April 23rd 2010
ROBIN HOOD and “Creative Ownership”
So, I’m starting off with a little self-promotion. I have written the novelization for the new Ridley Scott treatment of Robin Hood, starring Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett. The movie will be released on May 14; the book comes out next Tuesday, April 27.
I have always wanted to write a media tie-in; I always thought it would be a lot of fun. I considered writing in the Buffy universe, or a Star Trek novel — TNG, Deep Space 9, Voyager; I considered them all. And I have to admit that I thought it would be easy, a quick paycheck.
Well, I never did a tie-in, but now that I’ve written this novelization, I know better than to think that media work is easy. Those of you who have written successful tie-ins have my deepest admiration.
Writing a novel that is entirely the product of my own imagination presents its own challenges. But at a fundamental level it has the advantage of being mine, entirely and absolutely. I can create my worlds and develop my characters and build my narratives. There is an organic quality to the writing that allows each of those elements to work on the others; you might say that character and worldbuilding and plot have a symbiotic relationship. They nourish one another.
But in writing the Robin Hood novelization, I quickly discovered that the symbiosis wasn’t there, at least not in the same way. I didn’t “own” the project creatively; not entirely. Early on, I felt as though I was playing with someone else’s toys. The greatest challenge for me as I worked my way through the book, was reaching a point where I felt that I had a stake in the characters and the story. I would guess that media tie-ins present similar challenges.
I wrote my book from the shooting script of the movie. I had a few still images from the production to help me with descriptions of people, settings, clothing, etc. But I relied most heavily on the script, which I was not allowed to alter at all. I couldn’t change dialogue, I couldn’t cut or add lines, and I certainly couldn’t add in subplots of my own. Narrative and dialogue — those are two of a writer’s most important tools. I had no control over either. What I did control was exposition, point of view, descriptive passages, and internal monologue.
That last, internal monologue, is where I finally connected with the project in a meaningful way. It began with three characters — relatively minor characters all: Friar Tuck, Richard the Lionheart, and Eleanor of Aquitaine. I think the reason these characters were, initially, easier for me to write than Robin Hood and Marion, is that I didn’t know them as well. We’ve been exposed to other people’s interpretations of Robin and Marion since we were kids, watching that Red Fox in the Disney version. And, of course, picturing Crowe and Blanchett in the roles was easy. With these other characters, I had some idea of who they were, but I didn’t have as many preconceived notions, nor did I know who was playing them in the film. And so in writing from their points of view, I had more room to create, to make them my own. Once I had been in these characters’ heads for a while, and I had found a voice not only for them, but for the project itself, I found it much easier to write from Robin’s POV and Marion’s.
Is “creative ownership” that important? Honestly, I hadn’t given it much thought prior to this project, but I believe it is. The organic nature of writing that I mentioned earlier only happens for me when I feel comfortable with my characters and my narrative. Much of the time, when I’m writing my non-media books, I have to trust the decisions I make on the fly, the instances when I “follow my characters” and allow my story line to develop in ways I might not have anticipated in my initial outline. Comfort. Trust. With Robin Hood, before I got past the feeling of playing with another writer’s toys, those weren’t there. They only developed when I began to put my stamp on the story with the thoughts of characters, with description, with voice. Once the book became something more than another person’s script held together with a few phrases — once it began to feel like my novel — everything got easier. My writing flowed better, the point of view transitions became smoother, my exposition improved.
“Owning” one’s original work in this way is fairly easy. Finding the path to that “ownership” when writing in another person’s universe, be it a tie-in or a novelization, is another matter entirely. It was certainly the greatest challenge I faced with Robin Hood. But overcoming that obstacle proved to be the most satisfying part of the experience. In the end, I managed to write a book that remains true to the movie script, while also offering my own vision of the Robin Hood legend.
David B. Coe
David B. Coe is the author of eleven fantasy novels, including the books of the LonTobyn Chronicle, Winds of the Forelands, and Blood of the Southlands. He has also written the novelization for the Ridley Scott production of ROBIN HOOD, starring Russell Crowe, that is due out in May 2010. In 1999 he received the Crawford Fantasy Award, given annually by the IAFA to the best new author in fantasy. He has a Ph.D. in United States environmental history and lives on the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee with his wife and daughters. Visit site.
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