Straight Cross Media Adaptation and Why You Shouldn’t

aka Stop Copying Yourselves, Guys

I’m of the opinion that a straight adaptation does no favours to anyone. From a viewer’s perspective, they look like they’re just trying to cash in on a property without hiring a creative team. From my perspective, most of them also look like they’re saving money by not hiring a few medium consultants to fix the writing.

When adapting things across mediums, it’s always important to remember that different mediums allow for different storytelling methods and some methods that work in one don’t work in another. Movies are not comics. Comics and novels have different methods of showing and telling. Television shows cannot always be condensed into a neat little 120 minute package and not every comic would make a good movie.

Media specificity plays a huge part in why some things fail in their adaptation. Take the Sandman: Dream Hunters adaptation. While the text does a fine job of telling everything, comics are a visual medium. If the action isn’t shown panel by panel and is instead shown through the text, then you aren’t doing a very good job. The medium is important to take into account, as are the constraints that medium holds.

The other problem with straight cross media adaptation is that it actually adds no value to the property. If I’ve already seen the movie, why would I spend money read a comic with the exact same story, lines and outcome? Maybe if I were a collector or a completionist, but if you aren’t even going to do it well I don’t know if I’d bother.

There’s other ways to put properties into other mediums that will not only add value to the property, but will also work well within their mediums and may even draw in a larger fanbase, which is part of what these adaptations are all about. How do you do that?

Ah, that’s a post for another day.

Don’t Fear the Medium

A large part of what I learned in SIAT was based around this one quote by Marshall McLuhan. The medium is the message. And I’ll be honest, I hated that quote and still get that little flash of red in the back of my mind when I hear it. It was stretched and twisted until it fit with every point that the professor wanted to make, or introduced and quickly dropped at the start of class. By the end of school, it was just a footnote at the back of my mind to be brought up when I wanted to sound smart. That was all.

And then I discovered transmedia storytelling and I did a little more thinking about it in that context.

Now don’t get me wrong. I still think that the message is the message. The medium, though, works as a platform and choosing the right platform is an important part of getting the message across. More than that, choosing your medium, the one you want to focus in as a writer, shouldn’t be something you choose lightly.

Stories are a strange thing to start with. They start as something small, just an idea, that a writer takes and shapes to be whatever they are going to be. To many people that’s enough. They want to be a novelist, they have an idea for a story and they write a novel. That works most of the time, but I’ve started add an extra little step in there, after the idea and before the writing.

I pick a medium.

I want to be a novelist. I know that’s one of my ambitions, but when I look back on my stories, not all of them are a good fit for novels. I have an idea for an ongoing super hero series that is really better suited for a more visual medium. I have an idea for a story about demons flooding a snowed in campus that would be more spectacular with a different ambiance entirely with different characters. There’s a whole series I want to make that revolves around characters that are all equally interesting, but as a book would get bogged down transitioning between them all.

For me, my stories aren’t clearly defined as novels anymore. While I still want to write novels, I know that’s not always what’s best for my fiction. I’d love to write them as novels, really. I know how to write a piece of prose better than I do any script, but that’s not the best medium for them. I could twist and shape them into the shapes I want them, but I doubt that I’ll be satisfied with the end result.

Because of this, I’m exploring more. I’m learning how to write for comics, still image by still image, and learning to split up dialogue for the medium. I’m learning about animation techniques, audio and voice acting for animation. I’m learning about the different sorts of narrative driven games so that I can write for those sorts of games as the narrative demands.

So how many other people are doing this? Is there anyone else out there who thinks about what medium their story is best told in before they start writing, or do you make your story work for the medium you want to write for?