Novels and screenplays work very differently. (Please, save the ‘Duh, Jennys’ for the end.) However, sometimes it’s difficult to see why they work differently without thinking about it.
Novels: You get the words and only the words to describe scene, character motivation, dialogue, etc. Basically, novels have to cover everything and be complete in and of itself.
Screenplays/Plays: Are not complete until they are performed. Often, not until after weeks and weeks of rehearsal/shooting. Russell Crowe was reportedly pissed that Gladiator was being written while they were still working on it–and before you say, “Well, Crowe gets pissed at a lot,” let me say in his defense that it makes an actor’s job harder when they don’t get to interpret something whole.
Wodehouse wrote musicals and plays and his work has been adapted for the screen. But, as mentioned, the screen works differently than prose. You’ll be pleased to know that the two actors who portrayed Jeeves and Wooster in the British series based off of Wodehouse’s two legendary characters, the legendary-in-their-own-right Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, took the adaptation seriously.
Stephen Fry even wrote an essay on it. Check it out in whole here.
In the essay, Fry says, “When Hugh Laurie and I had the extreme honour and terrifying responsibility of being asked to play Bertie Wooster and Jeeves in a series of television adaptations, we were aware of one huge problem. Wodehouse’s three great achievements are plot, character and language, and the greatest of these, by far, is language. If we were reasonably competent, then all of us concerned in the television version could go some way towards conveying a fair sense of the narrative of the stories and revealing, too, a good deal of the nature of their characters. The language, however, lives and breathes in its written, printed form.“
Then he gives an example at random. But I’m not going to do that. Let’s take a peek at Jeeves disapproving of some outfit or other of Wooster’s in “Leave it to Jeeves”:
“I remember meeting Monty Byng in Bond Street one morning, looking the last word in a grey check suit, and I felt I should never be happy till I had one like it.
‘Jeeves,’ I said that evening, ‘I’m getting a check suit like that one of Mr. Byng’s.’
‘Injudicious, sir,’ he said firmly. ‘It will not become you.’
‘What absolute rot! It’s the soundest thing I’ve struck for years.’
‘Unsuitable for you, sir.’
Well, the long and short of it was that the confounded thing came home, and I put it on, and when I caught sight of myself in the glass I nearly swooned. Jeeves was perfectly right. I looked a cross between a music-hall comedian and a cheap bookie.’”
Ah, now. We have a very clear picture in our heads of what Wooster looks like, we have a very good impression of Jeeves’s opinion, and we have a very good idea of what these characters sound like. Enough verys, right? The scene is complete on the page.
Now, I don’t have the teleplay in front of me, but it would look something like this (forgive me, trying to write a screenplay format in a blog is tricky):