One interesting way to study stories is to watch movies based on books. This lets you see how the movie changed elements or made the story more visual. The most recent example of this is “Ready Player One.”
The big difference between the book and movie is that the movie made the story far more visual. The basic story is that a genius created a virtual reality world called Oasis and when he died, he created a game that would grant the winner complete control over Oasis. As a result, people all over the world are trying to win this game so they can be rich.
To win the game, people must find three keys, and to win each key, players must win different video game contests. In the book, the first video game contest requires players to win in a video game called Joust, where you control a flying animal as a knight and try to knock the other knight off his flying animal. Watching this video game is relatively boring sot he movie made the welcome change of turning the first puzzle into a racing game complete with obstacles and monsters that smash competing race cars. It’s a far more visually exciting scene than watching someone play an 80’s style video game like Joust.
That’s the key to writing a screenplay whether it’s based on a book or not. In a movie, everything must be visual but also logical.
In “The Scorch Trials” (the sequel to “The Maze Runner”), the hero has just been rescued from a strange maze and put in what seems to be a medical facility. In the book, strange things start happening where the hero’s rescuers wind up dead, hanging from nooses attached to the ceiling. Then the lights go out and the dangling bodies suddenly disappear. This is a strange visually frightening scene, yet it makes no sense. If you read the book “The Scorch Trials,” you’ll find that the movie drastically changed the story because the book story makes little sense despite being visual.
So the secret isn’t just to be visual, but to be logical as well. In “Ready Player One,” the book introduces five characters and lets you learn a little about them. However in the movie, there isn’t time to introduce all five characters. As a result, most of these five characters serve little purpose. We never get to know what they want or their goals. They simply exist to fulfill the need to be faithful to the book.
If you watch “Ready Player One” without reading the book first, you’ll notice lots of plot holes and lack of character development. If you read the book first and then watch the movie, you’ll know what’s going on better, but the movie is still sloppy in creating a cardboard, stereotypical villain and supporting characters who pop up and exist without any goal of their own or reason to exist other than the fact that they existed in the book.
“Ready Player One” is strong on visual elements but weak on story structure and character development. There are two Japanese characters who help the hero, yet they might as well not even exist since they hardly serve any purpose. Despite these plot holes and weak character development, “Ready Player One” offers just enough of a story to make it a decent movie. When writing your own screenplay, you don’t want to aim for making a decent movie. Aim for greatness.
Watch movies based on books and you’ll notice that many of them either drop or alter the story, or if they include everything in the book, they often weaken the overall story as a result. In “Ready Player One,” the inclusion of most story elements weakens the overall structure, but not enough to keep the movie from still being enjoyable. Read the book, then watch the movie. Then ask yourself what the movie got right and what it got wrong.
By studying movies based on books, you can see what not to do (and what to do) so you can write better screenplays on your own.