Telling Stories Across Media Boundaries: The Night Circus Example


night circus

The circus arrives without warning…

Every now and then you come across a book that inspires you to write. A book so beautiful that, when you put it down, you think not “I will never be that good”, but “I aspire to write like that”. Guy Gavriel Kaye’s writing often has that effect on me, and now I’ve found another author: Erin Morgenstern, creator of The Night Circus. Like Kaye, she breaks a lot of rules – there’s multiple POVs, the timeline jumps all over the place, and so do the tenses. But that doesn’t matter because of the sheer beauty of the words.

The thing that lifts Night Circus past Kaye’s books, in my opinion, is its adaptability to different media. I’m going to briefly put on my work hat, so bear with me here. The project I’ve recently been researching is the use of digital content in brand marketing, and success is measured (as much as it can be) by two criteria: the emotional engagement of the content, and how well it can be delivered across multiple channels. There’s so much entertainment available in the world today that people are drowning in it. They will consume it in the most convenient / appetising way for them, so presenting something in one format only means you’re automatically excluding a large audience that doesn’t use that format.

The world of the Night Circus is perfectly suited to adapt, because of its whimsical and flexible nature. The traditional migration of stories to a new format is from page to screen, and there is already a film in development. But it’s not the only road. War of the Worlds went with radio, to resounding success. For the modern world, Failbetter Games, who made Fallen London and Sunless Sea to great critical acclaim, have released a module that covers the world and story of the Night Circus.  It gives control of the world to the player, who can go off-page to explore some of the back alleys of the circus that are only hinted at in the static words of the book.

Of course, letting your audience right inside means the world setting needs to be pretty damn robust and developed. But then, it should be anyway. Writing a believable world requires a considerable amount of depth, even if you don’t intend to show it to anyone. The sense of reality will be there, even without the details. This is where, in the past, turning my settings into RPGs has really helped, because the players are allowed into the scenery to kick over the bins and ask what’s underneath. And, not that I am in any way comparable with his work, but Jim Butcher did the same with his Harry Dresden Files and I know quite a few people who spent money buying his RPG source books.

I’m rambling a bit now. I guess what I’m really saying is that you should build your world on the assumption that your readers will be able, at some point and through some media, to come right into it and poke about. Also, Night Circus is totally awesome.

2 responses »

  1. I love this book as well, and given its exploration of fandom and creativity, it seems fitting that it would also work well across media, being adapted and reinvented.

  2. I really loved this book. It felt like such a new twist on something.

    I worry I’ll be disappointed by a film!

    After I finished it I couldn’t help but drop an email to the circus, and got the reply below. Just enough to make me look out of the window every now and again, just in case.

    > Thank you for your interest in Le Cirque des Rêves!

    > If you are inquiring as to the itinerary of the circus, we apologize,
    > but it is against our policy to disclose information about current or
    > upcoming locations.

    > Other inquiries will be responded to in as timely a manner as possible.

    > > Thank you, for your wonderful circus. 🙂

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