None other than Char­laine Har­ris writes for us on, um, writ­ing.

True Blood and Mid­night, Texas au­thor Char­laine Har­ris on the plea­sures and pit­falls of hav­ing your novel adapted

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Idon’t know of any writer who hasn’t jumped for joy when one of her works has been op­tioned. Not only is it ex­cit­ing to think of your work be­ing trans­lated into an­other medium, but the prospect of meet­ing peo­ple and see­ing processes you’ve never got­ten to wit­ness is a real shot in the arm. Of course, your agent will ad­vise you to calm down. Most op­tions never come to any­thing. The typ­i­cal 12-month con­tract will ex­pire with­out any­thing com­ing of it in 300 cases, for ev­ery one op­tion that ad­vances a step far­ther. I’ve been through this process sev­eral times, most re­cently with the Mid­night books. Some of the re­sults of the book-to-screen trans­la­tion have been spec­tac­u­lar… or, de­pend­ing on your view­point, at least no­table. Some very noble at­tempts to get my other books to the screen have not had any re­sults.

If you’re go­ing to at­tempt to walk this high­wire, you need to have a good agent. Do not at­tempt to ne­go­ti­ate this your­self, no mat­ter how in­tel­li­gent you may be. There are so many pit­falls in the typ­i­cal con­tract, and you don’t want to tum­ble into one. You need an agent who spe­cialises in book-to-film con­tracts, and you need to be aware of that agent’s track record.

When the Mid­night books at­tracted at­ten­tion, I al­ready had a great agency on my side. The TV deal was in the works while I was writ­ing Night Shift, the third book about the in­hab­i­tants of a very weird and iso­lated town in Texas.

I’ve had such good luck with the True Blood HBO show, and the Hall­mark adap­ta­tions of my Aurora Tea­gar­den mys­ter­ies, that I am very hope­ful about the Mid­night, Texas pi­lot. Ex­pe­ri­ence has taught me what to ex­pect.

First, a cer­tain seg­ment of the read­ing pub­lic will ac­cuse you of “selling out”. I have yet to un­der­stand this ac­cu­sa­tion. What did I sell out? Is there some high moral po­si­tion that pre­cludes the chance to see my work rein­ter­preted?

Af­ter all, my books are still on the shelves, ex­actly as they were writ­ten. So the TV show or movie can hardly “ruin the books”, an­other fre­quent ob­ser­va­tion.

The first ap­proach to sign­ing a deal with a net­work or pro­duc­tion com­pany is this: de­mand con­trol of the process, de­mand that you ap­prove the ac­tors and the script, de­mand that you be on hand ev­ery mo­ment of the pro­duc­tion. If you take this stand, you will in­crease the chance of fail­ure in the adap­ta­tion to 99.9%.

The sec­ond ap­proach is most likely to re­sult in an ac­tual film. You eval­u­ate the of­fer, based on the track record of the writer or pro­ducer or net­work. If you think they are rep­utable peo­ple who pro­duce good work, and your agent and their le­gal de­part­ment have ham­mered out an at least tol­er­a­ble agree­ment, you ac­cept their money and you walk away. You wait with in­ter­est and an­tic­i­pa­tion for the re­sult. It will not be a du­pli­cate of your book. The cre­ative peo­ple who have made the film will have rein­ter­preted your work to make it suit­able for the medium.

Of course, that’s the ap­proach that will have tan­gi­ble re­sults. You may shriek with hor­ror as one of your char­ac­ters is al­tered, and you may be as­tounded when you per­ceive what the film­maker thought was your goal. But it is guar­an­teed to be in­ter­est­ing.

Now that Night Shift is on the shelves, I’m anx­ious to hear what read­ers think of it, and I’m op­ti­mistic that they’ll be pleased. As for the tele­vi­sion ver­sion? Well, the book is my baby, and the pos­si­ble TV show is the bow on its head.

Char­laine Har­ris’s lat­est novel, Night Shift, is out now.

“you may shriek with hor­ror as one of your char­ac­ters is al­tered…”

True Blood : a suc­cess­ful adap­ta­tion.

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