One of the greatest challenges regarding screenwriting and game writing is making your time work. You’ve only got two hours to communicate your entire story; which details are essential and which are unnecessary? A good screen/game writer knows how to perfectly balance the act, making sure that each of the characters is developed and likable and the story is great. But there are a lot of times where they fail to include crucial details.
This often boils down to characters or the setting. Sometimes, the writer will forget to add details that hint to the character’s motivations or why/how they got to where they are today. Other times, they’ll fail to develop the setting, making the world of the film/game feel flat, uninteresting, and forgettable. Either way, these shortcomings result in great detractions from the film. Reviewers will often tear the neglected character or world apart in their review.
So how do you fix this? How do you make this criticism go away without improving your ability to write a movie/game? Easy! Just write a book that has all of the details you couldn’t fit in the movie/game!
Enter the expanded universe. Franchises have been doing this for years, especially sci-fi franchises like Alien, Halo, and Star Wars. These books will often have answers to lingering questions from the original film/game. This fulfills the gape in the narrative and adds an extra bit of knowledge for people who want it.
Did you love Halo Reach’s Noble Squad but wish they had more in-depth backstories and motivations? Or maybe you want to learn more about the Flood? Don’t you worry! I’m sure one of the dozens (yes, dozens) of Halo books will have the answers! Did Alien: Covenant leave you wanting more and asking questions? Don’t worry! Audible has a new line of Alien books that may have the answers! And don’t even get me started on the Star Wars books!
In concept, these extra books aren’t a bad idea. Hey, did you love the original movie/game? Do you want to explore the world more and answer lingering questions about the setting and characters? Check out these extra novels! Put yourselves above your fellow fans and gain the right to call them filthy casuals!
But here’s the thing. These extra books are not used to expand the universe. At least not very often. More likely they’re used to fill the gaps in the original story. It isn’t an expansion of the narrative; it’s a band-aid slapped over a plothole.
Worse yet, it’s often used as an excuse by the hardcore fans! Try to criticize a game or movie for having a lackluster story, and you know what you’ll often hear? “Um, actually, if you read *insert book here*, it totally clears that up, so it’s actually awesome and you’re wrong and fuck you!” Seriously, go back to my review of Solo: A Star Wars Story (I wouldn’t recommend doing that, it isn’t a good review), and you know what you’ll find? A list of book recommendations in the comments, telling me that it makes my critiques of the film invalid.
I’m not calling anyone out, mind you. I understand their mindsets. Nerds have a strong, innate desire to correct misinformation; let’s face it, we’re all a bunch of know-it-alls. So, when you have that information thanks to one of the books, it’s hard not to want to correct people. If you just read the book, then all of your complaints will be cleared, and you’ll enjoy the original so much more!
Sorry fellow know-it-alls. But having a book that patches a hole doesn’t automatically make the hole go away. It’s like putting a poster over a hole in the wall. That covers the problem, sure, but it doesn’t make the problem go away. I should know.
Because I totally covered a hole in my wall with a poster. I’d show you a picture, but I don’t live in that house anymore. So you’ll have to use your imaginations.
Having a book to explain a plot hole in a movie/game doesn’t make the original plot hole go away. It’s still a problem in the movie. Not everyone is devoted enough to go and read a book that might explain that gap away. Most people don’t care enough or don’t have enough time!
Besides, you shouldn’t need to have to do patchwork on a story! A good movie/game should have a complete and well-rounded story with an interesting setting and characters! If it fails in these regards, then it won’t be fixed if you cram it into a book! That’s basically asking your audience to do homework! Very few people want to do that!
These extra side-books can be fun, sure. I’ve never enjoyed them personally, but there wouldn’t be so many of these damn things if there weren’t an audience for them! Perhaps I’m simply overly cynical and simply can’t appreciate what these books do to add to the original stories. Who knows?
I’m sure someone does. And I’m equally sure that they won’t hesitate to inform me. Looking forward to that.