It looks like I am about to take on another series of TV tie-in novels (in addition to the continuing series of DIAGNOSIS MURDER novels). Since this isn’t a series I created, I’m considering some basic issues: when an author writes books based on a TV series, what are his main responsibilities? Is it to capture the essense of the characters and the tone of
the show… to make the book as close to an episode as possible? Or is it create a book that stands alone as a novel in its own right…while still evoking the flavor, the characters, and the "mythology" of the TV series? How flexible are you about adding elements, and making changes, to the characters and the "franchise" to suit your own needs as a novelist?
For me, I think my responsibility is to be true to the series…to the characters and voice of
the show…but to go beyond that, creating an experience that’s deeper and more satisfying than an
episode would be.
I think my first DIAGNOSIS MURDER book, for example, is the weakest because it too closely resembles an episode of the series in structure, pacing, and tone. I’ve tried in the subsequent books (seven so far) to stay true to the series…but go to places, emotional and geographical, that an episode never could. I try to dig deeper into the characters and their motivations without violating what we already know about who they are…and, if possible, shed
light on aspects of their personalities that were never revealed before. I don’t want to write episodes in book-form…but books that satisfy the reader in the same way an episode of the show could…and then offer something more lasting. I want the books to work first,
and foremost, as books… I want to write them in a way that someone who is totally unfamiliar with the TV show could pick one up and feel they’ve read a good book, not an episode of a TV show in book-form.
The advantage I have with DM is that I was the executive producer and principal writer (with William Rabkin) of the show for many years…so I knew the characters inside and out… and knew how far
I could go in new directions without violating what made the show
special. I also knew what I wanted to say, and what aspects of the characters I wanted to examine, that I *couldn’t* get away with (for a variety of reasons) on the show. It wasn’t difficult for me to capture the voices of the characters because I’d already written
literally hundreds of stories with them before.
On this new series of books, if the deal closes today, I also have the advantage of having written for these characters before (having scripted several episodes of the show) but I don’t feel that they
are mine to anywhere near the same degree as the DM characters were. Also, unlike DM, this series is still in production and is a big hit, so I have to be careful not to step on anything they are doing or might reveal about the characters down the line. Luckily, I have a
great relationship with the showrunner, and his encouragement to try new things with the "franchise" and the characters. I already know the voice I’m going to use for the book,
the point-of-view I’m going to take, which is already a big change from the TV series (and an approach the showrunner agrees with).
I’ll give you more details about the project once the deal is officially done, which will be today or tomorrow, since the deadline is brutal. I’m eager to take on the challenge… even if means writing a novel faster than I ever have before.