I see that the topic has continued; so, partly to stay in the fray, and also to
vaguely answer some of the questions, especially Ms. Smith's fine question
about adapting a book, i'll offer a small (if long) story.
Some years ago (like in the last millennium) i was sitting at a campfire
when an old friend told a story to a bunch of kids about his grandfather.
The story roughly went that his grandpa was a rough, bitter man confined to
a care facility. One day he was assigned a roommate, whom he not only didn't
want but resented.
The roommate however, was all too happy to be in a place where there was
someone to talk to and leaned heavily on the art of uninvited conversation.
The grandpa was rude and dismissive, but as time wore on he managed to just
keep his mouth shut while the new guy rambled on and on.
As time passed the new roommate also found he had less and less to actually
tell my friend's grandpa, having run through the family history, then his
own exploits as a kid, a stint in the service, and through a full marriage
and kids and grandkids of his own. Out of the need to keep talking, perhaps
to keep his own sanity, the man began describing what was going on outside
the window of their room, obscured from gramps by a heavy screen. Day after
day he kept this up, the parade of life going on outside, notes on people
who were there everyday and what they did, especially a man who came to sit
on a bench and eat lunch with his young daughter every day. The roomie even
trying to conjure what their conversations might be like.
Well, to shorten this a bit, i'll get to the end. One day gramps wakes up
and eats his breakfast and after some minutes realizes that there's no
verbosity coming from the flipside of the screen. He hollers a couple of
times along the lines of "Hey, when'd you learn to keep your old trap shut?"
But there was no reply. When the nurse comes to retrieve his breakfast tray
he says, "Hey, where's old what's-his-name?" And the nurse says, "Why, Mr.
Davis, he passed away during the night. I thought you knew."
Gramps looks at her, blinks, and says, "Well, get over to the window and
tell me what's going on outside there." And after a moment of stunned
silence, she says, "Why, Mr. Davis, there's no window in this room . . ."
Okay, end of story. Make of it what you will, but i flipped over it,
especially my friend's choked up rendering of it. After the kids left, i
told him i thought it was just an incredible story, it had so many layers
(and i gushed i guess). I asked my bud if he minded if i wrote that up, that
it was so inspirational. He said sure.
I spent a year working on it, writing, re-writing, polishing (then going
back to earlier versions after i'd polished the shine completely off and
starting again). By the time i saw him again, nearly a year later, i was
pretty proud of it. I had a clean, crisp (dot-matrix!) copy ready, with his
name as co-author, and awaiting only his final check that i hadn't missed
anything before i sent it off to Reader's Digest, or some other publisher of
truly inspirational stories.
It was the night of another campfire for us, and i was hoping he'd tell the
story again, but i couldn't wait to actually show him i had been good for my
word. I put a copy in his hands, aptly titled "The Window" and looked for
It came -- he barely had read a sentence when the color drained from his
face. I said, "What's wrong?" He said, "I'm sorry, i guess i misunderstood
what you wanted to do . . . that was a story i'd read in Reader's Digest."
Then the color drained from my face.
Well, this is a little off-the-path since we're talking adaptation. You
can't adapt a story into just another story (and i wasn't writing scripts at
that time), especially when you stick to the details.
Or can you. PO'ed that i'd spent a year plagiarizing a story (which
thankfully i hadn't sent anywhere), i resolved that the plotline (someone
with a big heart helps someone else with a cold and bitter heart to see
things in a different way) was so good that maybe the story could be written
So, i came up with an alternate story -- two blind kids, a girl who's bitter
because she can't do things that sighted kids can, meets a boy who does a
lot of things sighted kids never get off the couch to do. He teaches her how
to enjoy her life in ways she never dreamed. The twist? -- the girl never
knows the boy is blind too.
After ten years of my telling that story (my version) around a lot of
campfires i took it and turned it into a stage play and it has been
workshopped twice by regional theatres, and i now have a composer working on
a musical version. A success? Well, not yet, if ever. But i did get a script
by doing a different kind of adaptation.
The other similar kind of thing i've done (besides script-adapt a story that
was itself an adaptation) is to adapt one of my own "books," an unfinished
novel that took another life when i began converting it -- such that, once
i've finished the script, i'll likely go back and finish the novel.
Just some more idle thoughts,
Special thanks to Kaye Abikhaled and Sylvia Dickey Smith for their comments!
"Give a man a play and he will read for a day.
Teach a man to act and he will never eat again."
-- Sarah Tacey, actor/director