Novel version

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A novel version or adaptation of a novel ( English novelization ) is the adaptation of a work from another genre in the form of a novel . These include in particular the novel versions of successful films, episodes of popular television series and computer games . As part of marketing , novel versions are also a form of tie-in . From the point of view of copyright law , the novel version represents a form of editing that generally requires the consent of the author.

The literary implementation of films (often marketed as “book on film” in Germany) was of particular importance prior to the spread of the video recorder , since at the time it was the only way to reproduce a film experience independently of cinema or television programs. The book versions of box office hits like Star Wars or Alien became bestsellers in the millions. Compared to the production costs of a film, this economic success is offset by minimal expenditure in the form of a writer's fee, which is why this form of tie-in is particularly lucrative.

For the author of a novel version, special requirements arise from the fact that he usually has to create a novel text of around 40,000 to 60,000 words within a very tight time frame due to a preliminary version of a script of usually around 20,000 words, whereby he cannot limit himself to to feed the dialogue parts a little, but before the completion of the film (i.e. without having seen it) the task is to give the characters contour and psychological background, to convey the atmosphere and style of the finished film appropriately and also to bridge gaps in the plot , logical errors to dissolve or conceal and to correct factual errors inconspicuously. One consequence of working on the basis of a preliminary script are, on the one hand, occasional deviations from the plot of the finished film; on the other hand, scenes that are omitted in the theatrical version and that may appear again in a director's cut are often implemented in the novel version. Because of these circumstances, professional, experienced authors are usually hired to write a novel.

The task is considered ungrateful, since the novel version has a rather poor literary reputation, and the author cannot invent freely, but is subject to more or less strict control by the producing studio. Compared to other literary works, such a commission is often economically worthwhile, but the author of a novel version does not usually have a share in the overall economic success of the product. However, well-known authors have also written novel versions. Among the reasons says Alan Dean Foster , author of books about Star Wars , Alien Trilogy and numerous Star Trek novels:

"First, because I was a young writer and I needed to make a living. And because, as [a fan], I got to make my own director's cut. I got to fix the science mistakes, I got to enlarge on the characters, if there was a scene I particularly liked, I got to do more of it, and I had an unlimited budget. So it was fun. "

“First of all, I was young and had to make a living. And because I [as a fan] could make my own director's cut. I could iron out the scientific errors, shape the characters, and if I particularly liked a scene, I could expand it with an unlimited budget. So it was fun. "

Even if with the advent of VCR , DVD , video stores and video-on-demand, the "book about the film" has lost its unique position in reliving, novel versions are still very popular and Hollywood now operates an industry for book versions. A novel version is produced and marketed for practically every major film that is not already based on a novel - and even in the case of film adaptations, the underlying work is often reissued using material from the film, such as the cover .

Finally, given that the production of computer games are becoming more and more complex and the costs are comparable to those of mainstream feature films and sometimes even higher, the book must not be missing in the marketing chain. In addition to the film about the game and all kinds of other tie-ins and merchandise, there is of course also a novel version or a novel series based on the game world.


In fact, the book about the film is not, as one might think, an appearance of the epoch after Spielberg and Lucas , rather the translation of cinematic content into literature has accompanied cinema since its inception. The “catalogs” from the time of the Pathé brothers can be regarded as forerunners . These were relatively detailed contents that were enclosed with the film rolls and on the basis of which the showman could select his film attractions. The next step came with the film series of the 1910s, such as Fantômas or Les Vampires by Louis Feuillade . In addition to the linguistically restricted silent film or as a bridge for those who had missed an episode, retellings of the current episodes were published, for example through the publication in newspapers as a kind of serial novel . This happened mainly in the USA due to a cooperation between Charles Pathé and the newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst . Sometimes these texts were then published as a book, for example The Exploits of Elaine (1915) and The Romance of Elaine (1916) by Arthur B. Reeve or Georges Meirs' adaptation of Feuillades Les Vampires in seven volumes.

This form of the novel version has its roots in two other, older forms, namely one of the newspaper or serial novel, which was very popular from the middle of the 19th century, in which a longer text appears in daily episodes in a newspaper (a well-known example are those of Charles Dickens wrote novels in this form), on the other hand, the novel versions of theater plays, a form that was particularly widespread between 1900 and 1915. As with the “book about the film”, there were authors who specialized in this genre, viewed with a certain condescension, for example Davis Edward Marshall (1869–1933) and Arthur Hornblow (1865–1942).

In some cases there were multiple overlaps and reshuffles. According to the title , Robert Carlton Brown's What Happened to Mary (1913) was a “novel version of the play and the stories from The Ladies' World ”. What Happened to Mary was the first film series in the USA, which was distributed in monthly episodes from the Edison Studios from 1912. The Ladies' World magazine also ran serial stories, still photos and reports on the shooting. These sequels were reworked by Owen Davis into a play that premiered in March 1913, and this play in turn was the basis for Brown's version of the novel, which is why both photos of the production and from the film were consequently printed in the book.

Novel versions of cinema films were also quite common in the following decades. In contrast to today's Hollywood novelization, it was not a book that was written and then translated into different national languages, rather there were regionally very different versions and formats. In some countries it was even the rule that you could buy a corresponding book for the more important films. In Italy there were the “cineracconti” and in France the “cinéromans”, which were mostly in their own series or collections with titles such as “Cinéma -Bibliothèque “appeared. In addition to the retelling text, these “cinéromans” usually also included image material from the film, for example still photos and portraits of the stars involved. The experiments of the Surrealists with the integration of literature and cinema belong in a side branch of the development, but ended when the costs of film production rose sharply with the introduction of the sound film and private experiments could no longer be financed.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the advent of the paperback necessitated a change in format: while the novel version was previously books with a hard cover and rich visual material - in some cases with a tendency towards photo novels - now, due to the production process, images had to be largely dispensed with become.

Another development was the emergence of television and television series in the 1950s, which now became the basis for novel versions of individual episodes or for novels against the backdrop of a series. A notable success in this genre was Michael Avallone's The Man from UNCLE: The Thousand Coffins Affair (1965), based on the television series The Man from UNCLE (German as a solo for ONCEL ).

The emergence of the new Hollywood system with films such as Jaws and Star Wars from the mid-1970s led to the process that still exists today: For a blockbuster , considerable means of production are made available, and in order to amortize these, not only the film itself is used, but a whole A complex of marketing measures is set up, which of course includes advertising, press, trailers , merchandise and, in addition to other tie-ins, a novel version, provided the film is not based on a novel. The production of the novel version is subject to the strict control of the production company, which is supported by a gradually tightened application of copyright law over time. This increased control is countered by a mass of fan fiction that is largely ignoring legal issues and is growing explosively with the Internet , although there are hardly any novel versions as direct implementations of individual films, series or computer games, but rather the fictional worlds are generally expanded and / or transformed . In contrast to the family-friendly Hollywood productions, for example, this includes a vast amount of sexually explicit fan fiction.


  • Jan Baetens: From Screen to Text: Novelization, the Hidden Continent. In: Deborah Cartmell, Imelda Whelehan: The Cambridge Companion to Literature on Screen. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2007, ISBN 978-0-521-61486-3 , pp. 226-238.
  • Jan Baetens: La novellisation: du film au roman. Lectures et analyzes d'un genre hybride. Les Impressions Nouvelles, Brussels 2008, ISBN 978-2-87449-056-9 .
  • Thomas van Parys: The Commercial Novelization: Research, History, Differentiation. Literature / Film Quarterly. Vol. 37, No. 4 (2009), pp. 305-317, JSTOR 43797691 .
  • Gero von Wilpert : Subject dictionary of literature. 8th edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2013, ISBN 978-3-520-84601-3 , p. 6.

Individual evidence

  1. An insight into the circumstances of the creation of a novel version and the background to such interventions is provided by John August's Where to find Natural Born Killers novelization about the creation of the novel version of Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers (1994).
  2. Alex Suskind: Yes, People Still Read Movie Novelizations… And Write Them, Too. In: Vanity Fair , August 27, 2014, accessed November 2, 2017.
  3. Jan Baetens: From Screen to Text. In: Cartmell, Whelehan: The Cambridge Companion to Literature on Screen. Cambridge 2007, p. 226.
  4. ^ Thomas van Parys: The Commercial Novelization: Research, History, Differentiation. Literature / Film Quarterly. Vol. 37, No. 4 (2009), p. 310.
  5. ^ Kurt Peer: TV Tie-Ins: A Bibliography of American TV Tie-In Paperbacks. TV Books, New York 1999.