Why Readers Should Be Involved In Book Adaptations

Posted March 28, 2019 by Clo

readers book adaptationsLights, camera… action.

Books are often adapted into films and TV shows. Sometimes they get it right.

Often though, readers who fell in love with the book are left with a bitter taste in our mouth after seeing the adaptation. The saying “the book is always better” doesn’t have to be the case if readers were included in the process. The saying could change to, “they’re as good as each other.”

Why include readers in the process of book adaptations?

Read the Book = We Can Speak for the Readers

If readers were included in the process, not only would they have read the book, they can speak on behalf of the reading community. I’d say you’d need to have maybe 15-30 readers included in the process (the number would vary depending on how big the production is). The benefits of having more readers involved is they can hash out things that should stay as well as what things are all right to not be included since we know not everything will get included.

Whilst I think it’s important to remember that it is an adaptation and it won’t be totally like the book as it’s appealing to a slightly different audience, I do think it’s equally important to take into account the existing fan base. The teams of readers picked should be diverse, both in terms of ethnicity, mental health rep, LGBT+ should all be taken into consideration.

Anyone can read a book (providing they can read and it’s in a language they’re able to read in), but not every book will hold the same meaning to all. Some books will mean more to those in the minority. Yet when the production happens it’s often those in the majority who have all the control/power.

Help Keep the Adaptation True to the Book (or as true as it can be)

Sometimes, things that happen in the book don’t get shown on screen. In fact, most times they take the book, grab the framework and then rework a lot of it. It’s fine in one respect if that floats your boat. But in another, it’s just wrong. People didn’t get excited to see an adaptation based loosely on the book, they got excited seeing the characters they loved appearing on screen. Taking that from them isn’t endearing to any reader… it makes us salty.

You could argue that an adaptation isn’t always going to be able to stick to the book, which I agree it won’t. Key scenes, though, shouldn’t be cast aside and key character arcs shouldn’t be remade.

Films and TV Shows need to sell and do well for them to either produce sequels or another season.

Riddle me this then: if film companies can do this so well with their own concepts… why do they fall short 9/10 with book adaptations?

I have a theory you’re welcome to disagree with. In the production process, they’re making their target audience the same age as those who would read the books (sometimes lower) but totally forget about the fan base already there.

Let’s take City of Bones, book 1 of The Mortal Instruments as an example. In the book, the Silent Brothers are described to be terrifying and Shadowhunters are scared of them. The Forsaken are also described to be monsters, deformed etc. In the movie, I actually laughed seeing the Silent Brothers and the Forsaken didn’t make me want to run away. They weren’t that scary?

In the UK our age ratings for films go U, PG, 12A, 12, 15, 18. (I may have missed one but generally speaking, that’s our age ratings). By lowering the film’s age rating to a 12, they had to make sure the content was suitable for a younger audience instead of the average age of the reading audience. I’d have said most readers of the series were older than 14… Had they gone for a 15 age rating, the Silent Brothers could’ve been made scarier. I think that would have added a lot to the film.

Readers spend a lot of time between the pages of our beloved books.

We learn about fictional worlds, remember many details, scenes that the majority of the time get cut from an adaptation. If we could understand what the scriptwriters have to take into account, then we could help them understand which scenes should stay and which should get cut.

The part about forgetting the fan base already there is seen through changing the plotline away from the books. I mean, it doesn’t really matter? We’re appealing to those who haven’t read the books and don’t realise it’s based off a book.

At least, that’s how it comes across to me. The purpose of adapting a book shouldn’t solely be to appeal to a different audience. I feel like it should take into account the readers who support the books, the story which allowed it to be adapted. I know there are some adaptations who do take the readers into account, yet there are many others that don’t.

Am I barking up the wrong tree here? Is it a bad idea to involve readers in the process of book adaptations? Or would it help in the long run?

readers book adaptations

Contributor at Bookwyrming Thoughts | Website

Clo is a 19-year-old book dragon from the UK, England primarily found on her own blog, Cuppa Clo. She studied Graphic and Digital Design. Sarcasm is her default, and she's addicted to tea. Oh, and she'd rather you didn't save her from a dragon.

She's also a Co-Founder of Bookend Events, a quarterly event with the aim to bring the bookish community, closer together.

Categories: Books, Movies and TV

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18 responses to “Why Readers Should Be Involved In Book Adaptations

  1. I completely agree with all of this! I think it’s always a great sign when one, the author is involved in the process and two, a majority of the production/directing staff has read the book. I feel like having little book club discussions would be so great for this process and including the fandom in some capacity would be so great and helpful. I don’t think that adaptations need to stay close to the book but I do think they need to be true to the heart of the book, so to speak. Not everything that works in written form will work in film form but everyone should be on the same page to avoid a disaster (*cough cough* Eragon *cough cough*).

    Laura @BlueEyeBooks

    • Clo

      Yep, I don’t mind or think they should stay close to the book but at their core they should have the book in mind. Like you said, not everything works well in film form. Oof Eragon was a time…I still need to read the book but I’ve seen the film and well. It was interesting.

  2. Great discussion Clo! I agrer with you but there is one detail: how would they be certain readers would not reveal details of the filming? And they should go on set so it would be expensive. Or do you have an idea? Sent some part of the movie? But then back at the non bteach part…

    • Clo

      Ah thanks Sophie! I mean they’d probably need to sign documents relating to confidentially or something, as well as their parents if they’re under 18. BUT they don’t have to be physically on set, they could start off with say a voice/video call with the script writers and then gradually as things progress, visit the set as needed. I also think in the editing process of the movie, they should if possible be able to see the rough cut of the movie first and then give feedback on what works, what doesn’t and if any of the deleted scenes should be brought in and other taken out.

  3. I think it would be awesome if they included readers! But we would probably want them to include everything and then it would never get finished haha.

  4. Sam

    Oof I think I’m on the different side of the fence with this one Clo. As both a Film major and a lover of the books, I can see both sides of this discussion and I can understand where the film industry/production company comes from as well as where the readers are coming from. With that said though, I do lean more towards the film industry in regards to adaptations.

    This reason is because I already believe readers are involved in the process of transferring mediums. Every intergral person on set and in production that makes choices for the film has read that book/story–which automatically makes them a reader. But the beautiful thing about reading and storytelling is that is subjective. One person can glean something entirely different than another person did when they read the same book with the same words. What we get in a film is both the directors and scriptwriters gleaning from their time reading the film. That’s why I look at film adaptions as a sibling to the book–raised in the same light, but free to make it’s own choices.

    As for important scenes getting skipped in films, sometimes the reason is because to tell the story effectively in 90ish minutes, scriptwriters and crew are tasked with picking and pulling scenes that ultimately push the plot forward in the best way possible. So for a book one scene could be the most important scene there is in the entirety of the novel, but when translated into a film–an entirely different medium– the importance of that scene diminishes. So many different factors play into it–can it be transferred into film? What is our budget? can we afford it? is our actors comfortable with that scene? does it push our plot forward? in the grand scheme of things does NOT having it matter?
    These are the questions that are asked when a director goes in with production to create the story board and work on the script. SO MANY VERSIONS of the script are handed in from the moment the copy rights are bought to when they finish filming.

    I don’t know if any of this makes sense, but I just see film adaptions as its own entity that is related to the book. like siblings. Not every book can be translated properly into film, and thats solely because its story is better told through the written word–just like some movies are better told through the visual arts than in books. Thats the beauty of the arts, we have so many different ways to tell a story–its up to us as creators to figure out which one tells it the best.

    As for City of bones, honestly that whole series is best told through literature. I don’t think that story translates well into the visual arts (as we have seen), the same can be said for the Percy Jackson series (a time).

    So yeah, idk if that makes any sense, but that’s my tea. <3 you!

  5. I think part of movies having a habit of falling short is just a consequence of the medium… a lot of the time the degree to which books live in the heads of readers means that they’re always going to be to vast to ever be encompassed by film as a medium? There are parts of it that just won’t live up to the book (sometimes because they physically can’t, especially with live action (I feel like animation is an under-considered and under-utilised medium for adaptation of books but that’s a whole other thing…), sometimes because the creators of the film imagine things differently). I don’t really think that any story is necessarily untranslatable into a different medium… definitely there are challenges.

    That said, I don’t think you’re totally wrong about there being a need there for those working on the film/series to really care about the book! I feel like adaptation should really be a project the people making it go into with passion for the source material, because it really is like an extreme and intense form of fanart, in some ways (not so much the economic part, obviously, but just as a piece of media).

    Aaaand I’m going to stop rambling now. I’ve been thinking about this a lot with the Artemis Fowl film looming ominously on the horizon…

    Great post!

  6. I think this is one of the reasons I’m so excited for The Wheel of Time TV show adaptation! Apart from the writers being actual fans of the books, they hired this big fan that read the series more than 30 times just to help them fact check, and that is SO NEEDED in any adaptation.

  7. I think this is a great idea! It would be awesome to get input from readers to kind of figure out what things NEED to be kept in an adaptation and what details can be changed. I think sometimes adaptations are trying to appeal to the most broad audience, so they change a lot. It always makes me wonder when a book-to-movie adaptation makes big changes, like the ending – you know the author is most likely involved and approved the changes, but does it feel weird to them? Do they think the changes are actually improvements on their original work? Do they ever think, that’s what I should have written!

  8. I see two sides to this – good and bad. Readers will always try to be true to the book and will make sure characters and events are properly portrayed, but I also feel like readers will also be too attached to the source material and not be willing to give up certain things in order to make it translate to the screen better. I think it does take a special skill set to translate a book to screen, because movies cannot be 10 hours long.

  9. I like this idea! We need reader committees haha to make sure these adaptations get done right. 🙂 And of course I must be on all the committees. I’ll bring doughnuts.

    Seriously tho when they make HUGE changes to the plot or the adaptation is so loose that it hardly resembles the book, that’s what gets me. Why even adapt something if you’re going to make it unrecognizable? Might as well just tell their own story and leave it alone. 🙂

  10. Oh gods, yes! Yes they should. I know sometimes things have to be tweaked thanks to time constrictions. It’s the times where you get 20 mins into a movie and your mind is screaming ‘wtf??!!’. Those are the times when you wish there’d been a reader behind the director with a copy of the book to smack them in the back of the head with when they go off on tangents… The only time I find substantial changes acceptable is when the author themselves has great input into screen adaptation. Then I see it more as the author’s chance to see how it her ideas may have spun out.

    • Clo

      Such a mood, I also struggle watching films if they don’t interest within like 10-20 minutes because I could be doing so many other things. So when an adaptation makes me feel like that, I’m just dying inside cause I’ll still watch it, to see what they did but my heart shattered. Thanks for reading love

  11. Your suggestion has a lot of merit, and it might really help make the adaptations hew closer to the book. But I doubt the studios would go for it, given that they’re often unwilling to allow even the author to have significant influence on the film or tv series. (With some notable exceptions, of course.) And studios may have a point: while readers know the book inside and out, filmmakers probably know the movie audience, both domestic and international, a lot better than a crew of ordinary book readers do. Take your example of City of Bones: the movie might have been scarier with a higher age rating, but how many ticket sales would they have lost by excluding younger viewers? I’m not saying that studios and filmmakers are always right in the changes they make. Sometimes they mess up pretty badly. (*cough*The Seeker*cough*) But by and large, they are trying to make a good movie.

    P. L. Travers hated Disney’s Mary Poppins, and refused point-blank to let him make any sequels. She didn’t like some of the songs, she felt that Mary Poppins had been softened too much and made too pretty (she’s relatively plain, vain, and quite tart in the books), and Travers absolutely loathed the animation scene, insisting even at the preview party that it be taken out of the film. (“That ship has sailed, Pamela,” said Walt, and walked away.) Travers was correct that the film isn’t a true reflection of the books. But it has been an audience favorite and an enduring Disney classic, and probably introduced many more children to the books than the books did to the films. So which of them was right?

    • Clo

      Ah you make some great points Lark, I think at the end of the day, I’m aware readers probably won’t be involved in the process. Since it’s hard enough for the authors to be involved. But it’d be nice to think that we could be one day, failing that there should be a way for us to understand exactly, what goes through the film directors, script writers minds when they’re having adapt a book to be on screen.

      I think if we were able to understand, what they had to consider, what scenes they cut and their reasons why it’d help a lot us understand why certain scenes don’t make it. And why they sometimes change the plot completely.

      I guess sometimes, we have to realise that some people do know what they’re doing, with adaptations. They know how to alter something, to give it a long lasting audience even if it does mean it’s not a true reflection of the books.

      As someone else said, not everything in book form translates well to be on screen. Somethings just won’t work and that’s ok, doesn’t mean I still don’t wish we were involved in the process tho 😉

    It is such a great idea!!! Movie directors definitely need to appoint readers si that they can save themselves from us angry fans running after them with pitchforks later…