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
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.