From the Page to the Silver Screen: The Case for Book-to-TV Adaptations

Mallory Dobry ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

2014 saw the release of many major book to movie adaptations, including a new installment of The Hunger Games franchise, The Fault in Our Stars, Gone Girl and countless others. It seemed as though every other movie at the box office was based off a work of literature. However, this trend was not exclusive to just the movies.

Many of the most popular and critically acclaimed television series in recent years have also been based off of works of fiction. Books have been adapted to the silver screen for many different genres and demographics, ranging from teen programming on networks like ABC Family and The CW to premium programming on stations like HBO and Starz. Shows such as Game of Thrones, Outlander, House of Cards, and Orange is the New Black all originated from works of fiction and found a new form on TV.

(L-R) Diane Guerrero, Jackie Cruz, Dascha Polanco and Kate Mulgrew (far right) in a scene from Netflix's Orange is the New Black Season 2. Photo credit: Ali Goldstein for Netflix.
Diane Guerrero, Jackie Cruz, Dascha Polanco and Kate Mulgrew in Orange is the New Black. Photo credit: Ali Goldstein/Netflix.

With so many book series and novels finding their place in television, it begs the question: could television be the ideal home for books looking to make the jump to the screen?

Adapting a book series to a television show is no doubt a lofty goal, however, in cases where novels are long and full of important details and plot points, a television show offers the proper time and space to develop the plot naturally in the show.

In the case of Game of Thrones, based off A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin, each season of the critically acclaimed HBO show follows one book in Martin’s series. With each Game of Thrones book spanning roughly 800 pages, it allows the writers of the show to break down a work of fiction that otherwise would have been condensed to practically nothing into a well fleshed out season of the show.

Opting for a television series instead of just a film allows writers and producers to remain even more faithful to the source material, and when the source material comes from the young adult genre, faithfulness is crucial. Several young adult series’ have been adapted to television, including The Vampire Diaries, Pretty Little Liars, The 100, and more recently, The Mortal Instruments, which begins production this year.

Photo Credit: Simon and Schuster.

It also presents many advantages and disadvantages to the screenwriters in charge of adapting the work of fiction to the screen. An entire book series offers writers a fleshed out plot, season long arcs, and a template for character development over numerous seasons. It prevents writers from writing themselves into corners at the end of each season, and makes foreshadowing of future plot points far easier because they’re aware of what will happen in later episodes and seasons.

However, it can also be restricting, and making even the smallest of changes can impact the canon of the book series, complicating episode plots later down the road. It also complicates creative freedom in some ways, if writers feel the characters and plot have taken a different direction than that dictated by the books. Some characters may develop along a path that they didn’t take in the book, and the television medium offers them a venue to grow in a different direction and perhaps become a completely different character in later seasons.

Some shows also run out of source material, and have to create the plots and character development on their own after some time, which can happen with shorter books where several are composed into a single season. Often shows are also developed from merely the idea and basics of a series. Shows such as The Vampire Diaries and The 100 ran into similar problems, when merely the concept was taken into television development, and thus created a show that was drastically different from the source material.

The 100 Key Art. Photo Credit: CW
Photo Credit: CW.

With the success of so many shows drawn from works of fiction, there’s no doubt the trend will continue and more books will make their way to the silver screen, or to a computer screen through Netflix or Amazon streaming, and will perhaps open the doors to other genres and mediums to hop on board as well.


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