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Business: Movie Options on Romance Novels

Written by Vicki Hinze

On December 28, 2010

Vicki Hinze © 2000-2011

My question is do you think movie makers are looking closer at romance novels? I notice contemporaries are more prone to interest them than historicals. Is there a certain way to write, as in the classic three act structure, that draws their attention? What other elements do you feel would make a novel a good movie?

Many more romance novels are being optioned now. I think the revolution in that industry is driving it. LIFETIME, FOX, and USA have joined others in producing originals, and that creates a higher demand for product.

The current trend does have more Contemporaries than Historicals being optioned. Part of the reason, I think, is practical production costs. Filming an historical can be an expensive proposition. Though some done in the past few years have certainly done well. (Shakespeare in Love, Age of Innocence, Rob Roy, Braveheart, for example.)

Books and scripts are two different animals. Each has assets and limitations that are inherent to their form. For that reason, I think you would be wiser to set out to write a script versus a book, if your goal is a movie. You’re engaging different mediums and those mediums have their own specifics.

In books, we set to emotionally engage the reader via the senses. Smell is particularly strong and acute and can evoke images we, the writers, want evoked in the reader. We also get inside the character’s mind and get internal dialogue and narrative. In a movie, you work through visuals and the writer depends on the skills of the actor/actresses and other involved professionals to translate the emotions, outwardly express the internal dialogue and narrative we (and they) want conveyed.

In a book, the writer has more room to wander and explore. In scripts, the write learns quickly to write tight and fast. Short scenes. And to depend solely on dialogue to carry the emotion of the character. Much more is left up to the actors/actresses to interpret.

Regardless of whether you’re writing a book or a movie script, there are a few things writers should strive to do:

1. Write cinematically. Create and sustain vivid images in the reader’s mind. (There’s an article that could be of help on this on the Writers’ Aids page at the website. Fictional Dream.)

2. Include all that you need, but no more, and no less. In other words, don’t pad to fill up pages. Don’t leave out specific details that the reader needs right now for what is happening in the scene to make sense. Write tight. This goes for characters, too. If one secondary character can serve multiple roles, then it’s wiser to do that than to have separate secondary characters performing each story role. With each new introduction, the reader must get to know a new character. Too many and the writer has to struggle to avoid confusion and to give each character depth.

3. Characters with which the reader can identify. Protagonists aren’t like us. They are like the people we want to be. They deserve to win, to be cheered on, and they have enough in common with us (universal emotions), that we empathize with them.

4. Harmony. Setting, style, tone–all the novel elements–need to work in harmony to convey your specific theme.

5. High concept and broad appeal. A book must be appealing to a large number of people and the scope or concept broad enough to hold the interest of a large number of people. So look for strong reader-identification threads in the story. Ones you and many others relate to easily. Those threads can be positive or negative, but the reader must care about them, and the outcome. That’s the essential element.

What makes for a good movie? Active characters risking something that matters to them for a worthy cause. But that’s a personal preference. The truth is, the answer to what makes for a good movie is as subjective as what makes for a good book. It depends on personal taste. And I’ll say what I always say. As a writer who is writing to sell, you keep an eye on the market but you write only those books that you love so much you can’t write them. You pour all you have into them, and then see what you’ve got.

My point is, I don’t know that any writer can say, okay, to write a book that is made into a movie, I have to include A, B, C, and D. The reason is, the writer is only one facet of the many facets involved in that decision-making process.

The book goes to a producer, who gathers support, talent, and financial backing. There are a ton of pit stops on the way to and with each one. Every single person in the process has an opinion, and every single person sees the work and judges its value and potential through their own perspective, which includes their interests and experiences. So it’s impossible to say that if you do this and that in a book it will be made into a movie. It might, but it might not. Truly, there is no way to predict this. Trends change too fast. Focus changes too fast. Write a book you’re crazy about writing that has a strong commercial hook. That’s about the best you can do to elevate your odds of seeing it optioned for a movie.


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