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.