Back when I was a lawyer, one of my law partners asked if I thought my debut novel, Dessert First, would ever be made into a movie. (*Spoiler alert: It was not.*)
No, I told him. My stories tend to have a lot of voice, a sprawl of subplots, and difficult subject matter (death) leavened with humor. It’s a hard mix to carry off as a novel—although that’s what it’s designed as. It would be even harder to make into a movie.
Movies and books are very different, if you’re trying to write one. Movies—of the Hollywood blockbuster variety, anyway—have structural exactitude and not much leeway, which novels are looser about. Novels tend to have subplots, but the movies they’re made into pare that away and compress.
Novels do bear an imprint of the input from beta readers, editors, cover designers, and others, but they are almost completely assembled from the author’s words, who has lots of control. They’re a collaboration largely of the writer and the readers—who makes up their own mental picture of the characters and setting from those words.
While the manuscript of the novel is most of the product, the first draft of a green-lit screenplay is just a small ingredient in the final soup: Movies require hundreds of experts, with gigantic sets, casting, lighting, acting, sound, camera work, etc. The director and the stars are more important to its commercial success than the original words in the script.
And they have much larger budgets and scope—if several tens of thousands of people buy a book, it’s a commercial success. If only a few hundreds of thousands of people see a movie, it’s a horrific failure.
Novels allow you more room to experiment. And sometimes those experiments succeed so wildly they are made into movies, and those movies help more readers discover the book—the seed that huge tree of a movie was made from.
Which is probably why my law partner was asking about whether my book would become a movie—you know, the kind of thing that generates even more money than the practice of law. Not yet. And the economics of writing books are…modest, for most of us.
So why do it?
Because it’s magic, creating a world with readers using barely more than an arrangement of words.
I get to make magic. How cool is that?
Although movie money and the readership it would bring would be nice too.
“There’s no money in poetry, but there’s no poetry in money, either”—Robert Graves
Dean Gloster has an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. He is a former stand-up comedian and a former law clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court. His debut YA novel DESSERT FIRST is out now from Merit Press/Simon Pulse. School Library Journal called it “a sweet, sorrowful, and simply divine debut novel that teens will be sinking their teeth into. This wonderful story…will be a hit with fans of John Green's The Fault in Our Stars and Jesse Andrews's Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.” His current novel is about two funny brothers who have to team up with their friend Claire to save the world. It has all the usual Dean Gloster novel ingredients: Death, humor, the question of whether it’s possible to save someone, a love interest to root for, dysfunctional parenting, and a slightly off-kilter sensibility. Also a mergers and acquisitions lawyer dad who is missing 74 percent of his soul.
Dean is on Twitter: @deangloster