Should Book Adaptations be Exactly Like the Book? | Discussion

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As more and more books and series are being adapted into television shows and movies alike, a common theme keeps coming up in regards to the degree of similarity of which the adaptation should be to the book. So, should book adaptations always be exactly like the book? Where do we draw the line between the practicality of filming/editing and how similar the book and movie/show adaptation should be?

(Side note: Not going to lie, this is basically me rambling and I’m pretty sure only like, 30% of it makes sense, so if you don’t really understand what I’m saying, it’s cool lol.)

Recently, it was announced that one of my favorite books ever (shatter me, if you didn’t know) is going to be turned into a television show. (Technically it was announced nearly a year ago and they’ve just written the pilot episode, but you know.) If this was a perfect world, this television show would be EXACTLY like the books. Everything down to the word. However, I doubt that that’s going to happen so I’m not really sure what to expect. That being said, I have pretty mixed expectations; on one hand, I want this show to be wholly reflective of the books because that would just be so gd awesome. On the other hand, is it terribly wrong if it’s not exactly like the books?

A while ago, I watched THE HOST, the movie based on the book of the same name, starring Saoirse Ronan, and I absolutely loved it. I had watched the movie before I read the book (oops) but watching the movie pushed me to reading it and enjoying it anyway. Although they were pretty different—there were a few aspects of the movie that weren’t present in the novel and several aspects of the novel that wasn’t explicitly explained in the movie. Even though they were distinct modes of telling the story, is it even fair to put them on the same playing field in regards to how much one enjoys it? In other words, is it worth comparing a book to its movie?

Creative license is what movie and television producers use to change little things about the plot of a book to produce the adaptation the way they like it. Though perhaps this isn’t morally correct in a booknerd standpoint, I personally don’t see anything wrong with changing a few aspects of a book to develop new twists and turns. I feel like if the basic plot is expressed well enough, it should be good enough for me. But idk man. For adaptations that are so out there, i.e. THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS, I’m not sure I’m totally on board with them. Obviously, I have a very narrow view of this show, as I haven’t seen it yet, but from the things I’ve heard (correct me if I’m wrong), the show diverges from the book’s plot quite a bit.

So this discussion post was super unorganized and more of a mess of my thoughts on this topic. I always hear deeply critical things about adaptations that aren’t totally like the book, so I’ve always wanted to hear other people’s thoughts on it.

So, what are your thoughts? Are you okay if the book adaptation isn’t exactly like the book? To what extent can the adaptation diverge from the original plot and still be okay by your own standards? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

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50 thoughts on “Should Book Adaptations be Exactly Like the Book? | Discussion

  1. I’m very weary of adaptations that stray really far from the plot and aren’t done well. I’ve seen adaptations that are done well and I can pick things out from the books, and there are others that aren’t done well. For me personally, I like adaptations that are close to the book with minor changes.

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  2. Mm, most of the time, I don’t like them. My favorite adaptation is Gone Girl, and though there are some minor changes, overall, it stayed really faithful to the story and the cast was fantastic. But then we have the Divergent movies, which seem to stray further and further from the movies. I probably won’t watch a Shatter Me show just because I didn’t even like the series in the first place and also because I don’t feel like there’s that much material??? Like, there’s a difference between The Mortal Instruments, which has a bunch of series and characters and plot points, and Shatter Me, which was three books, and the last book was basically 99.9% romance and the first book could easily be condensed into a couple of episodes. Maybe that’s just me. 😂

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  3. If I really like the book, I’d hate it if the adaptation strays far from the book! I just feel like the rest of the (non-booknerd-ish) world isn’t getting the right story/the full picture. On the other hand, I also think it’s really difficult for a book to be adapted into a movie/tv show well, and perhaps these changes are necessary to make the adaptation more successful.

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  4. (damn I pressed enter without typing the full thing). Anyway for me, somehow the books I read never really get adapted anyway… (they always have “plans” but the actual thing never shows up). So without reading the books, I enjoyed the movie versions of Divergent, TMI, Maze Runner, Hunger Games, TFIOS, Love Rosie etc.. So maybe it ain’t such a bad thing as long as the general public likes it!

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  5. I think you’re right in saying that it’s unfair to compare books to movie adaptations, though it is inevitable. There are limits to both mediums – films can do some things better than books and vise versa. I’m always interested to see what changes are made in an adaptation. I think as long as the film captures the spirirt of the book, changes to some details are fine and necessary. It’s not morally wrong to think that, it’s wise. 🙂 Great discussion post!!!

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  6. Lol you weren’t that rambly…if I had to write this post it would have been way worse as this comment may very well prove. The Host movie is a great example of an adaptation that does not explicitly follow the source material but that still has the same feel of the novel. The storyline, character development, world building, pacing, central themes, and the mood are incredibly similar to the novel and that makes a movie/tv adaptation feel very genuine to the source material. The TMI movie-oh, and the Percy Jackson movies (especially #2)-are some of my favourite examples of an adaptation that went awry. I feel like they took too much liberty in changing the characters, the worlds, the ‘magic systems’, the fantastical elements and the story-lines and that made those adaptations “bad” in my opinion. I am a fan of adaptations and I’m always incredibly excited when a favourite novel of mine is going to get an adaptation. I am picky though I guess and I pretty much always want to have the adaptation ‘feel’ the same as the novel. Hope that made sense lol! Happy Reading 🙂

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  7. I think it’s always good when the adaptation is similar to the movie, but I don’t really mind changes as long as they’re done well. I absolutely loved the A Series of Unfortunate Events TV series and the Flipped movie, and both were pretty different from the books in a number of ways!

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  8. I think I’m pretty okay with an adaptation being different from the original material as long as it’s still good – which is, of course, super-subjective, so perhaps if the creators do care about the ‘original’ fans they should stick to creating something that’s at least like, 80% similar. Yep, I just threw in a random number, so this’ll look like a well-thought out answer lol. I totally agree – it’s super-hard to write down your thoughts about this matter in a coherent way.
    Anyhow, changing stuff is good and all, because it could make things more interesting, but only as long as they don’t change the overall atmosphere of the book or don’t ‘dumb down’ the whole thing. Like Shadowhunters? The changes are awful! I had to give up on the show after like, two episodes. Worse than the changes is the quality – I’m dissatisfied by most of the actors, for one, and the script is terrible, as well. So so SO disappointed.

    Great post!

    Veronika @ The Regal Critiques

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    • Yeah, definitely. It should be close enough to the book that it doesn’t seem like a totally different entity; I’m okay with it swerving off the original plot as long as the book’s plot is finished in the adaptation. The Shadowhunters show is so different from the books and I don’t think I’ll ever try watching it because it’s so different and I’ve heard pretty bad things like the ones you’ve described.

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  9. This is a great topic! I don’t watch many book-to-tv shows. Sometimes I feel they have to add too much to make a full tv show. As for movies, I don’t mind if they stray a little bit from the book – there are some things that might not translate well from page to screen. But, I don’t like when there are major changes. Like, I recently watched Inferno, based on the Dan Brown book, and the movie ending was basically the opposite of the book ending. Then it’s almost not even an adaptation anymore, it’s something completely different.

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  10. I took a course on adaptation theory once, and it’s like the #1 rule from a scholarly viewpoint that the point of adaptation theory isn’t whether the adaptation is faithful and that faithfulness doesn’t necessarily equal quality. On one level, it make total sense. As you say, part of the point of an adaptation can be playing around with things. Even if that means doing something totally crazy like having a completely new ending. As a fan, however, I often like faithfulness. 😉

    But I do have to admit that the transfer from page to screen, or from one medium to another in general, isn’t going to be 100%. I might not even want it to be. After all, what works well in a book isn’t always going to come across well on film. They do have to adapt things. Overall, I hope the “spirit” of the book remains. I’m not really mad they cut Tom Bombadil out of the LotR movie, for instance. I admit that the start of the book can be a little low; they saw that and streamlined the movie. I AM mad they changed Faramir’s character and completely erased the point that he and Faramir are supposed to be different.

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    • That’s super interesting! I definitely agree, it’s never going to be 100% accurate, word-for-word, because that just isn’t practical, no matter how awesome that wold be. I hope the “spirit” of the book remains too, as it IS an adaptation. Thanks for your thoughtful comment!

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  11. I feel like if it’s a book-to-movie adaptation, that it should really be pretty much word-for-word, if possible. That’s what the fans of the books are looking for, and they deserve more consideration than “random moviegoers”. Of course, stuff like action sequences or special effects might need to be changed or enhanced, but it shouldn’t be something drastic. With a TV show adaptation, it’s basically impossible to make without changing pretty much everything unless it’s a super long books series with tons of material to work with. Overall, most movie or TV show adaptations end up being disappointing for me, personally. Thanks for sharing your thoughts 🙂

    Brittany @ Brittany’s Book Rambles

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  12. This is such a tough topic for me! On one hand, I’ve had so many bad experiences with TV/movie adaptations (*cough* Percy Jackson *cough) that I’ve mostly stopped watching them all together. I like to imagine the characters and setting my own way, and seeing a different visual version of that is just never fun for me, especially if they screw stuff up. But as a principle, I don’t feel like adaptations have to stick word-for-word to the book (even though us bookworms would die of happiness). There are just certain limitations that come with screenplays and other elements of film, so I can understand why writers/directors have to make certain changes. As long as the show captures the true essence of the characters and the story, then I think it’s a good adaptation (of course, that’s a very vague idea though, and different for everyone that reads the book). Personally, I’m not a fan of any adaptations. It’s one of those “it’s me, not you” situations. I know if my favorite book (Six of Crows) ever got optioned for a movie/TV series, I would probably avoid it at all costs. But who knows! Maybe a really excellent adaptation will be made and I’ll change my mind completely. Beautiful discussion topic, sorry for the long comment but this issue is one that I think about quite a lot! 😀

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    • I totally agree, I didn’t like the adaptation of Percy Jackson; they definitely could have done a lot better! I also understand that directors and producers always have to give up a few things in order for the adaptation to be practical financially and time-wise. I agree, I think the plot should have some kind of resemblance to the actual book, but I totally see where you’re coming from. Thanks for such a thoughtful comment!

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  13. I’m more forgiving of deviations if they are a TV series because you have more episodes and have to create longevity. When it comes to movies though, I like them to be pretty accurate to the story (though there are exceptions).

    The Mortal Instruments TV show is an example where things can differ. I’m a little over halfway in the 1st season and it does differ drastically in terms of the plot. But I get why. They’ve accerlated somethings and made up others. However, they seem to keep the characters personalities and the like so as a fan, I really appreciate that. I just love those characters and seeing them any way I can makes my day.

    The one exception to the movie adaption was The Perks of Being a Wallflower. While the story in the movie differs from the book, the idea is the same. The spirit of the movie is just like the book and the story is beautiful in its own way so I can’t complain. (Doesn’t hurt the author wrote the novel wrote the screenplay :P)

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    • Yeah, TV shows are always gonna be different because they’re drawn out more, and I don’t know if I’d mind if that happens; it brings more of the book to life, which I really do like. I’m glad you still enjoy THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS and PERKS even though they were still a bit different from the books! Thanks for your perspective!

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  14. I don’t bother expecting movie adaptations of books to be faithful to the original stories anymore haha I used to be a stickler about that, but I had to stop because comparing the book to the movie always made me miserable when it didn’t match my exact expectations.
    For example, I enjoyed the Miss Pergrine movie a lot more than other people because I was totally OK with how much it diverged from the story in the second half. It was just a fun movie!

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  15. I feel like a book to movie adaptation should try to stick as close to the books as possible. I mean people have obviously enjoyed the book a lot for it to even be made into a movie so I don’t see the need to change a lot. I can understand small aspects because sometimes things in books don’t translate well into movies, but overall, keep it as similar as possible. TV shows are different though. While I still want them to remain fairly close to the book I completely understand why more things have to be changed. A TV series is going to have to spread out over hours and hours and the book just might not have that kind of content. It’s necessary and I can accept that if it means watching a series about one of my favourite books. Sometimes they can ruin the story, but honestly, if that happens it doesn’t bother me too much either. I know I still love the book and that it’s always there so I just stop watching the show and that’s that.

    Great discussion post! ❤

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    • That’s a different way to look at it! I definitely would love if adaptations stay the same as possible, but I agree, I do enjoy the adaptations even though they’re not exactly the same. Thank you for your comment! 🙂

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  16. I love book adaptations, getting to see the characters on the big/small screen is just amazing and I’ve seen pretty much every adaptation and it almost never is exactly like the book but that’s a given. Even with TV shows where time is not a limit things tend to get a bit original at some point and since you mentioned The Mortal Instruments I haven’t missed an episode and no its not like the books but its still the same foundation and the same characters. Even Game of Thrones has some big differences from the books and its natural, but as long as it stays true to the original material I’ve learnt to be okay with it. Great topic!

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  17. It depends how much you change. If it’s completely different then, I don’t really want to watch the movie. But if they change something for time restrictions or to add something they think would really benefit the story line, then yeah. Go ahead!

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  18. I definitely agree about The Mortal Instruments and the TV show Shadowhunters. HOWEVER, it is low-key my guilty pleasure show, lol even though it’s crap basically. But I would really like for books to be translated well into TV shows and movies because it’s putting faces and whatnot to the characters and story that we grow to love as readers, and if that gets all screwed up then it hurts us a little. Lol. That’s my opinion!

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  19. Honestly some of my favorite adaptations are the ones that DO stray from their source material. TV shows like The Vampire Academy, Pretty Little Liars, and Haven. I love the movie the Duff yet it was totally different. I don’t know what it is but it makes the adaptation more cohesive and make more sense to someone on the outside who is just there for the adaptation.

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  20. Definitely mixed feelings on this one! But I’d prefer the adaptations to actually bear semblances from the books. I mean, that’s why they’re called adaptations, yes? They adapt the storylines and translate them cinematically.

    ‪As promised on Twitter, I’m hopping from blog to blog to leave these behind: 🌻🌻🌻🌻🌻‬

    ‪Shealea @ That Bookshelf Bitch

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  21. I’m always open to a bit of reinterpretation because that’s just the nature of these creative fields, and there are some things that honestly just WORK better in book or on film than in the other medium. So some “translation” is totally fine with me. That said, I can’t STAND when re-interpretation gets as extreme as basically rewriting the plot. Ok, so you have mostly the same characters and basically the same world, but EVERYTHING else being different is SO not ok.

    One of my favorite adaptations is actually The Dresden Files. I haven’t read most of the books (the first 2 or 3, I think), but the TV show made that not really matter. It’s structured so that most of the episodes are just events that MIGHT happen in Harry Dresden’s life, whether or not they were in the book. And there were some key episodes that served as the climax of the first season that really followed one of the books. It felt like an extension of the books rather than a replacement or a copy, and THAT kind of stuff is really cool.

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  22. I try to keep an open mind when it comes to adaptations, because I already know that it won’t be just like the book, and if I’m watching the movie/tv show, might as well try to enjoy it, right? haha Easier said than done, tho. I had a lot of problems with the beginning of Shadowhunters, and with Allegiant too, and my friends were sick of hearing me!! But now I’m fine with Shadowhunters :/ I also really liked The Host, and Room too (the second part of the movie is completely different from the book, and I kinda prefer the movie for it) …

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  23. I don’t think movie or TV adaptations have to be exactly like the book. The nature of each media alone usually means some changes are necessary. What can be done on a page doesn’t always work well on screen. However, I think even plot changes can occur if they are in the spirit of the book or make some sort of interesting commentary on the work.

    I don’t like when changes are shoehorned in, like in the recent Anne of Green Gables that PBS aired. Anne didn’t need to fall through the ice and almost drown. That’s cliche and the book is full of other iconic scrapes she gets into, so that was really pointless. And The Hobbit films don’t work for me because Peter Jackson tried to cover far more material than he should have, making the story unwieldy. His changes also break the pacing of Tolkien’s original story, so that Bilbo’s character arc has to keep going forward and back instead of having a smoother arc.

    However, other adaptations make changes that work. The implied Luna/Neville romance in the films makes sense to me, for example. And I like that the upcoming A Wrinkle in Time will feature non-white protagonists. That’s a positive change that allows more representation and helps even more people engage with and see themselves in the story. I even like the Ella Enchanted movie even though the only similarities to the book are pretty much character names and the curse. It’s still a fun movie.

    And the great thing about adaptations is that you can keep making more. So Ella Enchanted the film isn’t really Ella Enchanted. Well, make another one! Then we can two great films!

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  24. No, I don’t think adaptations need to be exactly like the book. Books and movies/shows are completely different mediums. Certain things in a book just won’t work on a screen. For example, you can’t see a character’s thoughts in a movie, so sometimes something might have to be changed to show their feelings or thoughts through their actions or words instead. I think if movies were EXACTLY like books, people would end up complaining about that too because it wouldn’t translate well. But when a movie/show is just COMPLETELY different, then yeah, that’s too much. The basic plot and themes should probably be the same or it’s less an adaptation and more just taking the same idea and making a new/different story out of it. Or it’s like a retelling or something.

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  25. Only one person (Krysta) had a post that was even distantly related to my all-time favorite movie series, LOTR- had those films been true to the books, we’d be watching about 20 hours or so of film…! Really, sometimes it is just wise to change things up a bit in the adaptation, even cut some things.. Most of the readers of LOTR approached the films with trepidation, but were (mostly) pleasantly surprised. Me, I have yet to read all the books, but will always, always love the films…!

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  26. Honestly I tend to avoid adaptations because they tend to stray so far from the original work. There’s nothing that would upset me more than a favorite dried being warped and changed just to fit what people think it should be and not what it is. I’ve enjoyed a few adaptations, some that I’ve seen after reading and some before, but I’m just a skeptic in general. I rather think that adaptations are more for non-readers than for book lovers.

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  27. I like it when to adaptions show a different style or artistic flair compared to the book. The Hannibal tv series was a great example of characters from a book series that were put in a unique setting that strayed far from the original source material. If it’s done well it’s ok in my book, as long as the core of the story and characters is there!

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