A novelization (or novelisation) is a derivative novel that adapts the story of a work created for another medium, such as a film, TV series, comic strip or video game. Film novelizations were particularly popular before the advent of home video, but continue to find commercial success as part of marketing campaigns for major films. They are often written by accomplished writers based on an early draft of the film's script and on a tight deadline.
History and purpose
Novelizations of films began to be produced in the 1920s for silent films such as London After Midnight (1927). One of the first talking movies to be novelized was King Kong (1933). Film novelizations were especially profitable during the 1970s before home video became available, as they were then the only way to re-experience popular movies. The novelizations of Star Wars (1977) and Alien (1979) sold millions of copies.
Even after the advent of home video, film novelizations remain popular, with the adaptation of Godzilla (2014) being included on The New York Times Best Seller list for mass-market paperbacks. This has been attributed to these novels' appeal to fans: About 50% of novelizations are sold to people who have watched the film and want to explore its characters further, or to reconnect to the enthusiasm they experienced when watching the film. A film is therefore also a sort of commercial for its novelization. Conversely, film novelizations help generate publicity for upcoming films, serving as a link in the film's marketing chain.
According to publishing industry estimates, about one or two percent of the audience of a film will buy its novelization. This makes these relatively inexpensively produced works a commercially attractive proposition in the case of blockbuster film franchises. The increasing number of previously established novelists taking on tie-in works has been credited with these works gaining a "patina of respectability" after they had previously been disregarded in literary circles as derivative and mere merchandise.
The writer of a novelization is supposed to multiply the 20,000-25,000 words of a screenplay into at least 60,000 words. Writers usually achieve that by adding description or introspection. 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. 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. Thus the novelization occasionally already presents material which will later on appear in a Director's Cut. 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". Still Christa Faust accepted and filled the pages by inventing detailed biographies for some of the early killed passengers. She was then praised for having presented "full three dimensional characters".
TV show novelization
Novelizations of TV series can differ insofar as a derivative novel can be based on content of more than one single episode.
Comic strip novelization
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.
Video game novelization
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.
Novelization writers are often also accomplished original fiction writers, as well as fans of the works they adapt, which helps motivate them to undertake a commission that is generally compensated with a relatively low flat fee. Alan Dean Foster, for example, said that, as a fan, "I got to make my own director’s cut. I got to fix the science mistakes, I got to enlarge on the characters, if there was a scene I particularly liked, I got to do more of it, and I had an unlimited budget. So it was fun".
Writing skill is particularly needed for challenging situations common to writing novelizations of popular media, such as lack of access to information about the film, last-minute script changes and very quick turnaround times. Max Allan Collins, for example, had to write the novelization of In the Line of Fire in nine days.
Although novelizations tend to have a low prestige, and are often viewed as "hackwork", several critically acclaimed literary authors have written novelizations, including Arthur Calder-Marshall, William Kotzwinkle and Richard Elman. Best-selling author Ken Follett early in his career also wrote a novelization. While increasingly also a domain of previously established novelists, tie-in writing still has the disadvantages, from the writers' point of view, of modest pay, tight deadlines and no ownership in the intellectual property created.
The International Association of Media Tie-In Writers is an American association that aims to recognize the writers of adapted and tie-in fiction. It hands out annual awards, the "Scribes", in categories including "best adapted novel".
If a film is based on a novel, the original novel is generally reissued with a cover based on the film's poster. 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.
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. Although the 1962 Ian Fleming novel was still available in bookstores, its story had nothing to do with the 1977 film. To avoid confusion, Wood's novelization was titled James Bond, The Spy Who Loved Me. 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.
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. 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 screenwriters 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. The International Association of Media Tie-In Writers concedes that by saying their craft went " largely unrecognized.
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 blanks. David Morrell wrote the novel First Blood about John Rambo which led to the film adaptation 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.
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 in 1989 and also the novelization of GoldenEye in 1995. John Gardner found his successor in Raymond Benson who wrote besides several original Bond novels three novelizations including The World Is Not Enough.
TV show novelization
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.
Comic strip novelization
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.
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
Matt Forbeck became a writer of novels based on video games after he had been "writing tabletop roleplaying game books for over a decade". He worked also as a designer of video games.
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.
Project Itoh, the Japanese author who novelized Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, had plans to adapt Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater and Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker as well, but was unable to fulfill this due to his death in 2010. Satoshi Hase (author of Beatless) was commissioned to novelize Snake Eater in Itoh's place, while an anonymous author working under the pen name Hitori Nojima (later revealed to be Kadokawa Shoten writer Kenji Yano) novelized Peace Walker and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, in addition to new novelizations (unrelated to the earlier Raymond Benson versions) of the original Metal Gear Solid and Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty.
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 had co-written; in this case his collaborators subsequently sued for plagiarism.
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 from the original. The novel was released a year before the film and unlike the film it had sequels.