How To Adapt Something That Doesn’t Really Have A Story

*Well, not a very good one anyway...

*Well, not a very good one anyway…

Although this is an article about writing novel/comic adaptations of essentially plotless things, I’m going to start by talking about classic 1990s computer games for a while.

Yes, there’s a point to this and it isn’t just another excuse for me to ramble on about the “Doom” games again. Well, it sort of is – but, stick around – there’s some stuff about storytelling later on….

Anyway, I was randomly surfing the internet a few weeks ago when I stumbled across this ludicrously gruesome comic from the 1990s that is based on the early instalments of one of my all-time favourite computer game series. I am, of course, talking about “Doom” and “Doom II“.

If you’re unlucky enough never to have played these timeless masterpieces, they’re both sci-fi/horror first-person shooter games which involve fighting hordes of demonic monsters. Seriously, if heavy metal music was a computer game – then it would be “Doom”.

The gameplay in “Doom” is fast, fun and – at it’s best – you will need a chess-like tactical mind in order to win. It might look like a “simplistic” game at first glance, but it can take years of practice to master.

But, although the first two “Doom” games contain a few basic text screens – there isn’t much of a story to them. So, I was kind of curious to see how anyone could turn something like this into a comic.

Unfortunately, the writers of the comic took the most simplistic route imaginable and the “Doom” comic mirrors the gameplay exactly – the main character does almost nothing but run around and shoot monsters. That’s it.

Whilst this is incredibly good fun in the original game, it quickly gets boring in the comic (even so, the comic is still ten times more enjoyable than the 2005 movie adaptation of “Doom” – what a waste of a cinema ticket that was!).

Not only that, there’s relatively little characterisation in the comic ( and the main character comes across as more psychopathic than heroic) and there’s no real backstory of any kind either. About the only good thing that can be said for the comic adaptation of “Doom” is that the art looks absolutely brilliant!

And, well, this made me think about the whole subject of making comic/ novel adaptations of things that don’t really have much of a story behind them (eg: card games, board games, art series, computer games etc…).

I guess that I’ll be looking at this subject more out of curiosity than anything else, since adapting many things created by other people could possibly cause copyright issues unless you have permission to do this or unless the copyright for the thing in question has expired (eg: chess, playing cards, the original Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck etc…).

Anyway, if you try to make an “accurate” adaptation of something that doesn’t have much of story, you’ll end up with a hilariously random and almost plotless thing like the “Doom” comic that I mentioned earlier. But, at the same time, if you change too much or add too many new details, then you’re likely to alienate fans of the original thing.

So, what do you do?

Well, I’d argue that it’s probably best to try to stay true to the spirit of the original thing and to search it carefully for whatever remnants of a story that it already has.

For example, the board game “Monopoly” revolves around several extremely wealthy people trying to buy up as much land and property as possible in order to gain control of a town. Likewise, the classic game of chess is essentially a game about two medieval kingdoms fighting each other.

Once you’ve managed to extract the basic skeleton of a story out of whatever it is that you’re adapting, then it’s up to you to “fill in the gaps” and turn it into something readable.

The trick here is to take a very close look at the thing that you’re adapting and try to extrapolate as many details as you can from the things that are already there before you start adding new stuff to “fill in the gaps”.

For example, if you’re making a novel based on chess then you’d probably take a careful look at the pieces and conclude that each side has a two-towered castle (due to the two “rook” pieces at the corners of the board). You could also conclude that one side would use a black flag and that the other would use a white flag, due to the colours of the pieces.

Likewise, you’d probably conclude that both sides were Christians (since they each have two bishops) and that they operate in a rather harsh and feudalistic way (given the large number of expendable peasant-like pawns, the presence of a king and a queen and the relatively small number of knights).

See what I mean?

The main reason for doing this is that if you start by making up new stuff without firmly basing it on existing details, then your audience’s reaction is likely to look something like this.

Whereas, if you make sure that any additions you make are just a logical extension of elements from the original thing, then this is much less likely to be an issue.

Although this might all sound very restrictive, it still gives you a surprising amount of imaginative freedom.

To go back to my “chess” example, although your story should be about two feudal Christian medieval kingdoms (one with a white flag and one with a black flag) fighting each other – the reasons why they are fighting each other, the names of the characters and the question of who wins are still left entirely up to you.


Sorry for another basic article, but I hope that it was useful 🙂

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