Navigating the Spoiler

5 Nov

After both reading and watching The Corner this week, I spent a lot of time thinking about adaptation from book to movie, miniseries, and television. The more I thought about it, the more I realized how different the challenges of adapting a book to movie would be than adapting one to a television series. Ideas of faithfulness, like we discussed in class, came to my mind, as well as issues like time constraints for movies, or how to keep viewers interested in an entire season (or more) based on one or a few books.

One recent example of this last issue that I am familiar with is Pretty Little Liars on ABC Family. The show is based on a series of twelve novels of the same name that were written by Sara Shepard, and its genre would be classified as “teen thriller.” The basic premise of the show is that there are four friends in high school whose friend gets murdered, and, a year later, they start being harassed by an unknown person who only goes by “A,” their friend’s first initial. The girls spend the entirety of the first two seasons trying to discover who A is, while also coping with the normal romantic and social troubles of teen dramas.

Because the show is a thriller, and the mystery is supposed to be a large part of the draw to get viewers to come back again and again, the show obviously has to go to great lengths to prevent spoilers from being released before an episode, especially a highly anticipated one, is aired. The problem with this, for Pretty Little Liars in particular, comes from the fact that it is based on a series of books, so spoilers are available to anyone with access to a library, a bookstore, or Wikipedia.

The main way they seem to have used to get around this potential problem is to deviate from the original plot of the novels and change details or endings for reasons that are not always obvious. It is not especially important to me that an adaptation be very faithful to the original material, so I do not mind this method of adaptation, but I know that it can greatly bother a lot of people. However, I think that it serves a real purpose in keeping the show relevant and interesting over a long period of time.

First, it allows for a relatively small number of plots to be drawn over a much larger number of episodes. For example, there are twelve Pretty Little Liars novels, and there have been sixty episodes to date, with at least another thirty being made in the near future. Each novel is the average length of a young adult novel, so they show’s writers would obviously have to create new subplots and story lines in order to fill the extra time. The end of the second season had the ending of the fourth book, and, while the writers have drawn on some plots from the other books, they still have most of the major plot points left.

Second, and more important, is the way these changes prevent the audience from feeling like they can use the novels to discover plot twists and spoilers. They do this from the very beginning of the series: characters who are supposed to die early on are still alive as of the most recent episode and are following plots entirely different from anything in the novels, romances are created, discarded, continued in unpredictable ways, and people die before their time. With all of these plot changes, anyone who read the novels and felt like they knew what was going to happen at the beginning of the season would quickly feel like they were lost, allowing them to experience the mystery with the rest of the audience. These plot changes and the acceptance by the audience that the television series was not faithful to the books allowed the writers to maintain the most significant mystery of the series and allowed the identity of their harasser to be the same in both the book and show. The viewers who had read the books new the secret all along, but, because they had learned not to trust the writers of the show to maintain some of the major plot twists and revelations, the surprise was maintained. Through this, the network was able to avoid a spoiler from releasing onto the internet before the episode aired and keep some real mystery in the show.

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One Response to “Navigating the Spoiler”

  1. Katie Hunter November 5, 2012 at 2:40 pm #

    I am SO glad someone wants to talk about PRETTY LITTLE LIARS!! It is definitely a teen drama, but has a lot of REALLY interesting elements outside of it’s occasionally soapy narrative.

    In my process of watching the show (about 4 weeks to catch up with 2 1/2 season I think), I did have to go out of my way to avoid spoilers, not just from people who had read the books, but now, watching the show after the episodes had originally been aired, I had to avoid the internet community’s commentary as well. I was afraid to search the Tumblr tag for Pretty Little Liars, and in the course of searching for episodes to watch online, I was the only member of my four person apartment NOT to inadvertently stumble upon a spoiler. I guess this experience relates to concepts of the re-run — do we want to watch a syndicated thriller? Do we keep watching even after the mystery has been “spoiled”?

    After catching up with the series so far, I did do a lot of Googling about the show (no longer afraid of spoilers!) and learned that **SPOILER ALERT DO NOT READ ON IF YOU ARE GOING TO WATCH THE SHOW!!** in the novels, after we find out Mona is A, the series ends. This is the end of season 2 for the show, and in my opinion in season three the show gets a LOT better than the previous seasons. I wonder if this comes from the fact that the writers are no longer having to pick and choose where to adhere to the novel and where to deviate, and how to trick the readers into thinking they will view something different. There was also a lot of backlash from the fan community that read the books and followed the show, regarding the end of season 2. Apparently the producer of the TV promised a different ending than the novels, and season 2 sticks pretty closely to the book.

    I’m also interested in PRETTY LITTLE LIARS because of its use of instant communication technology as a primary device for creating conflict. For much of the series, the character “A” is manifest only in text and email — the whole mystery of the plot becomes “who is A??” It would be cool to explore technology’s ability to act as a “mask”, and as a tool to raise the stakes.

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