fails to capture what the previous audience felt is the fundamental narrative, thematic, and aesthetic features of the original text. An idea like complete fidelity can be problematic because the medium of telling the story has been switched from one form of text to another, film. Which means there will be automatic differences in the way the story is told or shown and perceived. This brings up the point that film is a multitrack medium, meaning you can play not only with words, but also with performance, music, sound effects, and moving photographic images. This explains the implausibility of complete fidelity and a good reason for the undesirability for literal fidelity. There are things that are told in a book and even explained, but that can be very different than actually seeing that event or thing in a film. This is why the idea of fidelity can be tricky. The movie should remain faithful to the source material to some extent, but it should also leave room for interpretation and what fits with the medium of presentation.

This leads into another idea in film adaptations, if it is unrealistic to do something from the book or if it simply doesn’t translate well on screen. Books are better at explaining and delving into the characters thoughts and motivations, whereas films tend to be really good at physical action and showing different point of views. This is why most adapted movies tend to use things the characters are doing or the things around the characters to show the emotions and motivations of the characters. The way a book is written compared to a movie is quite different because the book has to convey facts only through the written word, whereas a movie has written word, visuals, sound, and CGI which can produce images that are not available in the real world. Instead of focusing on literal adaptation this idea relates to what the essence of the medium being expressed, making sure to play to its key strengths and avoiding weaknesses that that take away from the story.

The final idea I will be focusing on, is how adaptations look at is characters and how those characters are going to change between the book to the movie. The characters are also one of the things that are judged most harshly when an adaptation is being reviewed by critics. If the filmmakers change something about how a character looks or acts it can be looked on as unfavorable because the character is less than faithful to the source material; this often happens because a standard film can not include all the material from its source text. Filmmakers have a hard task of looking at a character and their development and deciding what is crucial to the character and the plot. When trying to make as good a film as possible, often times scenes in books that may be important to the characters arc do not have a full effect on the plot so filmmakers take them out. Or they change it so much that, though the readers of the source material can tell it is supposed to be the same scene, it feels out of place or like the filmmakers took too much away from the original story.

Adaptation theory can be looked at in many different ways, from the more common, plot and character view, to the fidelity of the adaption, and finally being more concerned about the essence of the medium than said adaptation is being presented in. The filmmakers have to make choices as to what would forward and help the movie whether that was being faithful to the original or faithful to what the medium of film does best, compared to the medium of the written word. A film adaption can be made from almost any original text though for my blog I will be focusing mostly on books and short stories turned into movies. For my first adaptation and next blog entry, I will be looking at A Wrinkle in Time, book written by Madeleine L’Engle and movie directed by Ava DuVernay.

— Jo Spangler, Film blogger.

Jo Spangler’s Bio:

Jo Spangler

Jo Spangler is a junior at Lewis University, majoring in English Literature and Language with a minor in Creative Writing. She is a writing tutor in the Lewis Writing Center and a Youth Enrichment Aide for the YMCA. In her free time, Jo enjoys reading, writing, listening to music, and watching movies. She has been to 10 countries outside the United States, including England, Italy, Turkey, and Austria. One of Jo’s favorite book series is The All Souls Trilogy, by Deborah Harkness, because of how she mixes the supernatural with history and the focus on character development. In the future, she hopes to go into the publishing industry to help find new and exciting books for people to read.

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