Different media, different approaches

I find it interesting to look at stories that have been presented in different media. The classic example has to be Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – the same author produced a radio version, TV version, movie version and book version of the same story. Each is slightly different. Which is the true story?

By studying the differences and similarities, you can get a much clearer idea of the essence of the story. In any adaptation/new version, you need to look at each scene/event. I reckon each falls into one of three categories:

  • Absolutely essential. Needs to appear in very close to the same way in each version.
  • Important. Carries part of the story but can be tackled in some other way if necessary.
  • Minor. Maybe it adds extra colour, or background, or reinforces what’s going on, but the story works just as well without.

It might well be a useful exercise, when working on a novel, to pull each scene apart in those terms. What does it add? Is it essential, important or minor? What’s the balance between these three categories? Is there too much minor content compared to the essential? Is it all essential, with very little spare? What is the role of each scene? If you were to translate it into a different medium, which elements are essential? What is the purpose of each scene, not just in what happens but how it carries the story forward?

For example, if you were to take the story of Little Red Riding Hood, which parts are important? What is the nugget of the story? The fact that LRRH was picking flowers on the way? The fact that the wolf had fur? The fact that the relative she was visiting was a grandmother? Or the fact that she was distracted from her task, allowed the enemy to confuse her for a while, and then finally saw through his deceit? Which parts can you safely discard or change? Which parts carry the story? How far can you go in changing/adapting before you lose sight of what you started with?

This musing was prompted by my visit to the cinema over the weekend to view Ender’s Game, the movie adaptation of one of my favourite novels.

If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, be warned that this entry from this point forward will contain spoilers. And if you haven’t read the book – go read it, and skip the movie. And if you’ve seen the movie but not the book – go read the book. As usual, it’s far better than the movie…




***spoilers for Ender’s Game from this point on***


I’ve read Ender’s Game several times. It goes down as one of my favourite books of all time. When I heard of the movie being released, I had reservations – it has a lot to live up to. So we headed out to take a look.

Just like the graphic novel, the movie story is greatly simplified. There’s a whole story arc from the book – Val and Peter’s schemings – that are missed out. Understandable in a way, and yet what does it add to the story? It puts it into a world context. It explains why Val is willing to encourage Ender back into training. It makes the story so much richer.

The training is far shorter and simplified. That’s sad but understandable. That comes into the middle category – the training itself is important, but the depth and detail aren’t so important.

And yet there’s a whole aspect that I would view as essential to the story, that they missed completely. The fact that by opening the gate without defeating the enemy first Ender is bending the rules completely is lost by telling the kids that’s how you win the game. In this way the whole impact of the story disappears. The way that Ender is isolated and forced to rely on his own abilities to keep himself safe, and is taught that there is never anyone else to save him, that it’s always just him. The fact that in the end he wins by doing something totally unexpected, that he believes is against the rules, done in a fit of anger against the unfairness of the way he’s being treated.

The imagery in the movie was impressive. Although the battle room should not have clear walls, and there should be more than one battle room, and the whole station is far too small, the essentials were there. The final battles in the command school were particularly well rendered, although Ender should be totally isolated, not standing with his friends.

Part of the point of the story is the ansible – the instantaneous communication. There was no need to travel closer in order to communicate. This ties into the way that the formics (and calling them that rather than the buggers was again understandable but incredibly irritating) communicated with Ender via his dreams and the mind game. The people on earth should be in fear of a third invasion, not realising that we are the third invasion, another point that was completely lost. And the fact that Mazer Rackham had been sent into deep space in order to remain alive to train the new commander was very unclear.

The ages of the movie characters were disappointing of course – originally Ender is six, and the training takes a few years, but in the movie he is a lot older to start with and the training takes place only in a very short time. That’s forgivable – just – but the fact that Ender is supposed to be small and innocent and vulnerable is lost when the boy is actually a lot taller than Bonzo!

So all in all I was incredibly disappointed by the movie, which seemed to miss most of the story and get wrong the parts it did include.

The lesson, however, of how to pull your story apart, figure out the exact purpose of each scene and how to put it into a different context is a valuable one.


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