Part of the adaptation process is determining which parts of the work of literature hold weight, or importance, and which are insignificant light details. However, light aspects still must be included to counter the weight – the only way to recognize that certain parts do hold weight, is to be aware of how they differ in relation to the light. Adaptation is a process of including some plot points, and dismissing others. It is about focusing in on what points of view should be included, and which can be left out of the adaptation. Which characters are integral to the adaptation, and which are not? When it comes to adaptation, it is about selection.
When it came to figuring out how to adapt My Sister’s Keeper, I looked for what aspects of the text stuck out to me, which ones held weight in my mind. Also, which parts did I find myself drawn to over and over again, dissecting them, questioning them, trying to make “light” of them? Which aspects of the novel emphasized the dichotomy between lightness and heaviness?
I thought about the catalyst. This, to me, was highly important. The catalyst holds a lot of weight. In this novel, the catalyst was Anna trying to rid herself of the burden of holding her sister’s life in her hands. The journey then, in a sense, is Anna’s quest for lightness. She wants freedom of choice. Looking at this story as a journey for lightness seemed like a good story line to follow for the adaptation process. The family works hard to fight Kate’s impeding death, to try to keep her young and alive and light. The goal of the book is to obtain this lightness and make the world a bit less heavy. Seger mentions that the easiest story lines are about a mission or achieving some goal. Seger mentions that one can usually find a beginning, middle, and end of a story by asking 3 questions:
- What does the character want?
- What does the character do to achieve that goal?
- When does the ‘want’ begin?
Using these three guiding questions, I encompassed my adaptation around the quest to obtain the lightness at the end of the tunnel However, because lightness is never independent of heaviness, but measured by the degree of heaviness, I wanted to also include road blocks. Life is not always light, but is often times dark and hard to overcome.
As humans, we like when our worlds fit into neat little boxes. We like being able to tie our shoes in perfect knots. We like crossing our t’s and dotting our i’s and lining books up on a shelf in a straight row. It is comforting when we can identify something, someone, ourselves. We like to know precisely who we are, where we are going. Being able to label things precisely, gives us something stable to hold onto in a world that is often hard to hold onto.
To create an exact image, or idea, or mood, is a tremendous feat. The world tends to favor entropy, to head in that direction. Science says that entropy is inevitable, and yet the very idea of exactitude proposed by Calvino, is trying to take away some of this entropy. Calvino discusses that exactitude is a clear and thought out plan, precise imagery and ideas and diction. However, this is not to say it is the opposite of entropy. Instead, exactitude tries to contain a precise image, whereas entropy says that this is inevitably impossible. This being said, the exact image one is trying to capture, might be one of entropy, ironically. This precise image or mood might be one that is gray and hard to contain, and is confusing and broken and all over the place. However, an exact idea of this can be captured, even if the content material seems inherently uncontrollable.
In My Sister’s Keeper, Jodi Picoult works very hard to create an exact “what if” question. She is creating a controversial, hypothetical world, and asking readers: “what if this happened to you? how would you deal with it? what would you do? how do you ethically view this situation? is there a right or wrong answer?” By doing so, Jodi Picoult is forcing readers into an exact mindset – one that provokes questioning. She is creating a world that doesn’t make sense, that is hard to map out, and she is challenging readers to engage in this world.
When asked in interviews, Jodi Picoult mentions that all her books start off with a “what if” question. If the question is still in her mind after a couple weeks, then she knows the topic is a salient one, and worthy of writing. Picoult’s method towards storytelling is an exact one. She has a precise goal in mind, and wants to impact her readership in an exact way.
However, the best way in which Jodi Picoult exemplifies exactitude in her writing, is with regards to the mood she creates. She has the ability to sculpt a world that feels so real, a mood that highlights the core of the story. In My Sister’s Keeper, this mood has to do with confusion, cracks, rips, tears. It has to do with a world that is collapsing and scary and hard to define. Through her world choice, pacing, and use of multiple perspectives, Picoult effectively creates such a world for readers. And by doing so, she can convey a precise image, or message, to her readers.
Seger writes: “Novels and films express themselves in different ways. Fiction uses words to tell a story, describe character, and build ideas. Films use image and action” (27). Here comes the trouble with adapting: how do we take a complicated text, where words can help clarify thematic issues, plot devices, character traits, and translate that solely into images? How can we take a text that is quick through its theme, its narration, its use of point of view, and put that into a visual display?
This is when I thought back to Calvino – how is this story quick? How does the storyline lend to quickness? And then it hit me. The storyline is about how quick our innocence bubble is popped. It is about accepting reality, coping with change, living with consequences, learning that every action has a reaction. Every word we speak, every word we don’t speak – people notice.
Seger talks about the journey. If we are viewing this story with regards to how quickly people lose their innocence, then the journey is one of discovering reality. The goal, then, is learning to accept it. There is a fluidity to Picoult’s book, despite the fragmentation of points of view. There is a propelling movement through this fluidity – a sort of pulse. And this motion guides us on the journey – giving us details that build upon details, speeding us forward.
Every character experiences the moment when they realize life is not as stable as they once believed. At one point, Kate and Anna’s mother says: “Driving home, I am struck by the sudden thought that the world is inflatable – trees and grass and houses ready to collapse with the single prick of a pin” (Picoult 34). Here is her epiphany. Life can be popped and can collapse quickly.
Another issue to identify when it comes to adaptation, is figuring out the catalyst and knowing the conflict. In this case, the catalyst is Kate. She has cancer, and because of this, her innocence, and the innocence of those around her, is taken. The conflict – how to cope with this news. A catalyst is the essence of quickness – it speeds up a reaction. Kate causes everyone to lose their innocence quicker than they probably would have. She speeds up the process of facing reality.
And finally, another layer of quickness present in this book, that is a catalyst for reality, is the idea of fire. Before each section opens up, there is a quote about fire. It opens up the chapter – it is literally the catalyst for each chapter. It ignites each story. To add a couple more layers to this: the dad is a fireman. The son starts fires to gain attention. The father is fascinated with stars, which are, in many ways, gaseous fires in the sky. Anna is named after a star. And like a star, she is quick – she flickers in and out of existence. At one point, the dad says the following: “A fire can’t burn forever. Eventually, it consumes itself” (Picoult 37). Fires are quick. They can be started quick. They can be stopped relatively fast. The effects, though, are long lasting.
Eventually time will run out – eventually it will be consumed.