Thursday, September 19, 2013

Tween Backlash

I've noticed a really disturbing yet amusing trend at the movies this year and part of last, and that's the decline of what I call tween movies. These are generally based on a super-hyped best-selling teenage girl romance series like Twilight or The Hunger Games, and they've been shoveled at us as a global audience, expecting us to just open up and eat them.

Well, the fact is, almost all of these adaptations have fallen flat - not only at the box office, but also as source material.

"But, wait!" you say. "These are best-selling book series! They have a built-in audience! How can the source material be bad?"

I will explain my reasoning. Those statements you just uttered are the same ones that studio executives uttered when they signed the contracts to push these films into production.

It's absolutely true that these book series have a built-in audience. The problem with the audience is that these books are popular because they are books. Moreover, the audience is pre-teen thru teen girls and they are reading these books for escapism. That's right - good, old fashioned escapism. The stories take them away from their math classes, their study halls, and their dramatic, mundane high-school lives and transport them into a world where they are different, special, and the entire world revolves around the decisions they make. I may not be a teenage girl, but I read for the same exact reasons when I was in school - and even now. Authors like Brian Jacques, Robert Jordan, and Terry Goodkind gave me places to go where I belonged.

Now, back to the issue at hand of Hollywood trying to cash in on this literature love. Going to the movies is not the same as reading a book. For one, the amount of time it takes to read a book and get to know the characters is a lot longer than it takes to watch a movie. In two hours a screenwriter will try to cram an entire month's worth of reading and emotional journey-taking with the characters found in The Moral Instruments. It doesn't translate well.

What about the source material?

My argument is that most of these book series, like The Mortal Instruments, for example, started off as fan fiction for mega-hits like Harry Potter. Because of this starting point, the stories become very convoluted, like a stew of all these author's favorite stories tweaked just enough so that they don't get sued for plagiarism. It's disturbing to me as a writer because I haven't before seen such a wave of unoriginality in the book world.

As a disclaimer, I am an advocate for fan fiction. I used to write it myself. I was one of those kids who wanted more of the same. I wanted new stories about Harry, Ron, and Hermione. I wanted them in their own worlds doing new things and surprising me.

I did not, however, want to see someone taking an established franchise and changing the names around, mashing together werewolves and Muggles, and passing it off as a new, original piece of work. I didn't like it when Eragon did it with Tolkien's place names, and I don't like it now with Hollywood capitalizing on it in their marketing campaigns. Some readers may not agree with this, but I stand by my belief that if you are going to write, make sure you write something that is original. Being inspired by your favorite book series is one thing. Converting a piece of fan fiction into an "original" piece of fiction is entirely another.

Yes, they made money on the books. But the rest of the world is not enthused, as the box office displays. There just isn't a market for such shallow adaptations. We want to be introduced to something we've never experienced before. We're waiting for the next literary world to sweep us off our feet and invest our money and minds in the stories that are sure to leap from said world.

I guess my warning is the same one that all my writing professors gave me when I first started out: Borrow delicately. Nobody likes reheated leftovers.