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A novelization (or novelisation) is a derivative novel which takes its story and its main characters from another medium (such as a film, TV series, comic strip or video game).


Film novelizations have been considered useful to help "generate publicity" for upcoming films.[1] They are considered "additional links in the movie-marketing chain". On the other hand an estimated 50% of purchases are to people who have watched the film and want to explore its characters further. Thus a film also works as a kind of "commercial" for the novelization.[2] For some film fans a novelization also serves as a "memento".[3] Thus novelizations were especially profitable during the 1970s before home video became available.[4]

There is also a smaller market associated with novelizations of other media.


Film novelization[edit]

The writer of a novelization is supposed to multiply the 20,000-25,000 words of a screenplay into at least 60,000 words.[2] Therefore it is safe to state that the most obvious property of a film novelization is the increased volume of pages. Writers usually achieve that by adding description or introspection.[1] Ambitious writers are moreover driven to work on transitions and characters just to accomplish "a more prose-worthy format". Sometimes the "novelizer" moreover invents new scenes in order to give the plot "added dimension", provided he is allowed to do that .[5][6] It might take an insider to tell whether a novelization diverges instead unintentionally from the finally released film because it is based on an earlier version which possibly included meanwhile deleted scenes.[4] Thus the novelization occasionally already presents material which will later on appear in a Director's Cut.[7] In spite of all restrictions the writers select different approaches to enrich a screenplay. Dewey Gram's Gladiator for example included historial background information. Shaun Hutson refused to write a novelization of Snakes on a Plane because he found the source material too "poor".[3] Still Christa Faust accepted and filled the pages by inventing detailed biographies for some of the early killed passenger. She was then praised for having presented "full three dimensional characters".[7]

TV show novelization[edit]

Novelizations of TV series can differ insofar as a derivative novel can be based on content of more than one single episode.[8]

Comic strip novelization[edit]

While comic books such as the series Classics Illustrated have often provided adaptations of novels, novelizations of comic strips are relatively rare. If they come into being, the cover art might reflect the different kind of source material.[9]

Video game novelization[edit]

Video games are novelized similar to films but here a writer might encounter a blueprint with possibly endless action scenes. While gamers might enjoy to play a certain action scene for hours, the buyers of a novelization might be bored soon if they merely read about such a scene. Consequently the writer will have to cut down on the action.[6]


Several critically acclaimed literary authors have also written novelizations including Arthur Calder-Marshall,[10] William Kotzwinkle[11] and Richard Elman.[12] Best-selling author Ken Follett early in his career also wrote a novelization.[13]

Film novelization[edit]

If a film is based on a novel, the original novel is generally reissued with a cover based on the film's poster.[14]

If a film company which holds the rights for a film wishes to have a novelization published, the company is supposed to approach in the first place an author who is in possession of "Separated Rights". A writer has these rights if he contributed the source material (or added a great deal of creative input to it) and if he was moreover properly credited.[15]

Novelizations also exist where the film itself is based on an original novel: novelist and screenwriter Christopher Wood wrote a novelization of the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me even though the Ian Fleming novel which had been published fifteen years earlier was still available in bookstores. To avoid confusion, Wood's novelization was titled James Bond, The Spy Who Loved Me.[16] This novel is also an example of a screenwriter novelising his own screenplay.

Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker was published under the name of George Lucas but his script had been novelized by the prolific tie-in writer Alan Dean Foster. [17]

Acquiring editors looking for a novelizer have different issues. For starters rewrites of scripts are not uncommon. The script for the 1966 film Modesty Blaise for example was rewritten by five different authors.[18] The writer or script doctor responsible for the so-called "final" version is not necessarily the artist who has contributed the original idea or most of the scenes. The patchwork character of a film script might even exacerbate because the film director, a principal actor or a consulting script doctor does rewrites during the shooting. An acquiring editor who intends to hire one of the credited screen writers has to reckon that the early writers are no longer familiar with the current draft or work already on another film script. Not every screenwriter is available, willing to work for less money than what can be earned with film scripts and able to deliver the required amount of prose on time. Even if so, there is still the matter of novelizations having a questionable reputation.[8] The International Association of Media Tie-In Writers concedes that by saying their craft went " largely unrecognized.[19]

Apart from thus concerns there are also authors of novelizations who have actually even older rights than the screenwriters. Arthur C. Clarke provided the ideas for Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Based on his own short stories and his cooperation with Kubrick during the preparation and making of this film adaptation he wrote the film novelization of the same name which is appreciated by fans because the film scarcely provides exposition and the novelization fills in some blankes. David Morrell wrote the novel First Blood about John Rambo which led to the film adaption of the same name. Although Rambo dies at the end of his original story, Morrell had a paragraph in his contract stipulating he remained "the only person who could write books about Rambo". This paid when the film producers changed the ending and decided for a sequel. David Morrell accepted to carry out the novelization and negotiated unprecedented liberties which resulted in an likewise unprecedented success when his book entered the New York Times Best Seller list and stayed there for six weeks.[1]

Simon Templar or James Bond are examples for media franchises being popular for more than one generation. When the feature film The Saint was released in 1997 the creator of this character (Leslie Charteris) had already been dead for four years. Hence its novelization had to be written by another author. Ian Fleming on the other hand had official successors who wrote contemporary "Post-Fleming" James Bond novels. During his tenure John Gardner was consequently chosen to write the novelization of Licence to Kill[20] in 1989 and also the novelization of GoldenEye[21] in 1995. John Gardner found his successor in Raymond Benson[22] who wrote besides several original Bond novels three novelizations including The World Is Not Enough.

TV show novelization[edit]

The television series Star Trek was adapted by James Blish into a set of short stories which were bundled to create saleable books. The practice was repeated by Alan Dean Foster with the Trek animated series to create the Star Trek Log series.

Mel Gilden wrote novelizations of Beverly Hills, 90210, always merging three episodes to one book. As he explained this approach always required him to look for a joint story arc.[8]

Comic strip novelization[edit]

In the early 1970s Lee Falk was asked by the Avon publishing house to deliver Phantom novels based on the comic strip of the same name. He wrote some novelizations on his own but he had also other writers supporting him occasionally. Eventually there was dispute about how he ought to be credited and that led to the end of this series.[23]

Peter O'Donnell wrote at first comic strips featuring his fictional character Modesty Blaise and then also novels about Modesty Blaise. Even so, these books had original stories and didn't just novelize existing comic strips.

Video game novelization[edit]

Matt Forbeck became a writer of novels based on video games after he had been "writing tabletop roleplaying game books for over a decade".[24] He worked also as a designer of video games.

S. D. Perry wrote a series of novels based on the Resident Evil video games and added tie-ins to the novelizations. Eric Nylund introduced a new concept for a novelization when he delivered a trilogy, consisting of a prequel titled Halo: The Fall of Reach, an actual novelization titled Halo: First Strike and a sequel titled Halo: Ghosts of Onyx.

Orphaned novelizations[edit]

In some cases an otherwise standard novel may be based on an unfilmed screenplay. Ian Fleming's 1961 James Bond novel Thunderball was based on a script he'd co-written; in this case his collaborators subsequently sued for plagiarism.[25]

Peter O'Donnell's novel Modesty Blaise was a novelization of a refused film script. In this case the creator of the main character had written the script alone. But later on other authors had changed O'Donnell's original script over and over, until merely one single sentence remained.[18][26][27] The novel was released a year before the film and unlike the film it had sequels.

Frederick Forsyth's 1979 novel The Devil's Alternative was based on an unfilmed script he'd written.[28]

Occasionally a novelization is issued even though the film is never made. Gordon Williams wrote the script and novelization for producer Harry Saltzman's abandoned film The Micronauts.[29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "David Morrell on Rambo". Retrieved March 28, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b "FILM; To Some, a Movie Is Just an Outline for a Book". Retrieved April 1, 2001. 
  3. ^ a b "Film to Book Adaptations". Retrieved March 28, 2013. 
  4. ^ a b "You've seen the movie—now write the book". Retrieved March 28, 2013. 
  5. ^ "How to Write a Movie Novelization". Retrieved March 4, 2007. 
  6. ^ a b "The Tie-In Life by Raymond Benson". Retrieved February 1, 2011. 
  7. ^ a b "Snakes on a Plane". Retrieved March 28, 2013. 
  8. ^ a b c "Are Novelizations the Scum of Literature". Retrieved March 28, 2013. 
  9. ^ "The Son of the Phantom". Retrieved December 5, 1999. 
  10. ^ Pringle 1998, p. 119.
  11. ^ Hamilton & Jones 2009, p. 198.
  12. ^ Shatzky & Taub 1997, p. 79.
  13. ^ Turner 1996, p. 172.
  14. ^ "Review: The Novelization of Disney’s John Carter". Retrieved February 12, 2010. 
  15. ^ "Theatrical Separated Rights". Retrieved April 13, 2013. 
  16. ^ Britton 2005, p. 149.
  17. ^ "George wrote the script, I wrote the novelization, George vetted the result, and Del Rey published it". Retrieved April 13, 2013. 
  18. ^ a b "Peter O'Donnell's script was rewrittten by five different writers, until only one line of the original remained". Retrieved March 28, 2013. 
  19. ^ "What is a Tie-In Writer?". Retrieved March 28, 2013. 
  20. ^ "License to Kill". Retrieved March 28, 2013. 
  21. ^ "Goldeneye". Retrieved March 28, 2013. 
  22. ^ "Gardner, Benson & Bond". Retrieved January 26, 1995. 
  23. ^ "Lee Falk: Father of The Phantom". Retrieved March 28, 2013. 
  24. ^ "How to Write a Tie-In Novel". Retrieved July 22, 2019. 
  25. ^ "Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham and Ian Fleming". Retrieved March 28, 2013. 
  26. ^ "Modesty Blaise Trivia". Retrieved March 28, 2013. 
  27. ^ "Modesty Blaise Trivia". Retrieved March 28, 2013. 
  28. ^ Nathan, Paul S. (1975). "Rights and Permissions". Publishers Weekly. 207 (Part 2): 28. 
  29. ^ anonymous (September 1977). "Bits & Pieces". Starlog (008): 16, 30. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Baetens, Jan. "From Screen to Text: Novelization, the Hidden Continent." The Cambridge Companion to Literature on Screen, ed. Deborah Cartmell and Imelda Whelehan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. 226-38.
  • Jan Baetens, Jan, and Marc Lits, eds. La Novellisation: Du film au livre / Novelization: From Film to Novel. Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2004.
  • Larson, Randall D. Films Into Books. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1995.

External links[edit]