As Seen on TV!

Whenever you translate a book to TV or a movie, there’s danger that it won’t translate well. However, there are times when it translates beautifully, and it seems that is more often the case when books become a series than just a one-off movie. More time for plot and character development and the nuances that are in the book.

That said, translating A Song of Fire and Ice into an HBO series is total genius. There are three reasons for this:

1. Episodic format fits well with the structure of the books. The books switch between settings and POVs, essentially chunking the epic novels into smaller bites. The show does the same.

2. TV trims some of the bloat. Jenny’s got an upcoming post that will address where some of the bloat creeps up in the books, but the jist is that there is a lot of description of mundane details. Part of it is necessary for world building, but there’s a lot about small details of dress, accessories, food, family ties, etc. When you change the format to a visual one, you’re ditching long descriptions of how things look and letting people just see it.

3. It’s easier to keep track of characters. Martin has oodles of characters. They can be hard to keep track of. But, if you tie that character to an actor, suddenly you’ve got a face, a voice, etc. that remind you who people are. You might not remember everyone’s name right off, but you know that one guy is Sean Bean.

Not all stories translate well to the screen, but this one translates fabulously. Whoever first said, “Hey, let’s make it into TV” has totally earned the tons of cash he/she is no doubt raking in now.



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5 responses to “As Seen on TV!”

  1. F.T. Bradley: Avatar

    I haven't seen the series yet, but this is all so true in general. When I grapple with writing a character, I imagine an actor who would fit the bill.

    Always nice to see you post here, Ali!

  2. Jenny Maloney Avatar

    At a writer's group recently, people started casting the characters in my book – and I was floored by how perfectly they cast! Made me happy that I'd expressed my characters the way I wanted to.

    Casting characters people love has to be a hard thing. I just saw – on Facebook – a photo of a guy who someone said should play Jaime from Gabaldon's Outlander series. There were thousands on thousands of comments about how this guy was NOT Jaime and casting him as such would ruin the series. (I have no idea if there's going to be an Outlander movie/series at this point, so it was just a hypothetical.) Just goes to show: don't irritate the fans if you're going to do the movie/series thing.

  3. Debbie Avatar

    I think some of that is knee-jerk fan reaction. The first time I saw Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn in the teaser trailer, I was ticked. “Aragorn is tall and older with obviously graying hair and he's definitely much more rugged than this guy.” The truth is no actor could look like the character I had in my head. But Viggo won me over.

  4. Debbie Avatar

    I do like the trend. True Blood is much better than the books that inspired it (IMHO). And there are plans for American Gods, The Passage and (possibly) The Magicians as mini-series.

    The more ambitious, smarter television shows (whether based on books or not) are also better than most of the movies Hollywood is producing. You guys are smart to be analyzing how TV is getting it so right. Forget screenplay structure. How does good, non-episodic television do it?

  5. Jenny Maloney Avatar

    I read somewhere that the short story has more to do with the movies than novels – and that's why novels didn't translate as well. Screenplays adapted from short stories do better than people expect (Brokeback Mountain, anyone?)

    I totally agree with you that television seems to be kicking the Hollywood movie butt. I think that the non-episodic television shows with the movie-sized budgets (and therefore have the ability to do a fantasy world like Game of Thrones) have great potential to tell the novelistic/epic story very very well because they have more in common with the novel – chapters/episodes, backstory development over a longer period, immersion in general. Also strikes me as a throwback to the days when novels were serialized. This is not a foreign concept to telling larger stories, they're just doing it in a visual medium now and I think it's very effective.

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