Wednesday, January 13, 2021

On Adaptation: Anne, Jo, and Percy

Talking to readers about adaptations of books they loved is like walking through a minefield where anything might blow up, depending on who steps on it. 

Sometimes if I really love a book, I'll avoid seeing a movie or television series made about it because I'm worried they'll ruin it. 

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And sometimes they have. 

Destroyed it. 

Gotten it SOOOOO wrong it hurts. 

I'm looking at you Percy Jackson and the Olympians.

Then again, I've really enjoyed some adaptations that make significant changes from the source material. 

Two in particular stood out for me recently: 

1. Anne with an E, a series on Netflix from creator Moira Walley-Beckett which was based on the novel Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. 

2. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott adapted for the screen and directed by Greta Gerwig. 

Neither of these adaptations were religiously true to the source material, yet both of them felt more true to me than other arguably more faithful adaptations.  So, what's the difference? 

Why did changes to Percy Jackson's storyline horrify and offend me, but the addition of entire characters and plot lines to Anne with an E and the out of chronology telling of Little Women feel not only comfortable, but right? 

My theory is that it has to do with finding the heart of a work. What's the emotional core of the piece and of the characters? If an adaptation finds that, then even significant changes are not going to upset me. 

It's a trend I'm seeing in storytelling of this kind, a new kind of line creators are riding where they pay homage to something they love, but also bring it forward to a different or wider audience by changing significant details like time and place, race or background of characters, and even plot. 

Anne Shirley and Jo March are iconic characters, important to many a grown woman who consumed their stories when young. Similar in being women out of their time: headstrong, free-thinking, determined, and passionate. So many women I know aspire in their hearts to be Anne and Jo. And that's the core of any adaptation of these works: does the adaptation convey the heart of the character? 

In both of these pieces, I'd say yes! resoundingly yes! While I have enjoyed other adaptations of these books, this was the first time that I felt fully connected to the characters. The writers who adapted these works clearly loved the books and characters in the same way I do. 

Anne, Jo, and Percy: Yes! Yes! and…Nope.

Anne always was a social justice warrior, fighting for fair treatment for herself and for those around her. In Anne with an E, that becomes a step more overt, with less parlor-talk pussy-footing and more taking action. That meant adding entire plotlines, but I was completely fine with that, because they'd captured MY Anne. 

Jo, too, was fiercely loyal, and struggled with the part she was expected to play in society--docile, obedient, and feminine. She strained at those bonds and sought a life less ordinary, something that fulfilled her and brought her joy--writing!  Gerwig's version of Jo explored her story out of order--juxtaposing moments of childhood against moments of her budding adult life to show us the woman she became that much sooner. (Bonus points, too, for working in the ending Louisa May Alcott really wanted, but couldn't get her publisher to agree to). 

Poor Percy, on the other hand, was transformed in the script from a good-hearted kid who fought feelings of inadequacy into a badass just barely in hiding, needing barely a blink to turn into a heart-throb hero. Sure, that character might have interest for some, but the heart of the boy I'd enjoyed getting to know in Rick Riordan's books didn't make it onto the screen. I don't know who that boy was, but he wasn't Percy Jackson. 

One can only hope that, should I ever be so lucky as to see my work adapted for movie or television, that the show-runners understand the heart of my work and love my characters enough to do right by them. 

How about you? What makes you love or hate an adaptation? Are you a stickler for faithfulness to the original? How do reinterpretations and changes of setting play in your world? I'd love to hear from you in the comments. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

IWSG: Seven Deadly Sins of Writing

Welcome to the first Wednesday of the month. You know what that means! It's time to let our insecurities hang out. Yep, it's the Insecure Writer's Support Group blog hop. If you're a writer at any stage of career, I highly recommend this blog hop as a way to connect with other writers for support, sympathy, ideas, and networking.

If you're a reader, it's a great way to peek behind the curtain of a writing life.

January 6 question - Being a writer, when you're reading someone else's work, what stops you from finishing a book/throws you out of the story/frustrates you the most about other people's books?

The awesome co-hosts for the January 6th posting of the IWSG are Ronel Janse van Vuuren , J Lenni Dorner, Gwen Gardner Sandra Cox, and Louise - Fundy Blue! Be sure to check out their posts as well as some of the other fabulous posts in this blog hop after you see what I've got to say:


Becoming a writer can be hard on your reading life. Once you know "how the sausage is made" it can be harder to just lose yourself in a story. You find yourself noticing the structure, turning pages back to figure out how the writer elicited that effect, etc. Reading like a writer can make it harder to just relax and read without analyzing. At this point, I'm extra thrilled when I can fall into a book and become so immersed that I stop looking at the structure and skill and just hold on for the ride. 

I had good luck in 2020, reading way more good books than bad ones. Maybe I've gotten better at figuring out which books are really for me. 

Still, I'll give even a flawed book a fair shot. If the characters are strong and the plot compelling, I'll keep going in the face of poor editing or small continuity errors. I can even forgive a bit of clunky expository dialogue. But I do have some deal-breakers. It's not IMPOSSIBLE for me to enjoy a book that does one of these, but it is definitely far less likely. 

So here they are: the Seven Deadly Sins of writing, at least if you want me to read your work: 

Samantha's 7 Deadly Sins of Writing

  1. Sexism: Nothing will pull me out of a book faster than outdated, patriarchal, or condescending treatment of female characters. (The same goes for other isms: racism, classism, ablism, homophobia, etc. I will give *some* slack to very old books if there are other compelling reasons to keep reading)
  2. Outright Preachiness: Characters can have points of view and politics, of course, and I'm fine with authors exploring issues through their fiction, but when it starts to feel like the book might actually be a political or religious tract? I'm out. 
  3. Rape: I'm so tired of rape as a character motivator or backstory element. Double yuck if the rape of a female character only happens for its effect on a male character. Overused, and usually just plain lazy. There are TONS of ways to traumatize a fictional person. Why must we always go here? 
  4. Obvious Thinly Disguised Biography: We're all in our characters, but if you want to write memoir, write memoir. Don't just change the names and call it fiction. If we don't know each other and I can STILL tell that you're working out your daddy issues on the page? Yikes. 
  5. Big continuity problems: As a writer of a series myself, I know that it's hard to keep track of all the small details, but if the continuity errors are too big and glaring, you're asking me to do the writer's job when I just came here to read. Throws me right out of the story and makes it hard to fall back in.
  6. Unbelievable coincidences: Writer-convenience-itis is a terrible disease. The most egregious kind is when a character suddenly gains knowledge or abilities that the story has offered no hint about before the moment that it solves the problem. Not fair. Feels like cheating. 
  7. Characters Acting Out of Character: If you've created a fictional person I've started to believe in, then have them do something that character just wouldn't ever do, I feel as if I've been lied to, so in the donation pile your book goes. 
So, how about you? Any deal-breakers for you? Of course, it all comes down to personal taste--and my poison might be your perfume. That's the beauty of it--so much to read out there, there's bound to be something perfect for you.