Thursday, 31 July 2008

Writing a Movie or Game Adaptation, a question I had...

Reading 'The Clone Wars' and 'The Force Unleashed' got me thinking about what it must be like, as a writer, to write an adaptation where someone else has already determined how the story will end. Is it just a paying gig or is it still possible to utilise those creative urges that made you want to write in the first place?
I figured the best people to ask were those whose books I had just read, Karen Traviss is a really busy lady right now (overseas signing tour) but I caught Sean Williams at just the right time and here's what he had to say...

'As a writer, how does it feel writing an adaptation, for a computer game, where everything plot related has already been determined by someone else? Is it possible to still get your creative kicks fleshing out someone else's vision?'

The short answer is: yes, absolutely. But there are qualifications. The Force Unleashed was my 25th novel and my fourth for Star Wars. I worked just as hard on it is as I would any of my originals, and enjoyed it just as much. A book like this might be based on someone else's vision, but it's my vision too, or needs to be in order for me to give it my all. If our visions hadn't matched, then it would be a disaster both for the original creator and me as a writer. This was a good fit, and that's one reason I accepted the offer, with relish. I only ever write books I feel passionate about, in genres or worlds I have a deep engagement with. Star Wars is one of those worlds. It may belong to someone else, but I love playing with it when I can.

I had other reasons for wanting to write The Force Unleashed. Before last year, I'd never written a novelisation of any kind of pre-existing story, but that wasn't for lack of wanting to. I grew up on books by the legendary Alan Dean Foster plus a ton of Doctor Who novels, so in a very real sense this kind of book was what got me into reading SF in the first place. I didn't take on TFU for the money (in fact, I delayed a much higher-paying novel in order to squeeze it in). I took it on because the story looked wonderful, and I knew I could add something to it, and because it would enable me to realise that long-held dream of translating something visual and kinetic onto the printed page.

Another factor I found interesting, specific to The Force Unleashed, is that it's based on a computer game. Not only does this allow for alternate endings, but each player can take a unique path through each level. There are certain milestones that have to be passed, of course, but there's a lot of room for individual creativity. That's how I approached this book: the story I produced would be the canonical one, but it was one of many *potential* versions of the story arising naturally out of the game. There was room for variation, in other words, and in those flexible spaces, in the cracks between the existing lines, was where I found the spark that engaged me as an artist.

Shows how much I know about computer games, the multiple ending thing never even occurred to me... (whoops!) Thanks go to Sean for his thoughts on this. If you want to find out more about Sean Williams, and his work, there is now a link in the 'Author/Agent Websites and Blogs' section (to the right).


Anonymous said...

I love hearing the varied reactions writers have to writing media-tie-in novels and adaptations, particularly when they're passionate about the world they're working in. I think we forget sometimes that many of the writers we love can be just as big of fans of the iconic Science Fiction franchises as we are.

I've played my share of video games, but I also never really thought about how much leeway the flexible paths through a game would offer an author adapting it.

You say you "caught Sean Williams at just the right time..." Did you just email him?

Graeme Flory said...

I did... I thought I'd drop him a line, on the off-chance, and he got back to me really quickly :o)