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.

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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:

han solo

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. Wendy

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.

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14 Comments on “Sunday Musings: Novelizations

  1. Fascinating topic! 🙂

    It’s very true that novelizations can take you into a character’s head in a much easier way than the screen can, and it’s also true that they are fan fictions one is paid to write – but the success or failure of a novelization depends entirely on the writer. Agreed, they are constrained – as you correctly point out – by the story’s guidelines and this might clip their wings somehow, but still the difference between a good novelization, one that can stand up on its own, and a simple “filling out” of an existing script is in the writing.
    My own experience with this kind of book is limited to a few Babylon 5 novelizations, and I noticed that the ones written by competent writers (Peter David or Jeanne Cavelos, just to name two) are in a class of their own, while others failed miserably to capture the essence of characters or situations. Just like the difference between good fanfiction authors, who make the effort to get into the characters’ heads and enhance them, and the bad ones, who only put some wish-fulfillment on the page…

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    • The writer definitely has to be dedicated beyond just getting a paycheque to really capture both the feel of the film and really dig into the characters. I’m looking forward to exploring the genre more to find more authors to add to my favourites list.

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  2. Yeah, i don’t read movie novelizations. No particular reason why not – although similarly I also don’t tend to pick up a book if I’ve seen the movie already – for example Cloud Atlas – I’ve had the book for ages but now I’ve seen the film I know that I’ll never read it. The other way round doesn’t bother me at all but I think once I’ve seen the film when I read the book it would feel like I wasn’t using my own imagination. I would be seeing the actors and settings and even have the voices running around in my head. I just can’t do it!
    I love your choice of Star Wars clips! 😀

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    • I actually read Cloud Atlas and liked it a lot to the point where I don’t want to see the movie because I just don’t feel they could capture what makes it really work. I may watch it one day, but based on what I have read and seen about it, I feel the film missed the mark.

      I do get what you’re saying about having the actors voices and faces in there. That is certainly true, and I usually try to read a book (not necessarily a novelization) before seeing the movie/show when I can. But when I do watch first, it doesn’t bother me too much to have the voices and faces in my head. Sometimes, it’s really cool to see how well the movie/show captured that. Like the Dexter actors were spot on when I read the book — even though some didn’t fit the visual descriptions, the actors really nailed the characters.

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  3. I’m trying to read more novelizations this year too! I’d actually never read a Star Wars book before. 😳 Peter David is one of my favorite novelization writers. He does mostly comic book movies like Iron Man and Spiderman. If you’re looking for some to add it your list his books have a good sense of humor. Good luck!

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  4. I read a ton of novelizations as a kid. if my parents felt the movie was too adult or too scary for me, they’d still let me read the novelization. If I did OK with the book, then I got to see the movie. This was when I was like 12 years old.

    and it went the other way too – I’d see a movie that was based on a book, and then be all excited about reading the book.

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    • I love that idea of letting you read the book first as a trial to see if you should watch the movie! Brilliant parenting win! I am trying to get my daughter to read some of the books first for movies she wants to watch (not necessarily ones that may be too adult), but alas, she’s rather just see the movie. As much as I want to see her reading more, I have to be careful not to force my love of books upon her.

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  5. Pingback: Aliens: The Official Movie Novelization by Alan Dean Foster | The BiblioSanctum

  6. Pingback: #RRSciFiMonth: Sunday Musings: Journey to The Last Jedi | The BiblioSanctum

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