Turning a novel or literary work into a Drama or Play

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Richard
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Turning a novel or literary work into a Drama or Play

Postby Richard » Mon Jan 28, 2019 10:21 pm

Adapting for the Stage:

You have written (or discovered) a little-known story, perhaps an underrated novel or even an autobiographical novel and want to turn it into a Play, which can then more easily be presented as a screenplay or Musical.
Changing previously crafted prose, with characters which draw the reader in, into the more extrovert and colourful realms of a Stage Play, Screenplay or Drama
We know the Greek Dramas (to some extent) the adaptation Plays of Shakespeare (to a greater extent) and the rather less successful attempts at turning Dickens's stories into Stage Plays or Theatre.

How much of the original novel to change and form a re-interpretation of, in order to make it appeal to a different (wider) audience. That is the question!
Innovation is essential, new ground has to be broken but fidelity and respect for the source have to be considered above all.

The wider audience for a play or screenplay is a stimulus, after all who can honestly say that they would prefer to read a dusty and lengthy novel by a French writer and poet, such as Victor Hugo (Les Miserables) when they can enjoy the much more easily digested Musical of the same name?

Struggling writers may start out trying to sell short stories to various magazines, later writing novels and perhaps even producing standalone Plays. (a playwright often specialises in that sphere?)
Some works may be influenced by war, religion or politics or are attempts to depict the society of the time.
Writing a Play seems something of a challenge that we should be grateful for if it opens ideas and 'issues' to a wider audience.

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seahermit
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Re: Turning a novel or literary work into a Drama or Play

Postby seahermit » Tue Jan 29, 2019 6:38 pm

Quite a lot of things there which some writers/playwrights would disagree with rather vehemently! It is often not about "changing" or "re-interpreting" original stories (although some re-interpretation does go on, but in those cases the writer/playwright is taking an original idea and doing something different with it, so in effect he is creating a new kind of story. Shakespeare was quite good at that!). Very often your word "adaptation" is the correct term - nothing wrong with doing that, of course you cannot condense all the complicated dialogue and sub-plots of Dickens, Hugo, Tolstoy, Jane Austen, a hundred others into a short stage play or film script. The important thing is to retain the original idea and the spirit in which it was written and to present that to a modern audience using modern techniques and dramatic forms: stage play, film, musical, revue, radio drama ..

Equally, I (and I am sure countless others) have enjoyed reading Les Miserables, Dickens novels and many other literary works (given time and very bad weather outside!) and at some later date enjoyed (in a completely different way) the musical, the play or the classic film (Great Expectations by far my favourite). You simply put on a different "hat", go into a different mode and enjoy the creative work on its own terms - comparing it to the original book is rarely a fair test or satisfying.

I think one of the reasons many modern adaptations fail is because they lose touch with the original spirit of the story and have no sense of the "atmosphere" if that makes sense. Amongst the most ghastly adaptations I would quote would be the laughable "Troy" with actors exhibiting very twentieth century mannerisms and speech forms, the film which had Kirk Douglas declaring in a rich Yankee accent that "I'm Ulysses, Sagger of Ciddies" and "Cleopatra" (so many Hollywood mistakes, instead of the way the Ancient Romans really used to dress and behave, that I only watched half of it and quite painfully).

I do like "Carry on Cleo" - breaks all my rules but very funny!

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seahermit
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Re: Turning a novel or literary work into a Drama or Play

Postby seahermit » Tue Jan 29, 2019 7:00 pm

I got interested in your post because some of your thoughts are things which have been vaguely floating in my own mind lately. After a long break (interrupted by Life and having to sort out hearing problems), I have started writing again this year and thinking about the projects I want to work on.

At present I am not exactly doing adaptations or re-interpreting but ... there is a school of thought which says that all stories really boil down to just a few standard storylines and all a new writer is doing is re-telling/re-hashing plus a bit of fancy embellishment or a slightly new take on the original idea! I mean that it is very easy to write something trite and derivative and say what has been said many times before. The answer is to find your own "voice", find something new to say or maybe just present the original material from a different perspective and in a modern setting. None of that is the slightest bit easy!

These are things I would love to thrash out in some sort of writers club - corner of a pub maybe over a drink! That's another idea I have for this year, if I can't find an existing and good writers discussion group.

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Richard
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Re: Turning a novel or literary work into a Drama or Play

Postby Richard » Tue Jan 29, 2019 9:10 pm

Thanks seahermit, for your lengthy and thoughtful replies,

I was mainly attempting to consider how and why some novels are put into the context of a Play.
I believe ( until I am knocked down again) that most Plays are (or were, in their time) an attempt to present a story into a contemporary setting, with a dialogue among characters speaking in the present tense, in an attempt to bring a story to life in a form more readily assimilated by a less educated audience. In other words to appeal to the masses.
John Galsworthy's 'Forsyte Saga' as a novel, may only have reached a relatively small audience, whereas the TV Play adaptation was seen and thoroughly enjoyed, by millions around the world.

Some of the older Plays have of course been changed and changed again in order to make them appeal to a younger audience. We now have a relatively modern 'Romeo and Juliet' set in America and featuring Leonardo DiCaprio, with gang-warfare representing the Montague's and Capulet's of old.
I am no expert on the Shakespeare Plays or where his inspiration came from but his stage plays must, at the time, have appealed to an audience which would not otherwise have had access to or appreciated them. Shakespeare wrote Plays with an audience in mind and capitalised on his endeavours most profitably. He seemed to understand that his Plays could readily be brought to life on the Stage.

Play adaptations, then, can make dusty and seemingly tedious literary works more easily understood but not necessarily by the Play itself, which, unless studied academically, perhaps in a school environment, may still remain both dull, boring and difficult to 'read' unless brought to life on the stage, TV or Cinema.

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seahermit
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Re: Turning a novel or literary work into a Drama or Play

Postby seahermit » Tue Jan 29, 2019 10:01 pm

Yes, I agree with all that, adaptation into a stage play/film is not necessarily just because the writer is trying to put a new twist onto a story or get more mileage out of it - it's about accessibility, making a good story available and relevant to a different or less educated kind of audience. That process has gone on since the beginning, since the dramas of Sophocles and Euripides were acted out in the amphitheatre in front of the local population - many of the Athenians were well educated but many were just farmers, peasants, servants .. (slaves probably didn't get to the theatre!).

Shakespeare's unique genius was that he managed to explore timeless themes about humanity but in a very accessible way (and often with some earthy humour thrown in), so that the drama could be enjoyed on several levels by both educated and less literate sections of society.

At school I was lucky. Instead of subjecting us to tedious play-readings sitting at our desks, our inventive Form Master designated the area in front of the desks as the "stage" and we all took parts and "entered" and "exited" accordingly. Great fun and it absolutely brought the dramas to life.

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Richard
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Re: Turning a novel or literary work into a Drama or Play

Postby Richard » Wed Jan 30, 2019 6:19 pm

That's a relief seahermit, I had imagined you were going to round me up and nip menacingly at my woolly thoughts, rather like a sharp-minded sheep-dog herding errant sheep.
:)

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seahermit
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Re: Turning a novel or literary work into a Drama or Play

Postby seahermit » Wed Jan 30, 2019 9:38 pm

Am I that bad?! Makes me sound like a keen English master who is trying to keep his unruly pupils on their intellectual toes.

The Leonardo DiCaprio film was a good example of how an old story can be made still relevant in a different setting and a later era. It was not my favourite version of the drama or very comfortable but I thought it was intelligent and "biting" - I think the bard would have approved.

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Richard
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Re: Turning a novel or literary work into a Drama or Play

Postby Richard » Thu Jan 31, 2019 5:42 pm

It is not so well known that Dickens, the novelist of many books on the working-conditions in Victorian London, also performed with full histrionic brilliance, and stage-managed to a point of high theatricality, set-pieces of some of his novels in front of the general public. It was almost as if they had been written with performance in mind.
He was never content with common-place book-readings, as frequently held by various other authors.
Events were priced so that the ordinary working man and woman could attend, as he worked through a repertoire of numerous extracts both comic and tragic: the courtroom scene from' Pickwick Papers', the youthful romance of 'David Copperfield', the ever-popular 'Christmas Carol', and, most famously, his intense rendering of the murder of Nancy by Bill Sykes in 'Oliver Twist'.
The Readings were the great theatrical sensation of the day, both in Britain and in the United States of America. Dickens thoroughly enjoyed connecting intimately with 'his' public.

He wrote his first play, Misnar, Sultan of India: a Tragedy, at the age of six, playing the leading part and vigorously directing the neighbours’ children.
Unable to become a professional actor owing to a quirk of fate it appears that Dickens turned his mind to writing but clearly wanted to bring his stories to life right in front of the public.

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seahermit
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Re: Turning a novel or literary work into a Drama or Play

Postby seahermit » Fri Feb 01, 2019 11:33 am

The public readings by Dickens came a bit later in his career, were at times a bit bizarre and even at that time created a degree of controversy! He seemed to get quite over-immersed in his characters, got carried away on stage and appealed to the appetite of the public for sensation and horror e.g. the Bill Sykes episode. It apparently drained him mentally and eventually he stopped doing the performances.

Dickens was himself quite a mixed-up character - several women in his life, the odd mistress. Very much the usual pattern of a creative genius!

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Richard
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Re: Turning a novel or literary work into a Drama or Play

Postby Richard » Fri Feb 01, 2019 6:47 pm

I think Dickens craved the admiration of his public, who enjoyed his novels and sought to keep them on-side after publication of his notorious 'affairs' which were causing something of a scandal at the time.

Although Oscar Wilde only wrote one novel (The Picture of Dorian Gray) he was an accomplished playwright.
I don't know if he ever acted in his own plays but I was interested learn that Rupert Everett recently wrote a screenplay on the work by Wilde written after his famous trial and called 'The Happy Prince'.
I never had much time for Everett who always seemed to be a bitter angry old queen but he has hidden depths and has matured enormously.
A documentary on the lengths Everett had to go to in order to finance and produce the work shows that he is no light-weight by any means.


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