Authorial intent — TV shows Vs Movies Vs Books

On my main blog/website, you can find the foundation of the explanation on how fiction works.

? Authorial intent is different in mediums whose invention is communal. That is, when multiple people (writers) are involved, such as with TV shows, and their combined intentions go into crafting the story.

? A book, for instance, is a personal and private venture. In the initial stages, it involves only the individual, the author, who, as I explain, pour out their mind onto the “page”. That’s how we can see what every author is thinking through what they write, and how fiction is the biggest window into the psychology of the author, and for the author, how fiction is the best therapy.

But a TV show is often, and at the core, a communal undertaking. Meaning more than one person works on the core of the intention that’ll carry the show. They communally decide what the crux of the story will be about. That is why some TV shows can feel less like you’re peering into the author’s mind and how they feel; these are the shows with multiple writers in the back.

For instance, The Vampire Diaries, a TV show, or Twilight (2009), a movie, are exactly that (and before a stray hater would like to misconstrue my using these two examples as a declaration of love for either of these stories, no). Like pop stars manually crafted to emulate what goes on in the heart of their target audience, both works, TVD in its initial seasons as it was spearheaded by its original writer Kevin Williamson, and Twilight (2009) as written by Melissa Rosenberg, emulate the feelings the original books were about, in order to capture that feeling well enough to sell it a larger chunk of their target audience that’ll resonate with it.

The striking difference in authorial intention that we see in TVD, compared to the super personal and self-involved will of the author in books, is the lack of personal stakes in the story. A personal story, such as a book, will directly describe an internal journey the author’s mind takes to arrive at a particular emotional or mental destination, or takes to experience specific situations on the way there.

In adaptations, but also in original TV fiction productions or works involving more than one person, we notice completely different intentions, that come from a completely different place. That is why some shows can feel more impersonal, in terms of how much the author’s feelings come through the story.

Instead, what is reflected is the will to do well. In TVD, we can sense the will to bring this story to the screen well, and there’s a palpable dedication to do it well and to get it right that define earlier seasons. From the casting choice and writing decisions, the intention we see is dedication to bring the story over well. Twilight has a more personal touch in its aesthetic and atmosphere, but has a similar feeling; the intent to bring the story over well, both to the screen and therefore to a bigger audience.

But the original feeling from the book, specifically, the authorial intent, is only emulated, no matter how well it’s emulated.

For instance, in TVD, once the original writer is replaced by another one, Julie Plec, in season 4, her personal will is what’s imposed on the story, and takes the show and its subsequent spin-offs in a completely different direction. Effectively transforming a story that, while it only loosely adapted the books, still aimed to reflect them (while correcting some of the books’ whackier problems), into what we call fanfiction in the world of fandoms.

We can observe the same things from two different TV shows, American Horror Story and Spartacus.

Spartacus is primarily the work of a single writer, Steven S. DeKnight, who is the one responsible for the direction taken by the series in terms of its psychological substance. Mentally, the series is a reflection of him, and follows his own direction, ideas, and storytelling. And while there is obviously a team working behind that to bring the project to life, the authorial intention behind it is his. In this sense, it effectively works like any regular piece of fiction, the way a book does.

But in comparison, American Horror Story is more impersonal, in the sense that it isn’t a single author’s playground for their own wish-fulfilment, or where their feelings come out to play. Rather, it’s a place where a single vision is executed, even if two writers are involved; Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk. In large projects, the team behind aligns with the vision of the original writer, whose will dictate the story. But in AHS, the team rallies around a single idea, or vision, and that includes the writers themselves. It is a little unclear who birthed that vision, since we’d assume the writers did. But the way it is executed by everyone on board, the vision becomes the centre point, and instead gives off the impression that the authors or writers or thinkers came together to create that single vision. So there is a lack of personal involvement in the sense previously explored, imposed on the piece. And the vision itself dictates the direction of the work, rather than what goes on in the meandres of the author’s mind. Neither approaches are bad, by the way, and I personally am a fan of personal works even if I can enjoy all types. But these are dynamics we can find, dancing around between the line and showing through the work’s substance.

There are other examples we could use, such as David Benioff and D.B. Weiss’s Game of Thrones. or The Lord of the Rings adapted by Peter Jackson, which confirm what we’ve been studying so far: how adaptations emulate the original feeling of their source material, and are transposed into the screen, with the intention to adapt and bring over the story well, so as to present it to a larger audience capable of appreciating it.

But these were short explanations of prominent large projects, and how these large projects, when involving multiple people, can change the feel of authorial intent. Share your thoughts in the comments, subscribe, etc.