Well, since I seem to be seem to be interested in spin-off novels based on films/TV shows at the moment (and am currently reading a “Doctor Who” one), I thought that I’d look at some more reasons why this – often overlooked – type of fiction is surprisingly awesome.
But, I should probably also clarify what a spin-off novel actually is. It is an official novel which tells a new story featuring characters, settings etc… from something else, rather than being a direct adaptation of a film or TV show. Spin-off novels shouldn’t be confused with either unofficial fan fiction or traditional film novelisations. But, why are spin-off novels so awesome?
1) The author’s creativity: Because spin-offs aren’t a direct adaptation of any particular film or TV show episode, the author has a lot more creative freedom than they might do with a traditional novelisation. Yes, there will probably be official guidelines or a “canon” of some kind that they have to adhere to (which is another thing that sets spin-offs apart from fan fiction) but, if someone is writing a new novel featuring the characters from a film/TV show, then they still have to create a lot of stuff.
This often results in the kind of interesting, innovative and creative stories that you’d probably never get to see on a screen. For example, Yvonne Navarro’s 1996 “Aliens” spin off novel “Aliens: Music Of The Spears” is set in a cyberpunk-style city and focuses on a futuristic version of the music industry. And it works. It is the kind of creative and imaginative idea that would be “uncommercial” for a large film, but which is still accessible to fans thanks to the lower budgets involved in publishing a novel.
Not only that, unlike films and TV, novels are often written by just one person. This means that spin-off novels often have a lot more personality to them than you might expect. Two spin-off novels based on the same thing by two different authors can be radically different novels (eg: emotional tone, narrative style, themes etc…) and this is absolutely fascinating. It’s like hearing a cover version of a familiar song by a different band.
2) Length, efficiency and endings: One of the cool things about spin-off novels is that they often have a relatively standard length. Long spin-off novels do exist, but they are very much the exception rather than the rule. Most spin-off novels usually tend to be a relatively lean 180-350 pages in length, meaning that they are great if you want to relax with something that won’t take you ages to read. They can also evoke nostalgia for the days when shorter novels were a lot more common too.
In part, this shorter length is because the reader is usually already familiar with the characters and the setting. Although spin-off novels do usually include more characterisation than films/TV shows, the fact that some of the character-building work has already been done means that the author can not only focus more on the main story, but it also means that it is easier for fans of a film/TV show to jump into the novel and start reading. All of this often results in slightly more focused and efficient storytelling which, again, can be brilliant if you just want to relax with a novel.
Plus, since collections of spin-off novels for a series are usually written independently by several authors, each book is also more likely to tell a self-contained story too. Since the novels aren’t usually a “canonical” part of a film/TV series and because it’s very likely that fans will choose a spin-off novel based on the premise or the author, and probably won’t read all of the spin-off novels, there’s a good incentive for each novel to tell it’s own self-contained story. In other words, the reader is less likely to run into annoying things like cliffhanger endings or the feeling of being obliged to buy another novel to see the ending of the one that they’ve just read.
3) What could have been: Earlier, I mentioned that it costs significantly less to produce a novel than a film/TV show. Yet, despite their lower budgets, novels can do a lot more stuff a lot more easily at a fraction of the cost. Since they are a low-tech non-visual medium that uses words to create images inside the reader’s mind, there is no limit to the level of “special effects”, complex location designs etc… that they can use. After all, novels use words.
What this means is that the average spin-off novel can often look like what a film or TV series could be like if it had an infinite budget and/or a longer running time. It is a fascinating glimpse into what beloved parts of popular culture could be like if money wasn’t an issue. For example, many spin-off novels based on TV shows will often be like 2-3 hour episodes with 2-3 times the special effects budget.
Plus, because descriptions in a novel tend to age a lot better and “look” a lot more realistic than special effects in film/TV usually do, spin-off novels can also give us a fascinating glimpse of what older films/TV shows might look like if they were made today.
Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂