Month: July 2015
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Last year I waxed lyrical on how ideas can evolve and change over time, even within a single short story that can become something totally different to its original intention. I was mostly talking about a single project going through its own individual course of development, but the natural progression from that is the idea being recrafted into a totally different medium. Adaptation. Sometimes it’s a dirty word; other times it’s the salvation of an idea previously struggling to find its groove.
Adaptation can be, to put it eloquently, a real bugger. Movies built from an existing story or IP are the main subject of criticism here, but changes in material for a new medium can run up and down the chain. The idea can come from anywhere and can become anything. Les Miserables started as a book, then became a musical that had more influence on the 2012 movie adaptation than the actual source material.
The 2012 film is an interesting point of discussion as far as adaptation is concerned, because it begs the question of whether it was an appropriately adapted project. The result was a musical crammed into a feature film format – many critics rated it well, which is hardly a surprise, but the reaction was more polarised among regular moviegoers.
And then there’s content that just will never fit into a certain medium, no matter how much you try to fit it in there. There’s never been a proper video game made of Les Miserables, just as most video games don’t make good movies (especially if they’re directed by Uwe Boll). A computer game can have a good story, although it’s often a mess to take that story to a new medium and keep it compelling.
But let’s narrow this down a little to talk about adaptation in different forms of writing – it may seem smaller in scale, but the same issue of compatibility arises.
The difficulty in jumping between prose and poetry is self-evident – the two forms of writing require completely different disciplines and priorities. What works well as a story may work as a poem if stripped down to its core ideas and emotions and retold accordingly, and vice versa if the right details are filled out into compelling narrative with story and momentum. Either way it’s a tough exercise.
And even across different forms of prose, it’s difficult to take an idea and transmogrify it into something else. Often the concept seems pretty simple. Take the fairly common practise of turning a chapter from a manuscript into a self-enclosed short story. Chapters are supposed to have their own internal mechanics and structure, so clean up around the edges and it should make a solid short story, right?
Wrong – initially, at least. It’s been done with success many times before, but even if it’s the first chapter being tapered at the end to add a more complete ending, it’s not a clean process. The cracks will show. Ideas that were meant to be seeds for later discussion will become pointless distractions. And the ending will likely be unsatisfying because there was meant to be more content to fill out the conflict and mystery evident in this episode of a greater story. Open endings are all well and good, but not if there are still loose ends that don’t close the natural arc of the story and the events that play out as a consequence of the inciting actions.
There are lots of anecdotes about short stories being expanded into novel-length publications. And hey, it works. But only if it’s a storyline constructed for the novel length. Rarely does the short story just get slapped on as a first chapter. The entire narrative is deconstructed and grown from scratch.
It’s also not as clear-cut to jump between fiction and non-fiction. Sure, the two mediums often blur together, but the point of fiction is to entertain and the point of non-fiction is to educate and enlighten (yes, that’s a gross oversimplification, but every ‘rule of writing’ carries at least some contrivance). So the focus needs to change, even if just a little. Non-fiction is typically bound by design to require more of a ‘point’ than fiction, which can exist clearly to entertain only.
So with all these problems and incompatibilities, is it a bad idea to try to take an idea in one form and adapt it into another mode of expression? Of course not.
I do it a lot myself, as a prose writer. A couple of dead manuscripts from my university days have been dismembered into a suite of short-form projects. One finally made it to publication in the latest issue of the online journal Communion. But only after a massive renovation that saw the original chapter stripped down to half its length and the remainder practically rewritten. The rest of my attempts there are pretty much dead ends – for now, at least. Like with any evolving idea, sometimes it just needs time to find the right mode of expression – and the enthusiasm to make the idea fit the medium, instead of the other way around.
Never be shy about experimenting with ideas, exploring different modes of expression to find the best way to carry a specific story or concept. But adapting something for a new medium is about as much work as writing from scratch. It’ll be laborious, but it might be worth it.
Beau Hillier | Editor, page seventeen
July 9, 2015
A pain, like somebody thrust a spear through my right eye and forced it out the back of my head.
This pain is not a migraine.
It’s not a tumour.
It has no medical-based cause.
It comes from reading stuff sent out into the world before it’s ready.
It’s tantamount to sending a six-month-old foetus out into the world and expecting it to thrive.
You see, you’re only as brilliant as your reader’s capacity to understand you.
So your premise could be mind-blowing. It could, in fact, be the most brilliant idea that’s ever been conceived in the history of brilliant ideas. But if you send it out half-cooked, poorly articulated, or badly punctuated, then it means nothing.
Any narrative is a guide providing the reader a tour through the story. The tour itself might force the reader to think, might be disturbing or thought-provoking, it might be hard to digest and you might even wish you weren’t taking it, but at no time should it be incomprehensible.
Your writing’s not going to win readers over on potential. Some people just don’t get this. They think their writing can be horrifically punctuated and the grammar appalling, but that their idea is so mind-blowingly brilliant, that they themselves are so mind-blowingly brilliant, that it doesn’t matter, we’ll forgive them, love them, and love what they’ve written.
The majority of readers will not persevere with writing that grandly suffers any (let alone all) of these flaws. What it really demonstrates is that the author hasn’t bothered to put all due care into their work, so why should we bother investing our time into it? Why should we read something that’s going to require constant deciphering? Life’s too short.
And taking this further, why am I going to invest again in you as an author? If anything, in a situation like this, you’re only damaging your own reputation – your own brand. If you’re running a business, and releasing literature of this quality as a promotional tool, you’re not likely to win clients, because you’re writing is going to be a reflection of you – if this is how you write, how do you conduct business?
If you’re a baker, would you leave your pastries on muddy shelves? If you’re a carpenter, would you sell chairs with uneven legs? If you’re a plumber, would the pipes you fix constantly leak, or pump water to the wrong places? If you’ve answered ‘no’ to these questions, why would you treat your writing any differently?
The advent of e-publishing has made it is easy for people to self-publish. Digital publishing has made self-publishing cheap and simple. But just because publishing has become so accessible isn’t a reason to not take the utmost care with what you’re releasing. You need to polish it to a standard that people won’t be complaining about punctuation and/or grammar, and will thus be free to focus purely on content.
You have one chance to make a first impression. Screw it up, and many won’t give you a second chance. Those who do will be harder to win over, waiting for you to trip up.
Take some pride in your work.
Don’t send it out in the world until its ready.