I’ve just started reading a book called Tied In: The Business, History and Craft of Media Tie-In Writing, which is the result of a collaboration by several members of The Internation Association of Media Tie-in Writers. I bought it after Matt Forbeck (@mforbeck), who’s one of the contributors, recommended it on his blog.

What’s a media-tie in novel? Well this is the description on the IAMTW’s website:

We write science fiction, westerns, mysteries, romance and thrillers and sometimes all of the above. Our work embraces just about every genre you can think of, from STAR TREK to CSI, from GUNSMOKE to MURDER SHE WROTE, from DUNE to James Bond, from RESIDENT EVIL to Hannah Montana.

Our books are original tie-in novels, comic books and short stories based on existing characters from movie, TV series, books, games, and cartoons… or they are novelizations (books based on screenplays for movies and TV shows).

Tie-ins and novelizations are a licensed works… meaning they are written with the permission and supervision of the creators, studios, or other rights-holders of the original characters.

I’m only 17% of the way in (why yes, I am reading it on an eBook reader – why do you ask?) but so far it’s proving very interesting. However, what really got me thinking was a section where a group of the authors discuss the challenge of adapting a film script into a novel (the section entitled “Writing the Novelisation”).

The authors describe how they try to make the book more than the film from which it is derived, aiming to make it look as though the book came first, as though this was the book the film was based on. While still staying true to the film, they try to add depth, fleshing out those areas of story and characterisation that the film was forced to fast-forward past.

They also talk about the challenge of coming up with a narrative structure that suits a book; while a film can constantly cut back and forth between different scenes and different characters, a book needs a more stable structure. And they talked about how satisfying it is when you can come up with some sort of narrative scheme or angle that adds a new depth to the book that wasn’t in the film.

And it was this that got me thinking about my all-time favourite media tie-in novel.

Grease, by Ron De Christoforo.

This might sound like a bizarre choice, but you have to understand that the novel is so much more than the film. The film’s fun, I’ll not deny that. But it’s a musical, not perhaps frothy, but not that deep either. How the hell do you take an ever-so slightly camp and over-the-top musical and turn it into a novel?

Well in this case, De Christoforo took a minor character from the film, Danny’s best mate Sonny, and turned him into the engaging narrator of a gritty but fun, first-person novel. He also gave Sonny a girlfriend, Marsha, who joined the Pink Ladies, so that she could later tell Sonny things that had happened when the girls out of the boys’ sight. As for the songs, at least one that I recall (Greased Lightning) was re-imagined as an impromptu rapping sessions, with the rest just left out altogether.

Some novels draw you in, making you feel like you’re peeking into another world. That was how it was for me, with Grease: a young teenager in early 80s Britain feeling like he’d learned what it was to be a slightly older teenager in late 50s USA. It was full of detail: Polar Burgers, the pre-chain dump of a fast-food restaurant they used to eat at; the ’57 Chevy pickup Sonny borrows from his cousin so he and Danny can go and visit Sandy; the zip gun Doody makes in shop that all the others laugh at.

It’s my favourite tie-in novel of all time. But more than that, it’s just one of my favourite novels.

I loved it.

If you’re interested, you can actually read the first bit of it using Amazon’s preview feature. Just click on this link. Or alternatively, to save you doing that, I’ve taking the liberty of grabbing the first page and a half and putting it here (the preview has more pages than this).

But before I do that… Have you got a favourite tie-in novel, either an original story or a novelisation? If so, please drop me a comment here to say what it was. I’d love to see if anyone else has any quirky surprises.

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