Hello potential future readers of my words! Thank you for taking the time to explore my semi-organized ramblings. Welcome to my game.
I love telling stories. Mine, yours, others. Admittedly, I’m better at writing them than speaking them, but I practice both. I enjoy a consuming a good story as much as I like telling them. I’ve already written about how important I think reading is to writing HERE. I would view this post not as a sequel, but as a complimentary piece. They have a lot of parallels. When I meet a person “of character” – someone I am particularly impressed with, I make an effort to get them telling at least one.
A great joy in life for me has always been “making a study” of the success and failures of books turned into “visual media.” Reading a good book is wonderful. Watching a good movie or show can be equally so. Hollywood has long used literature as a source for material. As much as I love both venues, I can’t think of a movie, based on a novel, that was better than its source. This isn’t snobbery, it just simply is. I go to the movies and I selectively watch television.
When I see a movie coming out that I think I’d be interested in, and I’m aware that it’s based on a book I haven’t read, I always make an effort to read the book first. If you haven’t done this, you are probably thinking something like “Why would you want to ruin the movie?”. This post is largely about answering that question, and possibly convincing you to give it a try if you have not.
I’ll start with this: In most cases, I prefer to see a good book turned into a well-funded series – especially if the book is a series. Reading the book before consuming the visual media enhances the experience! I find it fascinating to watch how other smart, creative people take on the challenge of capturing the character, the essence, the humor, and the message delivered by the author of the novel to the screen. Are characters as I imagined them? Do they have the same spark? Has the story been dumbed down or enhanced?
Condensing a novel into a 90-120 minute movie is hard. I have no experience in doing this, but in my thirty or so years of playing this game I cannot think of a single example of a movie that has exceeded the novel. There have been a handful that I could say have “done it justice.” The Lord of the Rings. The Martian. … Name some of yours in the comments. More often than not, the movie has ruined the novel. The most egregious violation of a novel I loved was The Postman. Great book, horrifically bad movie. What’s the worst you’ve seen?
Why is this? There are always cut scenes – things that occur in the novel that do not in the movie. There just isn’t enough space to put them all there. Each experience taken out, flattens the character of those in the scene and lessens the impact of climactic scenes by reducing buildup. Often there are cut characters. They may be there merely to advance a plotline or prop up the environment, but I always feel their absence. The worst crime I call “the rollup”. When one character in the movie performs the actions of a cut character from the novel. Time is not the constraint here, but budget may be. When an important supporting character’s role is rolled up into the main character – that just sucks. It breaks everything. Often social commentary is stripped from the movie. Half the reason an author is motivated to write a novel is to express his/her opinions on social issues through their story – but so many times it is stripped away. The Postman is the worst example of these things I’ve ever seen.
What motivated me to write this today? This morning I got up early and watched episode 6 of season 1 of The Expanse after having finished Leviathan Awakes a few weeks ago. I drove to work questioning every difference, enjoying every similarity. The beauty of turning a book into a series is the opportunity to cover pretty much everything in the book, and EXPAND on it. There are characters in the series that aren’t in the book and I’m on board with it. (I haven’t read the whole series, so maybe they are just being introduced early). There are things being shown in the show that are only touched upon in the book, which is great. There’s more tension between the main characters than the book provided, which also works, to a point. Why did Miller leave his hat behind in the show? Who is this spy on the Rocinante, the one that Johnson caught and eliminated on Tycho in the book?
The “game” I play is about understanding how the author made things work in the book and then recognizing, following, and understanding how the difference make or break the media. Abraham and Franck (AKA James Corey) and their team of writers are doing well to ADD rather than SUBTRACT. Nothing pleases me more to see creative minds take something good, and find ways to make it better – without fucking it up. If the original author is involved, even better. He or she (or they, in this case) can help temper the changes and ensure they fit. I must say, that The Expanse is one of my favorite studies so far.
I can’t write this post without mentioning Game of Thrones. You have to live under a rock to not at least know of it. I’d read all of George Martin’s (unfinished) A Song of Ice and Fire long before the show started. Watching it has been a roller coaster of disappointment and joy. It falls victim to a lot of cut characters, cut scenes, and even several roll-ups. It leaves off entire plot lines. It mystifies me when someone dies on the show who has not in the books, knowing that Martin, as a consultant to the writers, may have approved the change. I’ll leave off spoilers here and just say that during one scene, I literally jumped up from my chair and yelled “What the fuck are you doing Benioff and Weiss! Who the fuck do you think you are changing THAT?” In the end, I wouldn’t miss an episode. It’s fantastic. I think both the books and the show are masterpieces of entertainment, but the books are still better. Now that the show is well beyond the plotline of the books Martin has managed to complete, I do miss the extra layer of fun that exercising this game has given me. How strange it will be to do the reverse, something I have never done, when Martin finally releases the next novel, The Winds of Winter.
I woke up today to edit and finish this post, and some read some sad news. I was already aware that SyFy announced the cancellation of a show I was enjoying: Dark Matter. Because I had “followed” it in social media, I started seeing posts from groups that were trying to save it. They tied into the author’s Joseph Mallozzi’s blog which this morning revealed that negotiations to move the show into another production venue like Netflix or Amazon have been exhausted. I hadn’t realized that Dark Matter began as a comic. Mallozzi suggested that the story line may return to the comic so that he may complete it. Perhaps a game reversal is in order?
A few years ago, I started watching The Walking Dead on AMC. I did so not because I was at all interested in “zombie culture,” but because I wanted to see why there was so much buzz about it. I got hooked by the characters and the constant tension they lived in. At the time, I also had not known that it was based on graphic novels, probably because though I have tried a few with my game – The Watchmen and The Crow to name a couple – I was never fully drawn to that form of literature. In the case of TWD, I wish that I had been.
Perhaps I’ve provided you with something else to try in your life of consuming entertainment. I don’t pretend to be the only person who does this. If you have, with what books? I see this game as adding another layer to the enjoyment of the art of storytelling. When I rest my head on my pillow, I dream of the opportunity to play my game from the inside. One day, my novels will not only be published and be popular, but that I’ll have the chance to try to make them even better when they become a movie, a mini-series, a show with quality production, direction, and acting. I’d like to leave my day job, write full time, and reap the paycheck that the sale of media rights provides. I dream big.
Great blog post, with a variety of points.
Watchmen is a masterpiece, though 🙂