Thursday, December 16, 2021

Mediums Across Media: Story Adaptations

Hey there! Christian here, ready to string words together for my inaugural first blog post for ATB writers. I’ve been a fan of this blog for quite some time and was pretty ecstatic to be asked to come aboard. That being said, I promise to fulfill my duties to try my best to come up with something cool and story-related on a semi-annual monthly basis.

Though how I even got welcomed into this wonderfully published group of authors is… different? Unlike many of my cohorts, I’m not a very published author. My literature projects have mostly gone unfulfilled and mostly wishful promises of getting to it… eventually.  My inner thought demons bubble on a frequent basis, that despite all my time stressing over techniques, I’m never ever going to accomplish enough. Let alone, publish a full-fledged novel – though I know that I can.

On the positives, I have, however, been on the path to publishing a few graphic novels as of late. And in my day/freelancing job, I’m an entertainment journalist who has interviewed and learned a bunch from various creatives and celebrities, including some of the authors here at ATB. 

Most days, though, I spend my days writing and researching, while obsessing over the different mediums and approaches to storytelling. Topics I cover are video games, and more importantly, television in the modern age. But I also have scripted sketch comedy, written a web series, and am working on producing 2 graphic novels at the moment. 

Suffice to say, I genuinely like stories. I love seeing how they become interpreted. Which is what I wanted to talk about today… Adapted stories turned into different forms of media. So, let's talk about the big one this week: Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Witcher, whose Season 2 Netflix adaptation is releasing about two days after this post. 

So far, the Witcher’s sophomore season has stellar early reviews. With journalists praising this season’s elaboration of its character backstories while building out their established familial relationships and character arcs established in Season one. This means more daddy Geralt, more mommy Yennifer, and a whole lot of chosen-one Ciri. 

Given, that the story is being adapted from six fantasy novels and 15 short stories, there’s a lot of Witcher storyline for the series to play with – let alone, adapt for multiple seasons. 

Now, the Witcher series has been seen as a cultural staple to the country of Poland since the 1990s. Even before Netflix, the series was already a TV adaptation, a national stamp, and a very successful series of video games. The series was so lauded in Poland, that the Prime Minister had actually gifted a copy to President Obama under the premise of ‘culturally significant’ literature.

Showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich, who’d begun her career writing and doing research for The West Wing, adapted Sapkowski’s first short stories of The Last Wish and The Sword of Destiny in season one. She tried presenting it close to its original chapter order, staying as true to the short stories as possible. This lead to a bevy of confusion amongst fantasy fans, as keeping the chapter chronology of the initial shorts led to the plotline narratives becoming absolutely muddled – with past, present, and future plotlines cutting away back-and-forth in the same episode. 

Bringing it back to mediums across media, The Witcher short stories don’t exactly translate to the best episodic Witcher screenplays in terms of chronology. Why? Well, the short stories can be one-off tales so long as the reader takes away a lesson, theme, or message. 

But TV tends to be built upon dramatic narratives of character that grow as the episodes move in order. In fact, a lot of TV episodes can end with poor plotlines so long as the character just shows some degree of growth or lesson learned along the way. Short stories, however, really need to convey a resolution with something the audience can take away from it. 

It’s the difference in adapting the two mediums – as both approaches can drastically affect the same exact plotlines, and effectively, change the outcomes of the same exact story. The Last Wish in the show, is more about Yennifer’s journey to reach that particular point of need within her backstory. While the Last Wish in the book, is really meant to introduce that character as sort of a femme fatale and foil to Geralt, a sorceress whom we really don’t get to know until later.

To add another layer of complication to The Witcher, a lot of the Netflix series is also influenced by the CD Projekt Red videogames – a series greatly considered a masterpiece in storytelling for RPG gaming fiction. Now, storytelling in video games works slightly differently as well, as all game scripts add a narrative element of multiple-choice and choose your adventure. 

One of the things beloved about The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, was that while the story was a tale about the relationship between Geralt, Ciri, and Yennifer – the player’s chosen actions, determined the fate of who lived happily ever after and whose fates ended in often misunderstood tragedy – a common theme within The Witcher series. It’s something that emotionally resonates hard when it falls upon the responsibilities of you, the player, to determine the fates of these fake people you’ve come to love.

That said, there are consistencies across all three mediums: that the themes must always remain. The Witcher is a series about monsters integrated into the lives of everyday mortals – their struggles of seeking to be understood: often metaphors for race and political turmoil. These struggles are witnessed across all three types of media adaptations and provide conflicts of 'us versus the (laws of the) world'. There is also the importance of family and the inability to escape the responsibility of destiny (the law of surprise). These themes are often what ground the story and give it hope -- the whole: next generation will do better theme.

Great stories, regardless of medium or media, will present themselves in a way that brings the threads together. Be it a compilation of short stories, screenplay, and even branching video game script – the matters of the heart, and the lessons that need to be told, will always triumph. 

Which I think is important for any writer that fictionalizes across mediums needs to remember.  

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