Does having preconceived commerce considerations impact the writer’s artistic vision?

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This blogger and columnist happened to be a friend. He had quit a well paying corporate job to pursue writing full time. We used to meet and interact on the social circuit a few times in a month.

During one such weekend interaction, he revealed that his maiden effort at writing a book was complete and that the same will be available at the stores soon. It was not surprising that he insisted I read the book. In fact, it would have been a surprised if he didn’t.

I went to a store and purchased a paperback edition. It has always been convenient for me to finish such books at one go. When I was reading this book, I realized my friend had written it as a movie script. I didn’t particularly like the book. I found it too cinematic, and as such, too convenient.

Nonetheless, I complimented him on the effort of our next meeting. At the same time, I couldn’t help but ask him the question that had crossed my mind many a time while reading the book. Was he was interested in getting a movie made from it?

He smiled — for I had guessed what his little secret — and admitted that he was in talks with a reputed filmmaker for the same. In fact, he didn’t shy away from admitting that he had written the book in a manner that it could be converted into a movie script by making only cosmetic changes.

Reality bites…

Professional requirements kept me on the move for quite some time, and we did not keep in touch during the period. When I did meet him again, I found him despondent. It was not very difficult to guess the reason for his state of mind.

The deal had fallen through. The book he had written didn’t register per se. It wasn’t going to have a cinematic interpretation as well. With every subsequent sitting, the filmmaker and his creative team felt the book wouldn’t work as a standalone script. The author had subsequently tried and failed to convince other filmmakers as well.

He has since kept a low profile. We seldom meet these days and when we do, if there is any discussion about that book in particular, and writing in general, one can notice the contours of his face changing.

To say he has struggled to put that particular episode behind him would be an understatement. That being said, it’s easy for me to understand his predicament, and what had inspired him to begin with.

Success is relative

I have been fortunate enough to meet and interact with a few authors whose work has been translated into the big screen, with varying degrees of success. Almost all of them have been honest about admitting being surprised when they received a movie-related proposal.

But there’s this bestselling author who had quit a high profile corporate job to pursue a full-time career in writing, and had struck gold with his first offering. Many of the writing fraternity I came across considered this author’s work to be of lesser quality, yet they marvelled at his success.

His subsequent works also sold copies galore, and he gained fame in quicktime. Besides, all of these books had had a cinematic adaptation. A couple of those movies had done well at the box office as well, adding considerably to the author’s newfound fame.

It wasn’t as if the books written are great from a literary point of view. It is just that they were written in a manner that it could strike a chord with a larger section of the society and find a place in the shelves of even those who aren’t regular readers. A combination of aggressive marketing and smart publicity had ensured results that were possibly a lot more than what the quality of offering deserved.

That being said, success is relative, and the author has enjoyed his share with his initial offerings. His subsequent works — that got poor reviews — were designed as a movie script, to attract a filmmaker, of course. Neither me nor my friend knew this gentleman personally, but his instant success could have given false hopes to any aspiring writer. My friend fell into this aspirational trap.

The untold truth

He presumed if he positions his book as a possible screenplay material, he would stand to benefit in the long run. As such, his offering had all the commercial trappings. One could feel the so-called “cinematic liberties” while reading the book.

As mentioned before, at no point did I feel I’s reading a piece of literature. But I never told him this. He’s my friend. I neither wanted to hurt him at an emotional level, nor did I wish to disregard his effort. It doesn’t matter if a book, or for that matter any work of art, turns out to be good or not. The fact is there is always an effort behind it and that needs to be respected.

That being said, I could understand that by keeping in mind only the long-term vision, my friend had conveniently forgotten the first task he had at hand — to narrate the story in the best possible way. Had he focused on writing something that would have been to his satisfaction first and foremost, maybe he could have handled failure a lot better.

He palpably never admitted to this, but it’s evident that the commercial aspect had remained in the back of his mind throughout. As such, the quality suffered. When the end result was not on expected lines, he found it a difficult pill to swallow. He is yet to write another book.

Cinematic adaptations and desperate measures

There are many examples of great books being made into equally great cinema. There are also those books that made a bigger impact as the adapted screenplay for all-time classics. Earlier this year, Southern Living magazine came up with a list of books to be read before they are made into movies. The movie versions of some are already available.

More recently, Reader’s Digest came up with their own list of the greatest book-to-movie adaptations. In fact, make a quick search on the internet and you will come across many such listicles that mention successful adaptations of books into movies.

However, there are also examples of great books that have got lost in transition — the movies based on them getting poor reception from the audiences and the critics alike. Digital Spy compiled a list of some terrible movies based on really good books. The Independent also came up with a similar list.

Then there are those who take desperate measures, wherein average books get a cinematic adaptation. In fact, even below average fare has also been made into equally bad movies that proved to be commercial disasters. I have failed to fathom the logic behind this. That being said, there are examples galores in this particular category. Get the drift…

… And this brings us to a few questions that we must ask ourselves every time we decide to sit down to write a book.

Can a book be designed to be made as cinema? Does keeping in mind the commercial aspect impact art? There are many authors who fall victim to this trap. They start writing, with preconceived notions, and keeping in mind the long-term prospects of their respective drafts. While it may seem smart to some, is it the right approach?

What do you think?

Books Written to Be Made as Cinema! was originally published in The Writing Cooperative on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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Author: Vickey Maverick