Three Thoughts About Novelisations And Spin-Off Novels

One of the things that I’ve noticed recently is that, due to things like hot weather, time stress and stuff like that, I’ve found myself reading a lot more books based on videogames, films, TV shows etc.. over the past few days. Although this is mostly because they’re easy and quick to read, it has also made me think a bit more about this somewhat overlooked genre of fiction too.

So, I thought that I’d offer a few thoughts about novelisations and TV show/movie/videogame spin-off novels.

1) They’re more about the journey than the destination:
Simply put, if someone is reading a novel that is either directly based on or a spin-off from a familiar TV show, film, game etc.. then they’re probably going to know what to expect. This familiarity is one of the things that makes novelisations/spin-off novels so relaxing and reassuring to read. However, it can make things like suspense and drama a little bit more difficult to achieve.

Good spin-off/novelisation writers will usually get around this problem by focusing more on the journey than the destination. For example, this “Aliens” spin-off novel I read a few days ago really doesn’t contain much in the way of new stuff when it comes to the plot. The basic premise is similar to another “Aliens” spin-off novel and the basic “dystopian villain vs. plucky rebels” storyline is a classic sci-fi/fantasy staple. Yet, this novel was extremely enjoyable to read. But, why?

Simply put, the novel is written in a rather thrilling and atmospheric way. There are lots of mini-cliffhangers, enough characterisation to make you care about the characters, some dramatic locations etc… In other words, although the story itself is reasonably familiar, everything along the way is still dramatic and interesting enough to be worth reading.

A better example is probably S.D. Perry’s “Resident Evil: The Umbrella Conspiracy“. Even though I’ve read this novel before and played the videogame it was based on, it was still gripping enough for me to re-read it in a single day. This was all because of the writing, characters and structure. In other words, this novel is written in a reasonably atmospheric way, it is structured like a good thriller novel and there’s lots of extra characterisation when compared to the source material.

So, yes, these types of novels are more about the journey than the destination.

2) They age far better: Another awesome thing about novelisations and spin-offs are how timeless they are. After all, film and television have only been around for approximately a century or so and computer/video games have only been around for a few decades. The written word, on the other hand, has been around for millennia.

What this means is that novelisations of slightly older things can still seem fresh, new and interesting when compared to their original forms. After all, the written word has had much longer to refine and develop itself – so an old novel can easily be more spectacular than an old film or videogame. After all, it doesn’t have to worry about things like special effects, the state of computer graphics at the time etc…

3) Spin-off novels are like new episodes: This one is more about spin-off novels than traditional novelisations, but it’s really interesting nonetheless. Back in 2011-13, I went through a phase of reading “Star Trek: The Next Generation / Deep Space Nine/ Voyager” spin-off novels.

One of the cool things about these novels is that very few of them were directly based on episodes of these TV shows, with most of them telling new and original stories featuring familiar characters. And, since I’d already watched most episodes of these shows, the idea that there was a giant wealth of hundreds of extra “episodes” out there was really cool.

So, finding spin-off novels based on TV shows can almost be like finding entire new seasons of a TV show, new feature-length episodes and all sorts of cool things like that. Plus, since spin-off novels usually tend to be written in a slightly more informal and “readable” way, they’re often as relaxing as watching a TV show but with all of the added depth and sophistication that can only come from the written word 🙂

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Setting Up A Spin-Off Comic Before You Make It – A Ramble

2016 Artwork Spin Off Comics article sketch

As regular readers of this site probably know, I was busy making a short comic called “The Charity Case: A Harvey Delford Mystery” at the time of writing these articles. This comic is a spin-off from my long-running occasional “Damania” webcomic series (you can see some more “Damania” comics here) and it looks a bit like this:

"The Charity Case - Page 3" By C. A. Brown

“The Charity Case – Page 3” By C. A. Brown

So, why did I get the idea to make a spin-off comic? Well, there were a couple of reasons for this which might also be useful to you if you ever want to make a spin-off comic. Ok, I’ll mostly be talking about my comic here – but I’ll try to include some general advice too.

The first reason is to do with character design. In my original “Damania” comics, Harvey was originally intended to be a “serious” character that would contrast with the anarchic and rebellious nature of the other three main characters. There’s also the fact that he was inspired by a lot of fictional detectives too, which meant that I could incorporate elements of the detective genre into the series too.

In other words, he ended up becoming one of the most interesting characters in the series. As such, I wanted to spend more time with him and I was curious about what his everyday life would look like.

So, one way to set up a spin-off comic before you actually make it is to create main characters that are interesting enough to make you wonder what it would look like if they got their own comic.

The second reason why I ended up making this spin-off was because of one comic that I made during a recent mini series of traditional “Damania” comics:

"Damania Resurgence - A Rogueish Plot" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Resurgence – A Rogueish Plot” By C. A. Brown

The idea of a group of melodramatic villains with cool-sounding names (eg: “The Masked Rogue” etc..) was originally intended as a throwaway joke, but it intrigued me enough to make me want to explore the idea further. Although these extra characters only appeared briefly in my spin-off comic, they were one of the things that made me interested enough to make a spin-off comic.

So, if you want to set up a spin-off comic, then one way to do it is to introduce a few intriguing background details that hint at another story. If you make these interesting enough, then not only will your audience be curious- but you’ll probably also feel curious enough to want to make a spin off comic too.

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Sorry for such a short and rambling article, but I hope it was interesting.

Three Basic Tips For Writing Short Stories Based On Longer Stories

2015 Artwork Short Spin Off Stories article sketch

Although I haven’t seen that many examples of this, one of the things that I absolutely love is when fiction and/or comics writers come up with shorter stories that are based on their longer stories.

A great example of a great writer who did this is probably Billy Martin (who published under the pen name of “Poppy Z. Brite”), before he retired from writing.

Each of his first two short story collections contained one story featuring some of the characters from his first two novels (the short stories are called “How To Get Ahead In New York” and “Vine Of The Soul”).

Plus, although an electronic copy of it used to be available to read online on his publisher’s website up until a few years ago at least, he also published a very rare short story called “Stay Awake” which answered the question of whether the two main characters in his first novel (“Lost Souls”) were lovers or whether they were just friends. I won’t spoil the answer, but if you’ve read any of Martin’s other novels, you can probably make an educated guess anyway 🙂

Shorter stories that are based on longer stories give writers a chance to explore elements of their stories that they didn’t have room for in their longer comics or novels.

They also allow a writer to re-visit their favourite stories, without committing themselves to a full-length comic or novel. They are, obviously, also something extra for the fans too.

But, how do you write these kinds of stories? Here are a few basic tips:

1) Brief introductions: Even though these short stories are mainly intended for people who have read your longer comics or stories, you still need to accept the fact that new readers will probably read them too. As such, it also haa to work as a stand-alone story, as well as an extension to your longer story.

What this means is that you’ll have to briefly re-explain or summarise any important story or character information from your longer works that is relevant to what is happening in your short story.

Although this will mean that new readers will see plot spoilers for your longer stories, this isn’t as much of an issue as you might think.

Since you’re only describing these things briefly, new readers who enjoyed your short story will probably be curious about how or why these things happened. Plus, if they like your characters, then they’ll want to see more of them – even if they know the ending to your longer story.

2) Focus on other characters: Another good way to write an interesting shorter story is to focus on one of the supporting characters from your longer story or comic.

Since these characters should be as interesting (or more interesting) than the main character, but will have slightly less character development than your main character does – your audience will probably be curious about them. As such, they are the perfect subject for a short story.

A good example of this would probably be a short story by Mike Carey that was published in an anthology of zombie fiction I read about five years ago. Since my copy of this book is under a pile of other books and is difficult to reach, I can’t remember the exact story title. But, it was a spin-off story that was based on his excellent “Felix Castor” series of hardboiled supernatural detective/horror novels.

However, rather than featuring another one of Felix Castor’s cases, this story focuses on the backstory of one of the other characters from the novels – a zombie called Nicky. Since Mike Carey has a really interesting take on the zombie genre (eg: zombies still retain their intelligence and personality, but they have no legal rights and their bodies can’t heal themselves) it was really interesting to see slightly more of this in a short story.

3) Fill in some gaps: One of the best ways to come up with ideas for shorter stories that your fans will love is to see if there’s anything in your longer novels or comics that you didn’t really have a chance to explain or explore properly.

For example, you could show a mysterious part of your main character’s backstory that you only hinted at in your original novel or comic or you could show an interesting location that you only had time to mention briefly in your main story. I’m sure you get the idea…..

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Basic Ways To Leave Your Story Open To Sequels And Spin-Offs

2014 Artwork open to sequels article sketch

Whether you’re writing a novel, a short story collection and/or a comic series, it can always be a good idea to leave room for additional stuff. Whilst some stories are totally self-contained and would be ruined by a sequel or spin-off of any kind, many stories aren’t.

Still, if you want to write sequels or spin-offs to something you’ve made, it can often be a good idea to plan for this in advance when you’re writing your original story.

Not only does a sequel allow you to revisit your favourite characters and/or settings, but it also provides something extra for fans of your original story too. Plus, of course, writing a spin-off allows you to do all sorts of interesting new stuff with the “world” of your story too.

In fact, technically speaking, some writers produce literally nothing but sequels (eg: Lee Child) – but, of course, once you’ve produced more than about one or two sequels you can call your work a “fiction series” and avoid any negative connotations that come with the word “sequel”.

So, how do you leave your work open to sequels and spin-offs? Here are a few tips:

1) Good secondary characters: If you’re planning to write a spin-off of some kind in the future, then it’s a good idea to make sure that at least one or two of the secondary characters in your story is an interesting character in and of their own right. They can be as interesting as the main character is, but preferably they should be slightly more interesting than the main character.

Why? Because, if you do this, then you will have a ready-made main character for any spin-offs you plan to write.

Not only that, if you just decide to write an “ordinary” sequel rather than a spin-off, then promising your readers another glimpse of this brilliant secondary character (and following up on that promise) can be a good way to keep your fans loyal.

2) An “open” premise for your story: Whilst your original story should be self-contained and have a recognisable beginning, middle and ending – this doesn’t mean that making sequels is a difficult thing to do. All you have to do is to make sure that there’s something in the premise of your story that leaves it open to sequels.

For example, if you are writing a story about a detective who solves a particularly tricky murder case, then the fact that your main character is a detective automatically leaves your story open to sequels. Why? Because he or she will almost certainly have other cases to solve in the future….

Likewise, if you’re writing a sci-fi story about a group of characters who crash-land on another planet and have to find a way off of the planet, then maybe make a few references to the fact that they’re scientists and/or explorers rather than just “ordinary” space travellers.

Why? Because scientists and/or explorers travel around the galaxy in a group on a regular basis, but a group of “ordinary” space travellers probably won’t get on the same spaceship together again.

3) An interesting setting: Even if all of your main characters die at the end of your original story, then you can still write a good sequel if your story is set in an interesting enough location. Yes, this only really works for sci-fi, fantasy and/or horror stories – but a suitably original, detailed and interesting setting can almost be a character in and of it’s own right.

So, even if your sequel has a totally different group of main characters then it will still be recognisable as a sequel if it is set in the same “world” as your original story was.

Yes, it might be a good idea to make a couple of brief references to the events of your original story, but if your setting is distinctive, recognisable and interesting enough- then you don’t even have to do this.

A good example of this can be seen in two excellent novels called “Lost Souls” and “Drawing Blood” by Poppy Z. Brite (the pen name for an artist called Billy Martin, before he retired from writing) .

Although these two novels both have scenes that take place in a fictional American town called “Missing Mile”, there is little to no crossover between the two books. Yes, the same bartender appears in both novels but that’s the only character they have in common. Even so, they still kind of feel like sequels to each other because of “Missing Mile”.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Four Tips For Writing A Spin – Off (For The First Time)

2013 Artwork Spin Off Sketch

Spin-offs – you either love or hate them. They tend to be a lot more common in television and comics than they do in other storytelling formats. Since the only proper spin-off I’ve ever made(not counting an unfinished “Jadzia Strange” comic) was a comic called “Anachrony” which was a spin-off from my “Damania” webcomic, I’ll try to write this article in a general way which covers both comics and prose fiction.

Creating a spin-off can be a good way to do new and interesting things with your series, settings and/or characters. Plus, it can also be a good way of giving more depth to a supporting character in your original story, comic or series. Not to mention that they can be very fun to write/draw too and they are a perfect way to geek out about your stories too.

Anyway, here are four basic tips which could come in handy if you are writing your first spin-off.

1) Different tone and/or settings: One of the most important things about a spin-off is that it should be significantly different from the original story in terms of tone and/or settings. This is probably fairly obvious, but your spin-off shouldn’t just look like a continuation of your original story since your readers will probably be either indifferent or disappointed if there aren’t really any significant differences between the two stories.

However, if your original story is extremely good and you have very avid fans, then they might not mind too much if they’re both very similar, but it probably isn’t a good idea to risk this.

These don’t have to be major changes (and your stories should obviously still be set in the same fictional “universe”), but they should certainly be noticeable enough to make the two things easily recognisable as different things. To use an example from TV, watch an episode of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” and then watch an episode of “Angel” – they’re both supernatural fantasy/horror TV shows involving magic and vampires, but “Angel” has a much darker tone, film noir-style settings and more detective-style storylines.

2) New and old characters: It’s usually a good idea to include a supporting character from your original story as a main character in your spin-off, this is mainly because readers of your original story will be familiar with the supporting character and this character will also serve as a “bridge” between your original story and your spin-off. Plus, if new readers discover your spin-off first then they will at least recognise one of the characters if they then go on to read your original story.

Another way of doing this, if you want completely different characters in your spin-off, is to briefly show your new spin-off characters in your original story. For TV shows, this is apparently referred to as a “poorly-disguised pilot” and I did this in “Damania” just before I started writing/drawing “Anachrony”.

"Damania - Poorly Disguised Pilot Episode" By C.A.Brown [released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence]

“Damania – Poorly Disguised Pilot Episode” By C.A.Brown [released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence]

In addition to this, even if you use a supporting character from your original story, then you should still add new characters in your spin-off. This is mainly to ensure that your spin-off is distinctive and different from your original story, but it also gives you more room for creativity and new character dynamics/relationships.

3) Your spin-off must be able to stand on it’s own: This one is pretty self-explanatory, but your spin-off should also work as a self-contained story which can be easily understood and enjoyed by people who have not read your original story. One way of doing this is to make your spin-off a prequel to your original story (like with “Anachrony”) but another way is simply to just write a different self-contained story which happens to feature characters, settings and/or plot elements from your original story.

Of course, you can add references to your original story and in-jokes about it in your spin-off if you like (these can be useful “added value” for people who have read your original story), but major parts of the plot shouldn’t rely on knowledge of the original story.

4) Make sure your original story is developed enough: This, again, should probably be fairly self-explanatory. But, in short, you shouldn’t start writing a spin-off until your original story has been going for quite a while and has had time to develop properly. This is mainly because although spin-offs can run parallel to your original story, they are meant to compliment your original story rather than overshadow it (although it isn’t always a bad thing if this happens).

Plus, although your spin-off should be accessible to new readers, your main audience will possibly be fans of your original story. Of course, if your original story hasn’t built up enough momentum or hasn’t been going for long enough, then this might affect the audience for your spin-off too.

Not to mention that, since your spin-off will almost certainly be set in the same fictional “universe” as your original story, it makes sense to explore and develop that universe fairly well in your original story before you begin planning a spin-off.

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Anyway, I hope that this article was useful 🙂