We often hear how novels get turned into extremely successful films. Take Ian McEwan’s Atonement for example, Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park or Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. Actually the list can be endless. How many films are released each year, would you say, that are based on novels? 50? 100? I, however, have recently been interested in novels that have been turned into successful TV programmes.
The most common, and possibly the most popular, TV shows that have come from novels tend to be in the crime fiction genre. Whether it is Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse, Kathy Reichs’ Bones or Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley Mysteries, crime fiction does translate well on the smaller screen. Interestingly, crime fiction is actually one of the few genres I don’t tend to read.
If we look outside of the crime drama, War tends to do extremely well also. I’m sure everyone around the world can remember Sharpe and Hornblower; both shows that originated in the old fashion device known as the book. More recent examples are Game of Thrones, True Blood and planned to be released by the BBC next year, JK Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy has been commission to be turned into a short mini series.
So what is it about certain novels that work much better for the TV screens rather than Hollywood treatment? Does budget come in to it? I’m sure budget definitely comes into it, but let’s take The Casual Vacancy as an example. It would certainly work as a drama for the silver screen, but it would most definitely attract more attention as a TV drama, simply because with each hourly episode, you could focus on one particular character, giving the audience time to attach themselves to the plot as well as familiarise themselves with the family ties that presents itself so strongly within it’s 400 plus pages.
I haven’t actually read any of the Game of Throne novels, but I have seen both series that have aired to date. With a fantasy series like this, the TV writers could easily cherry pick bits from the books and exaggerate them easily for the TV, add in cliff-hangars and then you’ve got the audience hooked until the following week. You could easily then venture off and add extra storylines or even characters in that don’t even appear in the books, but would work undoubtedly well within the world that is created.
But we can go one step further than that! What about novels that originated as TV programmes? Now there’s a question!
If we take a look at the most popular novels that still get reprinted today and have new releases year in year out, despite the TV shows no longer running, two particular series come to mind. The first is Star Trek and all of its spin-offs. To date, well in excess of 300 novels have been published. That is an astonishing number. The second series is based upon Buffy The Vampire Slayer, which too has had a whole plethora of novels published.
These two sets of novels work because the universe created in both series are so vast and infinite in terms of science fiction and fantasy, it is easy to create alternate ideologies without distorting or swaying away from the stories in the shows. Take Star Trek for example – there are so many worlds out there, both discovered and undiscovered that creates so much scope for exploration in novel form – and it’s also important to note that the book can easily create worlds and scenarios with a few paragraphs full of description for the imagination, that may be difficult to create in visual form through technology and money. Buffy The Vampire Slayer has a vast number of major and minor characters that all have their own story arc that, once again, be told in novel form.
I recently have read Alias: Disappeared, which is the third book in the Alias prequel series (I have read both No1 and No2). I loved J.J Abrams Alias and I’m a huge fan of Jennifer Garner. The TV show captivated me with its raw action, complicated storylines and twist of supernatural elements. When I discovered there was a set of roughly 20 prequel novels published about Sydney Bristow’s college years and first missions with SD-6, I couldn’t resist.
The books (well the three I’ve read so far) are a mixture of chick-lit, Young Adult and Spy drama. This is a different Sydney Bristow to the one we see on screen and it is interesting to see how naïve and innocent she can be in the early years. It’s not prolific writing, both in their structure and plot, but they are enjoyable and entertaining, especially as we get to the actual spy undercover sections. They make light reading and can easily be finished in a day. Sometimes, if you’ve been reading something quite deep and heavy, and almost certainly long, it can be satisfying to read something like this that doesn’t take too much effort. Yes, they can be a tad unoriginal and nowhere as captivating as its TV counterpart, but still rewarding nonetheless if you’re an Alias fan.
I’d definitely recommend these types of novels. Sometimes, serious readers can often look down their noses at books like these; not really counting them as ‘proper’ books and only for the casual reader. I despise readers like that because reading should be encouraged in all forms, not just because of its subject manner.
Are there any TV Tie-In books you are a fan of, or on your To-Read list? Don’t be snooty, give them a go. Why not make 2013 the year you read at least one TV Tie-In novel? Go on, make the effort, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.