I was part of a panel discussion yesterday at the Writers Guild with
Jan Nash, executive producer of WITHOUT A TRACE. In the midst of the
discussion, she mentioned how difficult it has been coming up with
tie-in novels for her show. Her frustration, she said, was that none of
the books have been able to capture the highly-visual nature of the
franchise…and that in prose, the books come across as simply "a
flat missing persons story" that doesn’t feel at all like WITHOUT A
TRACE. The problem, she said, has been coming up with a way to make the
books as distinctive as the series, to find a story-telling frame-work
that matches the unique flashback gimmick of the show. I don’t know if
her creative frustration with the books has anything to do with the
rumored licensing problems between Warner Brothers Television and Warner Books, which recently shelved the three completed tie-in novels that they commissioned and were planning to release in 2007.
I understand what Jan is talking about. I faced the same issue when I tackled the MONK books. How could I convey the humor and the melodrama when so much of what makes Monk work is visual? I think that I solved the problem by telling the stories first-person from the point-of-view of Natalie, Monk’s assistant. That gave me a framing device that allowed me to "observe" Monk from a distance and, at the same time, add a level of intimacy with the characters that isn’t possible on television. So while my books don’t mimic the experience of watching MONK, they have their own unique voice that offers a fresh experience for fans of the show and one that makes stories stand apart from other mysteries. At least that was my goal.
8 thoughts on “Without a Tie-in”
Maybe the problem is that the tie-in novel is in the wrong format – if Nash is after a “highly visual” experience, why not commission a series of graphic novels?
“…in prose, the books come across as simply ‘a flat missing persons story.'”
Yep, that pretty much describes the last season of “Without a Trace.”
I’m not sure I get what she’s talking about. Missing Persons doesn’t exactly sparkle with personality or any particular unique quality. It’s a routine cop show. Nothing special.
I would think, if anything, the novel versions would be an improvement.
Maybe if the first chapter was printed in disappearing ink . . .
I totally agree. If you don’t think that prose can emulate your prosaic cop show, commission a graphic novel.
And yes, the pun was intentional.
How much freedom to manoevre does a tie-in writer generally have? Does the contract specify details, or just word count? Could the book be rejected if it was too experimental?
I ask partly because some writers do have a very visual feel – but they tend to be elaborate stylists, who can go to town on metaphors and similes, who can use rhythm and assonance to create a specific feel, and who can, generally speaking, create verbal fireworks. Such a style, I suspect, would be inappropriate to a TV tie-in novel, because it probably wouldn’t match the show’s dialogue style, and also because such styles tend to be more dense and demanding than plain prose, whereas television tends to be a smooth, easy-absorb experience, hence another mismatch.
It might be fascinating to see someone try, but I doubt it would suit the tie-in market. But are there rules/guidelines that tell you what’s allowed in terms of writing?
As a kid, I dreamed of writing a “real” Clue tie-in novel. One that was a full mystery, where Mr. Body really died, and where the characters were all just in it for the money.
I was just fascinated with the concept of those characters staying at a mansion AFTER their host was killed. They would get into duels, fight, and gradually find out who the killer was. I don’t know. I didn’t really have it planned out. I was eight.
How do I audition for the job? I’ve got a handful of published novels to my credit, and would love the chance to do tie-in work, but am cluleless about how to make the contact.