Recently I’ve been watching a sci-fi series Fall Out, a TV series adaptation of a video game. I’d never heard of this game but my 20-year old son says it’s an old school corker of a role-play game. General premise of the TV series: Set in a retro-futuristic world following a nuclear war, there exists a small pocket of humanity flourishing in a 1950’s moral bubble inside a bunker-like underground vault. Outside the world has gone to hell, a fact quickly realised by our hero, Lucy, a doe-eyed, goody-two-shoeing American sweetheart, when she must leave the vault to rescue her kidnapped father. She navigates the vast wastelands of the Earth’s surface, encountering rough-heads, mutant creatures, madness, ghouls, religious fanatics, and a particularly unhappy radioactive cowboy. I think she summed it up nicely in one harrowing episode when she says in deadpan regret “I hate it up here.”.

Lucy is no slouch though, despite her quaint 50’s morality and petit frame; she can mix it up with the best of them. She does battle with a variety of nasties, including the afore mentioned unhappy cowboy. In one particularly thrilling sequence she deftly sees off a murderous Matt Berry robot and its makers with the kinds of inventive manoeuvres one could only expect from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Having watched all 8 episodes of the first season I’m hungry for more.

So all this, it got me thinking about adaptations. We certainly see a lot of them. Everything it seems is fair call—books to stage, comics to film, video games to tv series. I’m toying with the financial decision to join Apple TV soon so I can watch a series adaptation of one of my favourite scifi books, Dark Matter by Blake Crouch, as a TV series. Of course, adaptations so often get it wrong and we can end up bitter about the travesty of a hack job.

But I have the stinking suspicion that Fall Out, the TV series, is not a hack job. In fact, I suspect it is a marvellous rendition of the original, and possibly even better.

Do you know of a book that is gagging out for a stage adaptation? A mate of mine, Nick Skubij, and his theatre company Shake and Stir have made an absolute artform of stage adaptations of classic novels. Frankenstein, Dracula, Jane Eyre, The Fantastic Mr Fox, James and The Giant Peach. If you’ve read any of these novels, you’ll realise how tricky it might be to make them into script for performance.

Because just have a gander at what the original Fall Out role-playing game is described as: Fallout‘s protagonist, the Vault Dweller, inhabits an underground nuclear shelter in a mid-22nd century post-apocalyptic and retro-futuristic world, decades after a nuclear war between the United States and China. The player must scour the surrounding wasteland for a computer chip that can fix the Vault’s failed water supply system. They interact with other survivors, some of whom give them missions, and engage in turn-based combat.elements with open-world exploration, allowing players to make choices that affect the story and their character’s development. Central themes include survival, morality, and the consequences of humanity’s actions in a world ravaged by nuclear devastation.


Make that a TV series, dare you. Do you notice the first thing that you would need to do to construct a satisfying TV series based on this? You got it. The hero. “The Vault Dweller,” huh? That’s not going to thrill the viewers much. Whilst in the original game it clearly would have been the Player One’s role, in the TV version, a real, 3-D complex and surprising hero needed to be invented. Enter Lucy.

But anyone who has watched the Fallout TV series, you’ll know there is a major difference between the narrative of the game and the narrative of the series. The water system failure inciting incident, although representing serious problems for a group of people living in a hermetically sealed survival vault, didn’t quite cut it apparently in the ‘high stakes’ department in the TV version. The kidnapping of her hero’s community leader/legend Dad inciting incident is instantly more complex and compelling— let’s unpack why.

  1. The hero is personally invested in the mission, rather than just committed to a community need like saving the vault community’s water system. Her Dad is her personal hero who has brought her up single-handedly, a fine upstanding Atticus Finch type. He must be rescued from certain death up on the scorched Earth’s surface. Interestingly, his kidnapping, although regretted by the other members of community, doesn’t represent a massive problem for the community who waste very little time electing a new vault leader….odd.
  2. The Gotta Go Find My Dad plot line creates intrigue. Who was the gang of vault intruders who wrecked havoc and carted off with the hero’s Dad? And for what purpose? It opens up a very complex storyline, incorporating a bevy of villains and allies who wander the Earth’s surface for various reasons, all of whom weave a rare cloth.
  3. The community business of the vault storyline is thrust into the limelight when the leader of the community is taken, including a moral debate about what to do with a few leftover intruder prisoners and the necessity for an election to find a new community leader. This subplot eventually does circle its way back around to the hero’s journey in clever little ways, and in doing so creates a compelling backstory.

I suppose what I’m getting at here, in this impossibly detailed ramble, is that adaptations of stories from one writing discipline to another means certain story or character elements will likely need a change. What those changes are seem elusive to me, a case by case sitch perhaps. I know for example that Peter Jackson and Phillipa Boyens made some serious changes to the Lord of The Rings to create the film series. It was, at the time, sacrilege to die-hard LOTR fans. The books were like sacred lore never to be questioned. But for me, after reading the books after seeing the films, I absoltuely agreed on the changes and omissions they made. BUt can you imagine? You’re adapting a world famous novel series and you beleive you should cut out whole chapters, erase beloved characters, add in new scenes, and rearrange the work of what for many is a master maker of worlds. ‘Change the bloody denouement,’ you posit, with the argument that it is a false ending. You got balls, mate.

As it happens the changes were widely accepted by LOTR fans. PJ and Phillipa got it right. People generally agreed the omitted scenes and chopped around character list made a great literary saga work properly for film. Clever clogs.

I would like to work on an adaptation, a novel to a stage play. Something Wicked This Way Comes by the marvellous Ray Bradbury (oh, no, it already has a theatrical version) or We Are Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler or Behind the Scenes at the Museum by my absolute recent favourite, Kate Atkinson. I’m currently reading an amazing book, a science fiction by China Mieville, The Scar, which is desperately begging me to be made into a TV series.

And another thing I remember reading something somewhere, possibly a Stephen King zinger, to the effect that if you are dreaming of an adaptation of a work still in copyright, the best thing to do is to write the adaptation first THEN contact the author (or author’s agent) to seek permission to adapt it, attaching a copy of the work you’ve completed. I guess the idea is that if it’s good, the author will be more interested than if you just asked without any proof of your ability to do the task.

So get to it. Adapt away. Be mindful that the adaptation may need to change to fit the new medium. If you think its any good, reach out to the author, and… you never know. The worst that can happen is you’ll be ignored. If nothing else it will be an interesting writing exercise.

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