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Archive for the month “April, 2015”

Sequel: The Sequel (ad nauseam).

We are a country that loves its sequels. We just can’t let a story go. If a sequel doesn’t make sense, we have prequels. Reboots. Trilogies that somehow turn into 5 movies. TV adaptations and spin-offs. It never ends!

In the book world, sequels are series. And I’m starting to notice a trend…

Just as a TV series really should end around season 5, a book series has to have some end point. I recently finished book 2 of “Outlander” and am DAUNTED, even though I love series, at the prospect of reading 7 more 900+ page books. When is it logical for the story to end?

There are those series that consume your entire life. “Game of Thrones” is one of them. I read Book 4 last month and I’m not sure George R.R. Martin has an end game, though there should be. “Harry Potter”, for example, was well-plotted. Each novel felt like the characters advanced to a next level, and part of this is due J.K. Rowling’s brilliant foresight and planning to have the books follow Harry and co. by age and education level. By the time they are ready to leave Hogwarts the books are done.

Diana Gabaldon could have easily written the “Outlander” series as a great trilogy, rather than drag it out for 8+ books. You end up following the characters lives as closely as your own. I don’t need that. Endings are painful, but necessary. Stories are meant to live on in your imagination. I want a book that will stay with me and take a part of me with it when I reach “The End”. Why give away a novel’s power by feeding the story beyond any logical expectations?

Sue Grafton backed herself into a corner when she started writing her alphabet series. I believe we are up to “X” in the series, and as I’ve ready each book faithfully from letter A until now (some of them more than once) I get a sense that she’s exhausted. She’s been writing these mysteries for the better part of 30 years. Her main character Kinsey gets nearly killed in every single book. What a life! At some point, maybe around “K” or “M”, we stopped believing that Kinsey’s life had any realistic trajectory moving forward. By all accounts she should be dead (or under witness protection).

I will admit the books are fun- as are most books in a series- but I get lost in overall arc of the storyline. I begin to feel manipulated that the books keep coming and the story gets stretched beyond limits because there’s money to be made. Did Diana really anticipate a full 8+ series storyline when she first typed out the original “Outlander” novel? Or did someone tell her she needs to write more in the series because fans and publishers demand it?

I’m reminded of obsessed fan Annie Wilkes and writer Paul Sheldon from “Misery”. What will happen once Diana finishes “Outlander”? Will millions of us fans revolt, lock her up in a basement somewhere, and demand she bring Claire and Jamie back to life? J.K. Rowling let go, much to the dismay of a bazillion kids and adults alike, but she hasn’t been stoned.

In praise of the trilogy, I say, and here’s to logical endings. What are some of your favorite trilogies? (Books, tv miniseries will count, films)




Mixing mediums to mixed success: books and the movies

Recently, I listened to a podcast that discussed great books which turned into decent movies. Nick Hornby, by all appearances, is the poster child for successful author with novels that easily translate to film. His books High Fidelity, Fever Pitch, and About a Boy have all been made into movies that received high praise. I rather enjoyed About a Boy, but I have to say that the book version of High Fidelity was much better than the film.

And why is that? What makes a good book into a good, or even great, film? About a Boy had fantastic casting, so that’s part of it. But it also had a clipped pace and solved the “inner monologue” problem that characters in books get to use with abandon by having Hugh Grant provide the narration, which was not overly used. High Fidelity, on the other hand, practically had John Cusack speaking to the camera in every frame, which became bothersome and resembled some kind of tricky filming gimmick that I didn’t quite believe. And I didn’t like the woman cast as Laura, so the love story was a wash for me.

In fact, casting does play a big part of the whole success/non-success of book turned movie. I couldn’t bear to watch any of the Harry Potter movies because the actors cast as Hermione, Harry, Ron, etc, didn’t match the character versions from the book and my imagination. Hugh Grant, however, was perfectly placed as the half man/half boy selfish singleton living the carefree life in London. Renee Zellweger was born to play Bridget, in Bridget Jones’ Diary.

On rare occasions, a movie can even outshine the book version. The English Patient comes to my mind as an absolutely boring slog-fest of a novel, but roared and came to stunning life as a film. James Bond movies are another example of so-so stories that take on a life of their own on the big screen. Again, casting is key.

And sometimes a movie and a book come together as one and do the hard job of complimenting each other nicely. “Gone Girl” the novel I loved, but I was very skeptical of the movie version at first. If you’ve read the book, you might also wonder how they pull off the “big reveal” without it being too obvious or too cheesy. I thought the book was a wonderful interpretation of the book. The casting director responsible for putting the actress who played Margot deserves a medal. Her chemistry and relationship with her fictional brother, Ben Affleck, was key to the story. And Rosamund Pike… I can’t say enough about how much I love Rosamund Pike. The movie had big shoes to fill, and some folks I know were confused by the ending. Why would a man STAY with a woman like that? Here is where the book is a better narrative. You get more insight into Amy’s troubled and broken relationship with her parents, and you also get a clearer image of Nick “the people pleaser” who cannot let go of his hero/needs to be loved image. But the film Gone Girl did amazing things with Amy’s diary sequences and flashbacks, which made the whole movie for me.

And then there is the question question of interpretation. Obviously, a movie is a director’s (and screenwriter’s) adaptation of the fictional work. It can’t, as a visual medium, follow a book to the letter. Some crucial parts and minor characters will be reimagined, or left out altogether. The podcast crew I listened to pointed to the inconsistencies in American Sniper the film versus “American Sniper” the memoir. Here, the story deviated wildly from book to movie. “Gone with the Wind” is another novel that led to a loose interpretation in the movie version. Most notably, Scarlett O’Hara is missing some kids from her first husband. How much or how little gets changed depends on the type of story the director wants to tell. Radically changing details by no means is indicative of faulty storytelling in the novel form that gets “cleaned up” in the film version. But I do think books tell better linear stories than film. Books fill in the gaps with reminiscing, backstory, and small scenes with characters that are not pertinent to the overall arc. Trying to capture all of this in a film, going from point A to point B and following the exact path of the book, makes for a boring, by the numbers, movie.

Some of my favorite book to film adaptations:

  • Sense and Sensibility
  • The English Patient
  • About a Boy
  • The Graduate
  • Forest Gump (a nothing book that turned into a wonderful film)
  • Bridget Jones’ Diary
  • Fried Green Tomatoes

Any others that I’m missing? What do you think?

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