Novels and short stories are often used as the basis for film adaptations. Sometimes even non-fiction books can get picked up and turned into movies, just look at Eat, Pray, Love and What to Expect When You’re Expecting.
It’s great fortune for a writer to have a book “optioned” by a Hollywood studio. Not only will this result in a payday from the film company, but it will also help sell more books.
A handful of writers have mastered the art of writing adaptable novels. These are not the writers on the short list for the Pulitzer year in and year out, nor are they in contention for the Nobel Prize for literature.1
These are the writers of bestselling thrillers that many would call “pulp fiction”. These are the writers whose work is accessible to readers from ages 15 to 75, with prose that moves along quickly and an eye toward dialogue and action (e.g., the stuff of movies).
By now you’ve already named one or two of these writers in your head. Dan Brown is the latest whiz kid of adaptable fiction, making a lot of news and a lot of money from his novel series touched off in the media by The DaVinci Code.
In the decades before Dan Brown hit the scene, three writers in particular stood out as writers of adaptable fiction. Stephen King, Michael Crichton and John Grisham are responsible for penning many hits (and a few flops too) that were taken from novel to film.
Stephen King is, forgive me, the king of adaptable fiction. He has experience an a director as well (Maximum Overdrive, 1986) which may explain his penchant for cinematically oriented narratives.
Though Stephen King is known for his horror novels like Cujo and Carrie, he has also written some highly acclaimed dramas. Did you know he wrote Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile? Given 121 writing credits on Internet Movie Database, Stephen King is among the most prolific and successful writers in any genre and has done exceedingly well in writing for two genres at once by creating highly adaptable and compelling novels.
Some of his most critically successful and memorable works include The Shining, It, Stand By Me and The Running Man.
Michael Crichton is not in need of any consolation prizes. His novels have been turned into smash hits. With an interest in what happens to people who get too close to technology (and or natural powers) that are beyond their comprehension, Crichton has created a number of memorable modern myths.
Jurassic Park remains Crichton’s biggest success as a novel adaptation. Crichton also created the television series “E.R.” which was a long-standing and successful hospital drama.
Some other notable titles from the Crichton ouvre are Sphere, Twister and Rising Sun.
A writer of court-room thrillers, John Grisham has not been as prolific as Crichton or King, but his films have been notable successes.
The adaptation of Grisham’s novel The Firm was a taut and entertaining thriller starring Tom Cruise as an attorney forced to flee for his life, pursued by his (corrupt and powerful) law firm.
Grisham has written about two dozen books and nearly half of them have been adapted for the screen. He remains a popular novelist and we are sure to see more John Grisham films in the future.
1Cormac McCarthy is a possible exception to the rule suggesting that adaptable writing cannot be literary.
He is a literary writer, winner of prestigious awards for his work and rumored to have been considered for the Nobel Prize for literature. Three of his novels have been adapted and turned into films: All the Pretty Horses; No Country for Old Men and The Road.
McCarthy’s Blood Meridian and Cities of the Plain have also been plucked for adaptation and will be released in 2011 and 2012, respectively.
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