Top 10 Problems of Adapting Books Into TV Shows
VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
WRITTEN BY: Garrett Alden
Script written by Garrett Alden
Adapting books into tv shows is not an easy task. For this list, we'll be looking at common issues and difficulties with TV adaptations of books for those who make them, those of us who watch them, and the original authors. Some of the difficulties include the screenplay. Novels can take a long time to write; as long as years in many cases. Television has a much more brisk turnaround, so many TV adaptations of books have gotten to the point where they overtake their source material, forcing the creation of original material. Another difficulty is that you can't talk about spoilers!
Top 10 Problems with Adapting Books Into TV Shows
Adaptations to the small screen can have big problems. Welcome to MsMojo and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Problems with Adapting Books Into TV Shows.
For this list, we’ll be looking at common issues and difficulties with TV adaptations of books for those who make them, those of us who watch them, and the original authors.
#10: The Show Has Original Writing to Do Because the Books Aren't Finished Yet
Novels can take a long time to write; as long as years in many cases. Television has a much more brisk turnaround, so many TV adaptations of books have gotten to the point where they overtake their source material, forcing the creation of original material. This can be a risky proposition, since, no matter how skilled television writers are, they simply don’t have the same voice as the original author, and they often can’t measure up to what came before. This has most prominently been seen in “Game of Thrones” in the long wait for “The Winds of Winter.”
#9: It Can Ruin the Things You’ve Imagined
While you could argue that books themselves are always someone else’s story, we all have our own internal visions of what the worlds we’re reading about are like; how characters, places, and things look, sound, and feel are all up to us. Yet television creates a singular version of the events of the story, meaning that, even if we like the onscreen version, clashes between our own versions and the TV show are somewhat inevitable. Even so, it can be difficult to watch a show with, say, an actor we don’t feel fits our version of the character. This sort of leads us to our next entry…
#8: A Poor Adaptation Can Make People Dislike the Book
Adaptations are a great way of increasing awareness of the source material, as many viewers will want to read the book after seeing the movie or TV show. This can be a boon to fans, who can have something to share with others, and to authors of course, since more people will be buying their books. However, a poor adaptation can turn people off from looking into the books, hurting sales and preventing new fans from joining the community. After all – if the show was bad, the book must be too, right? Well, that’s almost always wrong, for reasons we’ll continue to delve into.
#7: There Isn’t Enough Time for Character Development
Books have potentially hundreds of pages in which to develop their cast of characters; laying out their motivations, pasts, and how they develop over the course of the story. Television shows have, at most, 20 odd episodes that are each around 45 minutes long in which to show their characters developing. While it’s better than film adaptations, it can still prove difficult to convey characters’ individual journeys, particularly when the story has a large cast. Even when some characters do get their due, others are bound to be left underdeveloped.
#6: TV Shows Don't Have the Budget to Bring All the Events to Life
What can be depicted in books is limited only by the imaginations of the author. Epic battles, lavish locations, and impossible creatures can be conjured in our minds’ eyes with just a few words. However, bringing things like this to life on screen is considerably more difficult – and can be expensive. Costuming, actors, and special effects all cost a considerable amount of money and not every show can afford to depict everything found in a book, which can lead to some workarounds that often don’t capture all events from a novel as well as they should.
#5: You Can't Talk About Spoilers
One of the most exciting and fun things about watching a show week-to-week is getting to discuss new developments with other fans and speculate on what will happen next. However, the people who’ve already read the books often fear taking part, as they likely know more than those who don’t. Meanwhile, those who have not read the books are often wary of discussions, out of fear of important spoilers. Though discussion can still take place between those on both sides of this divide, the fact that the show’s viewers are often splintered like this can make for difficulties in a fandom.
#4: Different Endings
As we said before, books take a long time to write and original material sometimes has to be written when original content is unavailable. In the most extreme cases, this can lead to there being two different endings to a story – one for each medium. A story’s ending is often its most memorable part, so having multiple endings can be unfortunate if one of them is less than satisfactory. It can also lead to confusion, since those who’ve experienced both are likely to conflate the two in their minds. A different ending can also ruin the original intent of the author.
#3: Fans May Not Like Any New Additions
Including non-canon information, scenes, or characters, these can prove controversial with fans of the source material, often leading to them voicing their disappointment. Changes that might upset the fans of the books may seem unavoidable, but they should still be kept to a minimum by showrunners. Fans of the books are a built-in audience for the show and alienating them with new additions can instantly prove detrimental. Of course, sometimes original characters can become fan favorites, so it’s a risk that can be worth taking for TV creators.
#2: Important Elements May Be Left Out
When adapting a book or series for television, it’s inevitable that not every single scene, character or bit of dialogue will be left in the script. Leaving out crucial information, characters, or events however can create plot holes and inconsistencies in the story that will leave new fans confused and old ones fuming. Television may be able to include more than film when it comes to book adaptations, but plenty of important scenes are often omitted from small screen stories too, usually for the sake of cutting a book down to a single season.
#1: What Is Canon?
The book is always better, right? Well, even if it isn’t, the book's information almost always takes precedence in the minds of those who read them first. This can end up being alienating for those who only know the show. And the question that is raised is, how is “canon” even established? In a show like “Game of Thrones” where the ending will be revealed long before the final book in the series is published, how do fans begin to parse what “officially” happened to their favorite characters? Some may say that books are always the only true canon, but in modern times that definition is definitely changing.