Writers dream of being published, and published writers often dream of having their novels adapted into movies. Today, perhaps because of increased isolation as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are experiencing a new golden age of television. For novelists, this presents an unexpected opportunity.
Though many novelists yearn for film adaptations of their books, they quite often wind up dissatisfied with the results, and the same holds true for those novelists’ devoted fans. Movie adaptations tend to be unsatisfying. Not every author’s work gets the runtime Margaret Mitchell got for Gone with the Wind, and even that movie had readers disappointed over scenes from the book that hadn’t been included.
The truth is that a movie cannot hope to capture everything in a novel that readers enjoyed. There is simply not enough time, nor is there enough production money. Basic things like locations, supporting characters, and so-called big money shots will be radically modified or even eliminated from film versions of novels. And films are subject to scriptwriters’ and directors’ interpretations of their source material, not to mention the input of some very hands-on producers.
More than a dozen of my novels have been adapted and can be used to illustrate the above. The end of my novel The Devil’s Advocate is quite different from that of the movie, but a movie exec told me if my original ending was used, it would cost them at least $30 million at the box office. The main character usually can’t end up defeated in a movie. It depresses the audience, who could then go on to bad-mouth the film. It was a long grind to find an ending that worked for the Devil’s Advocate film, but it was found, and I did love what they did with my story.
But since I’ve been writing V.C. Andrews for well over 34 years, I can illustrate the complexity of adaptations more clearly with the two interpretations of the bestselling Andrews novel Flowers in the Attic. For just about every one of the millions of readers devoted to the book, the incestuous events were important. It underscored what Christopher Jr. and Cathy Dollanganger were enduring in their passage from adolescence to sexual maturity while being incarcerated in an attic and small bedroom for over three years. Yet the first film adaptation left this out entirely, and the book’s fan were irate with the changes. Lifetime’s version took the incest on, and as a result 6.1 million viewers watched the first night the film aired and the success drove the production of the three sequels.
Since the pandemic hit, viewers are hungering for more series, as visiting movie theaters and indoor restaurants remains risky or difficult in many places. Simply put, where else can one safely go?
How does this impact how a novel will appear on the screen? First of all, when a series is developed from a novel, its characters will see some real in-depth development, as their complexities can be written, acted, and seen over a longer period of time compared to the standard two-to-three-hour runtime of a typical film adaptation. More of the novel’s episodes can be included in a series, and there is greater opportunity to develop underlying themes and conflicts. Television and streaming service producers are searching hard for novels that lend themselves to series development—particularly those with a continuing character or characters.
Numerous hits have come from books with complex characters, among them Alias Grace, Big Little Lies, Game of Thrones, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Night Manager, Orange Is the New Black, and Outlander. As a result, authors and their agents can pitch their stories as continuous, and with the expanded demand for content, the possibilities are booming.
How possible, how booming? Flowers in the Attic was adapted twice as a full-length film. The sequels were all then made into full-length films. Where else can this go?
In the golden age of television, all the questions surrounding characters can lead to new story lines, and those story lines have the potential to be further developed into more shows. Novelwise, one plot led to 11 novels spinning off the characters. The potential is there.
The pandemic has brought on a new age of book-to-series adaptations, and with it novelists have found not only new sources of income but greater satisfaction in how their books are turned into movies. And this trend won’t end when the pandemic goes away. It’s baked in, just like any good silver lining.
Andrew Neiderman is the author of 46 thrillers and has written as V.C. Andrews for over 34 years. He has just completed Journey to the Attic, the biography of V.C. Andrews.