Book Adaptations: How To Cope With Adaptations
As avid readers know, book adaptations spark a myriad of emotions, from joy to excitement and from mild annoyance to outright anger.
My mother recently became hooked on Outlander by binge-watching season 1 and 2 back to back – probably over a weekend. She was and still is, so obsessed with the series that she started reading the books while she waited for season 3. My mother doesn’t read. Ever.
It didn’t take long for her to get out in front of the TV series and start spotting all those pesky little changes that we writers make when adapting material from one genre to another. First, it was casting problems: characters shorter or taller than described, the children with incorrect eye colours. Then came the plot changes: the characters who should have died or pulled from a future book, the storylines plucked from thin air and inserted to keep a story moving forward over 13 episodes.
She used to laugh at me when I ranted about those pesky little changes that destroy adaptations for lovers of the books. Not anymore.
For those of us book lovers who have seen our favourite books adapted to the small and big screen, we know exactly what she went through. Except we have also experienced the torture that is the anticipation and the disappointment; we have waited years for promised adaptations and then grudgingly forced ourselves to accept the inconsistencies when the cast are finally announced.
Begrudgingly, I’ll admit that the first adaptation I eagerly awaited was Twilight, a series and an author I very quickly came to despise as I grew as a reader. With this one, I had no problems with the initial casting, I was maybe 16 when the film was released and had no real knowledge of the actors cast prior to seeing them on screen. My problem with Twilight came when I saw Kristen Stewart murder Bella’s character on screen. The over exaggerated teen angst didn’t help either.
We’ve all developed coping mechanisms over the years and below you’ll find some of mine:
1) If you haven’t read the book, DON’T DO IT!
We’ve all done it. A series we’ve been meaning to read suddenly gets ordered to screen and we race to finish at least the first book before the film or series airs.
I did this with Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia Margaret Stohl and it led me to nothing but annoyance and outrage from the moment they announced the casting and Ethan Wate, the tall basketball player, was suddenly being played by a 5 ft 7 nobody. The outrage came when they changed the ending to bring forward Macom Ravenwood’s “resurrection.”
The solution is to just wait. Watch the film or series first and then enjoy the books. I’m doing it right now with Rizzoli & Isles and I am discovering massive minefields that would have destroyed my enjoyment after only three episodes.
And if you can’t wait and follow point one…
2) Don’t watch the film when it first releases
I recently rewatched the film adaptation of Vampire Academy (Richelle Mead). When this film first released in 2014, I hated everything about it and my hatred had nothing to do with changes to the plot because they stayed as faithful as they could here. My issue was the acting; the actors didn’t match the mannerisms I envisioned.
Three years later and the exact images I conjured from reading the book have faded and I was actually able to appreciate the film as a separate entity.
So don’t re-read a book before an anticipated film is released and don’t read the book right before the adaptation is due for release. If you absolutely have to read the book to be “ahead of the curve,” then do yourself a favour and give yourself at least a year before release. The exact details and images will fade and you’ll forget things, therefore, enjoying the adaptation a lot more.
3) Ignore the hype and the media
When Beautiful Creatures went into press mode for its imminent release, the producers stupidly compared it to Twilight and managed to enrage the Beautiful Creatures fans who had always despised Twilight. Those fans boycotted the film’s release, which most likely resulted in the film bombing and failing to recoup the costs production.
The bad reviews also didn’t help and put a lot of fans off for fear of it ruining the book. It happens so I can understand this – it’s why I stopped watching True Blood after season 4.
I think the best thing we can do in these situations is to ignore the media and ignore the reviews. We want to support our favourite authors, don’t we? So why should we let some third party muscle in on our relationship with those authors? The answer is we shouldn’t.
We all have mixed feelings but at the end of the day, our favourite authors fight for involvement in adaptations because they want to deliver the best visual adaptation of their work as possible. They want their readers to enjoy the stories anew. Neil Gaiman is one of those authors who got burned early in his career and now goes as far as writing the scripts himself or hand selecting the entire creative team (as he did with American Gods).
And if you can’t do any of the above…
4) Arrive mentally prepared.
I’m not sure which is better, in this case, optimism or pessimism. You could argue that one is looking for the good and the other the bad but I feel that if you expect it to be different, not good or bad, just different, and prepare yourself for there to be changes, you aren’t going to be as horror-struck when it occurs.
I’ve recently managed this with the Shadowhunters TV show, another adaptation the author fought to be involved with. Before the series releases, I did rush to read all of the books and watch the previous adaptation. But even so, I approached it as a separate entity and ignored the books possibly comforted by the knowledge that Cassandra Claire was involved with the show. Although it was beyond cheesy for the first few episodes, it grew on me as a TV show and I am now able to enjoy it.
This is how I manage expectations and cope with adaptations but others may have other methods. Are there any books you wish you’d waited to read or adaptations you wish had never been made? How did you cope with the results?