The ideal TV adaptation of a book series would be to keep everything as is, but unfortunately, the small screen doesn’t work that way. Structural changes are kind of a must to make sure it flows well on TV and has the longevity it needs to last several seasons on the air. In many cases, shows that are adapted from a standalone title have to reconfigure the entire plot to make it more worthy of an on-screen series. And often we see screenwriters inserting more characters from the beginning to ensure that the TV series can run for a long time without running out of material. But that’s not the only way a story changes when given the small screen treatment.
As much as we’d love for show creators to remain as true to the books as possible, we can’t help but appreciate some of the tweaks they make that breath new life into the characters we once fell in love with on the page!
16. Pretty Little Liars
Pretty Little Liars, the TV show veered off-course from the Sara Shepard book series fairly quickly. While the show had the basic premise of four girls being stalked by someone named A, the introduction of new characters adds a dimension to the show that’s not present in the books. Caleb, Hanna’s boyfriend, for instance, is nonexistent in the books and Toby has a much lesser role. (Spoiler alert!) On the show, Alison DiLaurentis doesn’t actually die as she does in the books, which means there was no happy ending for Emily and Ali. We hate to break it to hardcore shippers but Aria and Noel Kahn become a couple in the book series, and Ezra is taken out of the picture after he shows his true colors.
Another key difference is that there’s less of a sense of camaraderie among the four main girls in the books, mainly because they all have different personalities and are trying to move away from Ali’s murder; not dwell on life before it. In the written version, it often feels like A is their only connecting thread, but the show does a great job of bringing them together beyond the scope of A and the whole stalking debacle. Seriously, the books are basically an entirely different entity than the show – but they’re both great!
15. Gossip Girl
A HUGE plotline in the Gossip Girl book series by Cecily von Ziegesar is the never-ending love triangle among Blair, Nate and Serena. Nate essentially volleys between the two characters up until they realize they can do so much better than him and leave. While viewers do see that at the beginning of the TV series, it ends up giving way to more important romances like Serena and Dan – who are short-lived in the books – and Blair and Chuck. Chuck, as readers will remember, is an arrogant outcast with a pet monkey and he’s a minor character at best. Because there’s a lull in the books when all the characters graduate and go their separate ways, the show of course changes up the timelines and the characters’ futures to ensure that they are all in the same city, which injects more drama than the Upper East Siders know what to do with. Also – Gossip Girl is different in the books versus the TV series.
14. Game of Thrones
Viewers have seen more prominent differences in the recent seasons of Game of Thrones. For one, the eighth season is set to air in 2019 and expected to be the final season of the show even though George R.R. Martin is still writing the books! A few other differences to note are that Sansa Stark marries Ramsay Bolton on the show whereas the book makes things a bit more convoluted and involves Sansa’s friend pretending to be Arya Stark and marrying Ramsay, only to be tortured by him. Cersei Lannister’s sexual encounter with Jaime is also far less consensual in the show, which stirred a lot of controversy among viewers, and rightfully so.
Several characters have also gone through physical changes, especially based on the actors who play them. Ser Jorah Mormount is definitely not depicted as a hairy “black bear,” and the Targaryens don’t have violet eyes. One other notable difference is that Drogo receives permission from Daenerys to sleep with her, but on the show, the experience is very traumatic for the latter. The fact that the showrunners went as far as to take away consent in so many sexual encounters is absurd and just NOT okay.
13. The Magicians
Fans of Lev Grossman’s “Harry Potter-esque” series were VERY excited to see the adaptation make its way on the screen. But an adaptation isn’t one without some major differences. The author even commented on how not everything can translate to the screen in the same way. But it’s important to note them, nonetheless. For instance, all the characters on the show are well into their 20s even though lead character Quentin is actually a 17-year-old high school student in the books. Because the characters are supposed to get older throughout the series, the creators thought it would be easier to condense the timeline. Plus, it’s just easier to find an actor whose real age isn’t too far off from the character they’ll portray. And speaking of Quentin, it’s more obvious that he’s The Chosen One on the show whereas the books try not to define him as such.
The magical world of Fillory is also introduced very early on to cut out all that buildup that takes place in the books. Viewers get introduced to Quentin’s friend Julia very quickly, and she appears on the show more frequently than her book counterpart. Again, because of the dense material, the show’s creators needed to make the story more concise and a lot more straightforward than the series because of instant gratification and all that jazz.
12. The Lying Game
Sara Shepard’s less-popular book series is a lot more mysterious, with even a hint of supernatural, because of the way the dead twin sister narrates from the grave. The show, however, cuts out the ghostly presence and has both sisters alive and well. Or, well-ish. The show is less about trying to find Sutton’s – Emma’s twin sister – killer and more about tracking down their birth parents. Obviously, it makes for good plot point if we have two twin sisters trying to co-exist – and in many cases, go after the same guy – when they’ve been raised in very different environments. Not to mention, the title itself becomes pretty moot as the lying game or series of pranks that Sutton and her friends used to pull don’t have as big of an effect on the show.
Sutton is the snooty, elitist twin and Emma is more down-to-earth, which earns her brownie points among her family and friends. Cue the jealousy! Sutton’s, er, pseudo-adoptive parents definitely get more screen time as do the adults on the show who are apparently part of the conspiracy that resulted in Sutton and Emma’s conception. Unfortunately, the show was canceled before we could tie up any loose ends.
11. The Handmaid’s Tale
The Handmaid’s Tale has been updated for the screen to reflect new cultural developments, and the fact that it strikes a chord in today’s political climate is not a coincidence. The characters and leaders of Gilead have been more diversified, everyone appears to have access to technology, and Offred/June actually takes part in the women’s marches. Her real name is also revealed to be June, which is something to Margaret Atwood doesn’t do in the book.
The showrunner Bruce Miller mentioned to Time that he consulted Atwood about the changes because times have changed since she wrote the book in 1985. Bruce said, “In the book, it’s an all-white world. That was a very big discussion with Margaret about what the difference was between reading the words, ‘There are no people of color in this world’ and seeing an all-white world on your television, which has a very different impact. What’s the difference between making a TV show about racists and making a racist TV show where you don’t hire any actors of color? So that was part of it.” Additionally, Offred has more of a feisty/rebellious streak on the show, and more of the LGBTQ+ community is represented on Hulu’s version.
10. The 100
The 100 show and books are WORLDS apart. There are several characters who are exclusive to the show or the books’ universe, namely Finn, Raven, Murphy, Charlotte, Jasper, and Monty who only live on the show. Also, some of the major book characters such as Glass, Asher, Graham, and Clarke’s best friend Thalia never make their way to the screen. Most of the characters who were kept on the show have very different personalities, such as Clarke’s book love interest, Bellamy, who’s kind of a jerk on the show and Wells, who is actually in a relationship with Clarke in the books but is killed off pretty early on the show. Clarke herself went through quite a few changes when getting adapted for the screen, seeing her become a more aggressive leader after being traumatized by her early childhood experiences.
9. The Shannara Chronicles
Terry Brooks’s 1982 book has gotten a makeover on TV, and he’s actually quite fine with it. He understands that some plot points may not work well cinematically, having worked with George Lucas in Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. Eretria’s character, for example, has more of a presence on the show, and the Tree of Chosen loses its significance as the chosen one is selected based on a race that tests their strength. Then there’s Amberle, who’s introduced much later in the books, but is a standout character on the show as a tough, badass female Chosen.
8. 13 Reasons Why
The 13 Reasons Why show, based on Jay Asher’s title of the same name, was an instant hit the moment it aired on Netflix in early 2017. But that doesn’t mean it was immune to changes – especially because there’s going to be a season two and season one wrapped up the story of the standalone novel! Some other big changes to note are that unlike in the book, Clay takes his sweet time listening to Hannah’s tapes. There’s more of an elaborate depiction of the high scene of drinking and partying, and social media plays a bigger role on the show. It makes the show particularly resonant among the younger audience and overall public who have seen how the dire effects of social media and sharing can ruin peoples’ lives.
To add a layer of depth to Hannah’s story and emphasize the impact of her death, the show creators also have Clay dreaming about Hannah’s death in shocking and explicit hallucinations and also don’t hold back when it comes to showing how she dies. It’s a heartbreaking story, regardless of what medium it’s in and leaves a lasting impression on readers and viewers alike.
7. Big Little Lies
It’s an understatement that the Big Little Lies TV adaptation was a success. In fact, there’s going to be a second season, even though there’s only one book. While the script has been modified, it’s clear that the differences only further enhanced the overall story written by Liane Moriarty. The setting was one of the many things that changed – going from Pirriwee, Australia to Monterey, California. The gorgeous beach shots, however, are a good ode to the Australian landscape, too. One of the most prominent differences is Renata Klein’s character, who has a huge presence on the show with plenty of screen time, even though she’s a minor character in the books. Laura Dern, who earned plenty of awards and nominations in the 2018 award for her role must be quite grateful!
Madeleine also never has an affair with Joseph, the director of Avenue Q production, in the book, and Bonnie actually confesses to killing Perry. In the book, she has to do community service, but the show has all the ladies claiming that Perry’s death was an accident, which wraps up the case and leaves Bonnie unscathed. Nothing like standing in solidarity in against an abuser, and we’re so here for that powerful moment.
Outlander, the TV show, has done a pretty good job of staying true to Diana Gabaldon’s time-traveling series. But given that the showrunners have an hour in each episode to tell the story, it becomes difficult to jam pack everything from the dense books. They ultimately need to pick and choose what scenes are important to show and will drive the plot forward while also catering to long-time fans. While the books are mostly from Claire’s point of view, the show goes beyond her story and delves into other characters and plot points happening in the background. For instance, in the first season, we get to see how Frank desperately searches for his wife in the present, even though we don’t hear about him at all in the first book. In the third season, we also see a great deal of what happens to Jamie after the Battle of Culloden up until the moment he reunites with Claire. Murtagh, who is Jamie’s godfather, actually survives the Battle of Culloden on the show, perhaps in part to satiate the appetites of those who adore the grumpy man (because honestly, who wouldn’t?!). There’s quite a bit to go in the series (there are nine books and counting!) and given that each season is devoted to one book, we’re not going to count our stars lucky JUST yet.
5. The Expanse
The Expanse, adapted from James S.A. Corey’s futuristic series, has stayed pretty loyal to the books. But with how much material the showrunners have at their disposal, coupled with the vast opportunities that the setting presents, it makes sense that it would completely separate from the original premise eventually. For starters, U.N. Deputy Undersecretary of Executive Administration Chrisjen Avasarala shows up in the storyline MUCH later in the books but is introduced early on as is Naomi Nagati and her past involving the OPA faction is a MAJOR alteration. Unfortunately, we are no longer privy to Avasarala’s cussing, but Syfy probably wouldn’t take too kindly to the profanity on its network. James Holden, who comes off as very idealistic in the books, is also a revamped character. The Belters, who are tall figures with large heads because of the lack of gravity in the books, make a change on the show to look more human-like as opposed to alien-esque. These changes have definitely been working in the creators’ favors because the show won a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation. Not too shabby!
4. American Gods
American Gods is an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s critically-acclaimed novel of the same name. While the show is just as good as the books, there are some pretty major changes that need to be pointed out – particularly with the characters. For example, Anansi, the “trickster god” is depicted as younger and more modern than his book character, who is described as being an old man. (Probably because Hollywood is a bit ageist, truth be told.) Queen of Sheba, Bilquis’s work as a prostitute was excluded from the TV show. Instead, the show finds her in the recesses of online dating – which feels a lot more resonant given all the horror stories we hear, though perhaps it had more to do with how the Starz audience would perceive a sex worker.
More important than the character changes are how the dynamics between the Old Gods and New Gods on the show are a big diversion from what the books laid out. On screen, the New Gods actually want to use the Old Gods and their reputations to help solidify their own, and capitalize on their powers, rather than find ways to take them off the maps. The old vs. new battle that’s so essential in the book series is one that finds a revamped home in the modern age of technology, and we’re just so happy a work like this exists, though the book and TV series should be approached separately!
3. True Blood
Many claim that the TV show is more intense (and at times better) than Charlaine Harris’s popular series. Although Sookie Stackhouse is the narrator in the books and the main character on the HBO show, viewers got to watch beyond the lens of her character and see scenes that didn’t necessarily involve her when the story made its way to the screen. There are also several characters whose storylines get restructured for the show. Case in point: Lafayette is given a minor role in the books and is pretty immediately killed. Whereas on the show, he’s further developed and becomes a likable fan-favorite character and the source of comic relief. Terry Bellefleur survives in the books but gets killed off in Alan Ball‘s adaption of the series in season six. There are also several people on the show who don’t exist in the books, such as Jessica Hamby and Jesus, but both become compelling characters who try to reconcile living a normal life with that of a vampire. We couldn’t imagine the show without them! Although Ball stays true to the books, in the beginning, he makes it his own creation and runs with it early on.
2. Orange is the New Black
Drama sells, so while the show Orange is the New Black is made to be saucy and scandalous, the memoir it’s adapted from is a lot tamer. Piper Chapman, who is actually Piper Kerman in real life and the book, doesn’t ever rekindle her romance with her druggie ex-girlfriend nor do they end up in the same prison. The responses and reactions of the inmates and workers towards Piper were certainly less harsh and threatening in the book as well, but squabbles and fights sure do make for great television. And one important difference to make a note of is that while Piper did offend Red (called ‘Pop’ in the book) by insulting her cooking, she only glared at her in response, and they made amends later. Did we mention Crazy Eyes isn’t too big of a character in the book? The show, of course, made Piper’s experience in prison more engaging and sensational, even though her time away was much more uneventful.
1. The Vampire Diaries
The Vampire Diaries has come a long way since L.J. Smith’s 1991 book series. One difference that had understandably pissed readers off from the get-go was Elena’s hair color, which is blonde in books. If you’ve invested in the books and spent time envisioning each character, it can be jarring to get a completely different depiction of what they’re supposed to look like. The show’s creators were a bit nitpicky in making small but significant changes to the story, including changing the name of the town to Mystic Falls from Fell’s Church because they didn’t want to insinuate that the show was going to take a religious direction in discussing vampires, heaven and hell. The show also gives Elena a younger brother rather than a sister, makes Caroline her best friend even though they’re enemies in the books, and adjusts the timeline of the story to indicate that her parents died at the start of the show and not years before. Additionally, Elena and Katherine are not actually related in the books, even though they look alike. But that wouldn’t really make for as good TV, would it?