When looking at recent movie titles, it’s easy to wonder if all the really good stories have already been told. They haven’t, of course, but one still wonders. Not every new film is a remake, but it seems like quite a few of them are. So, is it the same with novels? Are the same stories simply being told over and over again?
For some writers, that’s true, especially for books which feature the same cast in volume after volume. Some of those stories definitely suffer from sameness. But then one only has to consider popular TV shows which also feature an ensemble cast dealing with a terrible new crisis every week (or one especially ugly crisis which is dragged out all season). The difference is that a variety of writers are generating stories for the small screen while most novelists are working alone (James Patterson’s fiction factory notwithstanding.)
And then there’s Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” It’s likely the record holder for movie remakes. Obviously, there’s something endearing about young love, family enmity, leaping to conclusions, and tragedy, right? No, wait. Maybe it’s the poetic dialog, because don’t we all just love to ruminate in Elizabethan English? (Try poking a “wherefore art thou” into a contemporary novel and watch readers flee.)
So, what is it? Where’s the magic? Why do certain stories get lost in the crowd while others become all-time favorites? That list includes such worthies as Charles Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol” and Edgar Rice Burrough’s “Tarzan.” And everything in between! So what makes these stories stand out? What makes them the ones people never forget?
I believe it’s a variety of things which all combine to form a rollicking good yarn. For openers, there must be originality. Love stories will always be popular, but “boy meets girl” by itself isn’t enough. There were stories set in the tropical wilderness long before Tarzan slid from the pen of a Sears Roebuck employee in 1912, not the least of which was Kipling’s Jungle Book. Tarzan turned out to be an English Lord, but Mowgli? What did become of him? Here’s a thought: what if someone wrote a story about a boy who went into the jungle to raise wolves? Hm….
The story must not only be original, it must be well-told. The author’s voice must be appealing; the characters must strike a chord with a majority of readers, and the content must be profound enough to survive the advance of technology. That’s a lot to ask of a first time novelist. Yet Harper Lee did it with To Kill A Mockingbird, and Margaret Mitchell did it with Gone With The Wind. Nor were they the only ones.
There’s no shame in setting your sights high. There’s also no shame in managing your expectations. The marketplace is more crowded today than ever before, and it’s only going to get worse. Not long ago all you needed was a louder voice than the competition. That’s no longer true since just about everyone is screaming. That means you need a compelling message and a consistent and persistent delivery.
You’ll also need faith and a great heaping helping of good, old-fashioned luck.
Just for kicks, what books have you read that you’d like to see made into movies? (I’d nominate several of my own, but that probably violates some sort of ethical standard. <sigh>)