Sunday Musings: Novelizations
This year, I am turning my attention back to movie novelizations. I used to read them when I was young–mainly the ones featuring the most beloved of movies. Actually, I just read the Star Wars and Terminator books. The rest I shunned because novelizations are just cheap cash grabs and why would I want to read that? Or buy a book that has been made into a movie and now sports the movie poster cover?
Ah the selective snobbery of a bibliophile.
I have no excuse for turning my nose up at novelizations save for those that served me best, and yet, for decades, I made lots of excuses. What could a novelization possibly add to the movie I saw on the big screen? And yet, it is a particular scene from the Terminator 2 novelization that I have clung to for all these years, finally seeing it come to life in the recent Terminator: Genisys.
In Clarkesworld issue #94, Piazo Publishing’s Managing Editor, James L. Stutter writers about the negative reader perception against tie-in novels. He explains how these can be both a boon and a bane for writers in many ways, but the description that stood out for me was “fan fiction that you get paid for.” I love tie-in lore, with Star Wars being at the top of the list, followed of late by my devouring of gaming tie-ins. So why have I developed this aversion to novelizations?
Well this year, I’m fixing that by focusing my attention on novelizations. No doubt I’ve been inspired by Star Wars: The Force Awakens. If I am going to read a novelization, then obviously the series that first inspired me to do so should be on the list. In fact, it’s co-blogger Tiara’s comments in her review, and the subsequent discussion with our other co-blogger, Mogsy, that reminded me of what novelizations do best. While the author of a novelization is bound by the constraints of the movie script (and may even be working from an older version of said script), there is still some wiggle room. Here is where Stutter’s comment about fan fiction really sparks my attention because the author of a novelization gets to embellish a little. The most obvious area where writers can easily take advantage of the format is with the characters themselves. Rarely does a movie allow us to get into a character’s head, but a book can give us entire inner monologues. While “show, don’t tell,” is often an editor’s motto, which implies that a visual medium would do better in some areas, sometimes, you need those extra details that you can only get in the written word. In some cases, what we see on the screen of a characters actions as the final product might not match up exactly with what is written in the books, but, for better or for worse, it allows us the opportunity to reconsider what we saw on screen or read and determine what truly works within the context.
Deleted scenes are also more likely to get into a novelization since it isn’t bound to time constraints. I wasn’t surprised by George Lucas’ addition of Jabba the Hutt to his re-release of A New Hope because I’d already read the scene years earlier. My young adult heart was all aflutter with the description of the kiss Belloch shares with Marion in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. And, as I mentioned above, a scene that appeared only in the Terminator novelization has been my driving force for the series.
And sometimes, no matter how hard it tries, a film, for whatever reason, just might not pull off a scene just so. For example, one of my favourite moments in the escape from the Death Star involves Han’s crazy storm trooper chase through the halls.
Oh it is still pretty funny when I see it on screen, but it’s also very abrupt. When I read the whole scene, as written by George Lucas in the book (yeah right, you wrote that by yourself, George…), I still laugh out loud at the description:
Rounding a corner, the three humans came to an abrupt halt. So did the twenty Imperial troopers marching toward them. Reacting naturally–which is to say, without thinking–Solo drew his pistol and charged the platoon, yelling and howling in several languages at the top of his lungs.
Startled by the totally unexpected assault and wrongly assuming their attacker knew what he was doing, the troopers started to back away. Several wild shots from the Corellian’s pistol initiated complete panic. Ranks and composure shattered, the troopers broke and fled down the passage.
Seeing that the ten had halted, Solo likewaise slowed. Gradually he came to a complete stop. Corellian and Imperials regarded one another silently. Several of the troopers were staring, not at Han, but past him. It suddenly occurred to Solo that he was very much alone, and the same thought was beginning to seep into the minds of the guards he was confronting. Embarrassment rapidly gave way to anger. Rifles and pistols started to come up. Solo took a step backward, fired one shot, then turned and ran like hell.
In the re-release, Lucas subsequently added more troopers to the scene to amplify the joke, but I much prefer the natural and logical humour in the original (which had wittled the group down to ten), instead of the idea that Han some how managed to survive this:
My novelization plans won’t be limited to Star Wars, though Alan Dean Foster will likely pop up many times in my pursuit. He’s well known for his novelization resume, and though it might seem like he’s just in it for an easy paycheque, he’s a pretty darn good author. Having worked myself within someone else’s creative property, I believe that breathing life into a script in a way that is both true to your own style of writing and holds to the feel of the property itself is not as easy as it seems. But there certainly are advantages to settling down to write within a fully realized world and established characters.
Plus, I haven’t had a chance to see a lot of movies in the theatre lately. This might be a good way to catch up.