What It’s Like to Write a Television Tie-In Novel by Karen Dionne
There are two broad categories of television and movie tie-ins. A novelization is a retelling of the show or movie. An original novel based on the show uses the show’s characters, but the story is the author’s. Neither are fan fiction, since tie-in authors are hired by the license holders to write their books.
Well-known tie-in writers include Kingsley Amis, Raymond Benson, Lawrence Block, Orson Scott Card, Leslie Charteris, Arthur C. Clarke, Max Allan Collins, Ian Fleming, Jonathan Maberry, David Morrell, and Robert B. Parker to name just a few.
Tie-in books are published by major publishing companies, sell tens of millions of copies worldwide, and regularly appear on the New York Times, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly bestseller lists.
Writing a tie-in novel presents a unique set of rewards and challenges. Unlike my previous novels, which were 100% my own creation, in my latest novel, THE KILLING: UNCOMMON DENOMINATOR, the story is mine, but the characters are not. They belong to the show, or more accurately, to fans of the show. My job as the author is to bring the characters fans know and love to life on the page.
When I was first asked if I’d be interested in writing an original novel based on the television series The Killing, I wasn’t familiar with the show. I purchased the pilot episode from Amazon, and was hooked. The Killing is inspired by the wildly successful Danish television series Forbrydelsen, and tells the story of the murder of a young girl in Seattle and the subsequent police investigation.
I immediately watched the rest of the first season and loved it. There are many elements that work in this show—the pacing, the writing, the actors, the moody atmosphere—but I think what grabbed me most was that the characters and the writing are so honest and real. I’ve since learned that many of my thriller author friends are fans—no doubt because they appreciate great writing.
After I was selected to write the novel, I watched all of the available episodes several times, and took extensive notes. I also watched the cast interviews on The Killing website. Hearing the actors talk about their characters was extremely helpful for getting inside the characters’ heads. I read as many of the fans’ comments as I was able to, paying particular attention to what people liked about the characters. Always in my mind was the thought that I was writing the book for fans of the show. It was both a challenge and a privilege to be the first author to bring this most excellent television drama to the page.
I did not collaborate with the show’s creator and executive producer, Veena Sud, beyond a phone call during which we discussed the book’s creative direction, but I worked closely with the Fox production team. One of the primary concerns was that the book reflect the show’s mythology as accurately as possible. To that end, Fox sent me the scripts for seasons two and three as they were written so I could keep up with the storyline—often in advance of the episodes’ airing, which was fun. The scripts were a great help, especially when it came to recreating Holder’s slangy speech patterns.
Fans of the show have asked many questions about the book. Will we see Sarah Linden as a wife in your story? Will Jack appear in the story? Will we see Stephen Holder fall into addiction as an undercover officer with the Sheriff’s Department? Will we see him steal the gold coin from his nephew, Davie? Will we see Linden’s mother in your book? Will Stephen Holder have a romantic interest in the novel?
I can’t reveal specifics beyond the novel’s description, and what would be the fun in reading the book if people knew the answers to these and similar questions ahead of time?
I can say that THE KILLING: UNCOMMON DENOMINATOR is a prequel, and takes place ten months before Rosie Larson is found murdered in the show’s pilot episode. One of the challenging aspects of writing this novel was figuring out a story for the book that would involve the show’s two main characters, Sarah Linden and Stephen Holder, in meaningful ways, but without allowing their paths to intersect, since they meet for the first time in the pilot episode. I’m happy to say I believe I found a story that addresses this in a satisfying way. I hope fans agree!
Karen Dionne is the internationally published author of BOILING POINT, an environmental thriller about an erupting volcano, a missing researcher, and a radical scheme to end global warming. Karen’s first science thriller, FREEZING POINT, was nominated by RT Book Reviews as Best First Mystery of 2008.
Karen is cofounder of the online writers community Backspace, and organizes the Salt Cay Writers Retreat held every year on a private island in the Bahamas. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and the International Thriller Writers, where she served on the board of directors as Vice President, Technology.
Karen has been honored by the Michigan Humanities Council as a Humanities Scholar for her body of work as an author, writer, and as co-founder of Backspace. Visit her website at .
To learn more about Karen, please visit her website.
Interested in becoming a member of the International Thriller Writers? ITW offers Active and Associate memberships.
Latest posts by ITW (see all)
- October 16 – 22: “Is it a good idea to set thrillers in the Fall?” - October 15, 2017
- October 9 – 15: “What’s the one fiction writing guidebook that every writer should have?” - October 8, 2017
- October 2 – 8: “Are some careers more suitable for characters in thrillers than others?” - October 1, 2017