We all strive to create work that tells the seven or so stories that are iconic to the human condition in a new, fresh way. The stories that express the truths upon which our civilization depends for its strength and civility are based on human experience and imagination. Writers provide the context in which these ancient stories become the fabric of the future through a contemporary interpretation.
Stories of change, departure, arrival, love, betrayal, struggle, finding a home resonate deep in the human psyche, no matter what the circumstance, characters’ nationality or sex, location or any of the other choices authors make to form a credible world in which fictional characters act out a real-life truth regardless of the genre in which the author writes.
Science fiction, romance, mystery, crime fiction and fantasy, no less than mainstream fiction, must have a modicum of “truth” underpinning the action. And that is because we demand to be enlightened as well as entertained; we demand that, despite our willingness to “suspend disbelief,” the underlying foundation is based on our intrinsic understanding of experience.
Some of the highest paid writers make their fortunes using material created by others and, in some cases, themselves. The Star Trek franchise is one example. The Star Wars saga is another. J. R. Tolkien began with a miniature humanoid and built a fantasy world that became the playground of millions of devotees. J. K. Rowlings created a pre-teen wizard, leading the way for Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga and Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games which all burgeoned into vast industries of film and merchandise.
E.L. James exploited the work of Stephenie Meyer to build a Sadomasochistic world through fan-fiction. Amazon has created an enterprise for fan-fiction exploitation with its “Kindle Worlds”—stories inspired by books, TV shows and comics.
Although there are no real new stories, copying the work of J.M. Barrie to make a film (Hook) based on characters created by Barrie or redefining the premise of the original story to fit the narrative of another time so that these become the accepted “truth” of the story is an unfortunate result. My advice: read the original novel; that will enhance your understanding of the interpretations.
If you haven’t read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland but enjoyed Johnny Depp’s portrayal of the Madhatter (or my personal favorite, the White Queen), read Lewis Carroll’s original, fantastic, imaginative story for all the thrills and spills the film left out.
A writer has the task of creating, with words, all the vivid, emotive, intense experience that film and fan-fiction take for their platform. Many of the most memorable films began as books—in fact, it is hard to name a film that didn’t have a written origin. Casablanca started its journey as the unproduced stage play Everybody Comes to Rick's by Murray Burnett and Joan Allison. One of the most beloved films, It’s a Wonderful Life, was based on the short story "The Greatest Gift", written by Philip Van Doren Stern in 1939 and published privately in 1945. And who can forget Gone with the Wind, one of the most famous books to become a film.
We all hanker for the film deal that will shoot our book/s into the space continuum of the darkened cinema or the digital living room screen. But that will never happen without those words on the page, neither will the fan-fiction or the multi-book saga.
Write the book first.