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  • Writer's pictureMike Dineen

“Silo” the TV Show Is Better Than the Book

They say you should never compare the book and the film version of the book.

So today I’m going to do just that – because who even are “they” and why should I listen to them.

A while back I read the first book of the Silo series by Hugh Howey, called Wool (great title), about an underground silo where the last remaining humans struggle to survive while the earth languishes as a toxic wasteland. Then this month I binged the TV adaptation starring Rebecca Ferguson.

The TV show was excellent and, as I’ll dive into today, remedies two of the main issues I had with the book.

The Book Still Feels Like a Serial

The main issue I had with the first book of the Silo series was the way the chapters kept jumping from character to character, and story thread to story thread. Just as you’re sinking into one character’s story, the chapter ends and you’re pulled into another one. It’s choppy and jarring.

This isn’t an uncommon way to structure a novel. It’s used quite often, in fact. If you’ve read Gone Girl you’ll know what I mean, where the chapters alternate between Nick’s present day perspective, and Amy’s journal entries from the past perspective, which inevitably meet somewhere later in the book.

Personally I find this structure a little annoying in novels, and in Wool it was heightened because I believe the novel was originally released as a serial (one chapter at a time). So it felt to me like it was a series of chapters slapped together into one book. The story weaves together in the end – but again that serialized, almost soap-opera structure did not make for a smooth read.

This isn’t to say that swapping character perspectives in each new chapter can’t work, either. I’m currently reading A Black and Endless Sky by Matthew Lyons, which uses this method – however, we quite often remain in the same scene when the author switches perspectives, so the story maintains a relatively smooth forward momentum.

Some Novels Are More Suited to the Screen

I think it’s entirely possible that some books are meant to be books, where others are meant to be films (or TV shows).

Silo is one of those books. While the serialized structure of the novel felt choppy, as a TV show it felt natural. It felt like the story had found its home on the screen. And I have to say that Rebecca Ferguson is becoming one of my favourite actors, even though her British accent kept slipping through her American one. But I enjoyed her performance so much I didn’t even mind.

Also, can we talk about how perfect Rebecca Ferguson would be as Jo in my novel Latcher? This needs to happen.

Another big reason Silo works better on the screen is the second issue I had with the book: the setting is one you need to see with your own eyes. The silo in the story – an underground, cylindrical structure (literally a silo) – is hard to picture while reading the novel. This isn’t the fault of the author I don’t think – some things are just hard to “see” in writing.

But I also think novelists should make choices with this in mind. For example, I decided against turning my short story The Zombie into a full-length novel because the protagonist’s musical compositions are at the heart of the story, and no matter how descriptive I get, the reader will never be able to “hear” it in the way music is meant to be.

The Problem with Comparing the Book with the Film

The reason for this is because they are two different mediums, and thus it’s like comparing apples and oranges. One of the most notorious examples of this faux pas is comparing The Shining novel with the movie. Both are great, but in different ways. And – as many of us have since learned – Stephen King hates Kubrick’s movie version. I personally like both versions (though Shelley Duvall was an odd choice), and I like the differences between them. For example, I loved the moving hedge animals in the book, which were substituted for the hedge maze in the film, which was a smart choice, because the hedge animals might not have translated to the screen.

All this to say that some story elements work better in written form, while others work better on the screen. It’s important to keep this in mind when coming up with our ideas.

And the moral of the story is

A novel is not a quilt: it shouldn’t feel patched together.

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