Peter David: The Novel's the Thing

The vast majority of fans know that Peter David’s writing career stretches well beyond the comics page. He’s co-created TV series and written episodic television. He’s written best-selling novels, both of his own creation and as part of licensed series (such as Star Trek). He’s written screenplays.

All of those disciplines crossed again this summer: David penned the novelizations for both the Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk films. We caught up with David (now also promoting his latest novel, Tigerheart) to talk about his approaches to the novel form.

Newsarama: Peter, I think that most fans are generally aware that you've written prose and screenplays in addition to your comics work. Can you explain your entry into the prose publishing side of the equation?

Peter David: I made my first headway into fantasy writing years ago with a book called Knight Life about the return of King Arthur to modern day New York. It was published by Ace Books, and from there things just started to build.

NRAMA: Certainly, you're no stranger to writing novels in a pre-existing universe, but you've also published several novels of your own. For an original work, how do you begin the process? Are there certain things that you always do to prepare? What one thing do you seek to establish right away?

PAD: There's no set way of doing it. For instance, with the Apropos books I tend to throw myself into the character's mindset and world and just write about whatever occurs to me. Typically when the book reaches a certain point I wound up writing out a sketchy outline to take me through to the resolution. On the other hand, the far more complicated world of The Hidden Earth is worked out in advance in a detailed outline. It's the only way to keep everything straight. For some reason I tend to work out the outlines longhand on a notepad. I'm not sure why. If nothing else, it's easier to do on airplanes since I don't have to worry about batteries wearing out. What I try to establish up front is the tone and style of the book, whether it's the acerbic nature of Apropos, the childlike wonder of Tigerheart, or the sweeping scope of Hidden Earth.

NRAMA: Similarly, in the pre-existing universe, how do you approach characters that have been used frequently in a number of different settings? I would imagine that it's a little more difficult to break into a new Star Trek novel, due to the various iterations and wealth of previously available stories.

PAD: With those I write detailed outlines, because those have to be approved by licensing people. As for breaking in to Trek, I never had to break in; I was asked to write for the line because then-editor Dave Stern was a fan of my Trek comics.

NRAMA: You did the novel adaptation of The Incredible Hulk that ties in with this summer's movie. But back in 2003, you also did the novel tie in for the Hulk film. When beginning the new book, did you attempt to separate the two in your mind, or did you view the newer novel as a sequel or logical progression?

PAD: I didn't think about the previous novel at all because there was pretty much no connection between the two works.

NRAMA: When you're as familiar with a character as you are with the Hulk , is it difficult to "reimagine" him and his cast in the context of the universe of the film?

PAD: Not really. Scripts set up their own reality. That doesn't mean that I can't bring some of my own influence to the party, whether it be describing the Hulk's internal narrative or putting in in-jokes that the fans will get.

NRAMA: How did you become involved with the Iron Man novelization? Did the process for writing that one differ in any significant way from your production of the Hulk novel?

PAD: Basically I was approached by Del Rey about doing Iron Man and they, and Marvel, were so pleased with the job I did that they offered me Hulk immediately. The writing process for both was exactly the same.

NRAMA: I thought that your Writing for Comics with Peter David was a great look at the craft. Is your general approach to beginning a new writing project the same across disciplines, or do you have a certain set of preparatory things that you go through for each one ("Now I'm putting on my Screenplay Hat, etc.")?

PAD: I've been doing it long enough that a lot of the things I do in preparation are more or less internalized. It's not unlike the difference between being a new driver, consciously aware of every aspect of navigating a car, and a driver with many years of experience who makes hundreds of decisions automatically without even thinking about it.

NRAMA: It's partially a tribute to the diversity of your career that you've not only adapted films into novels, but the novels of others into comics. How does being a novelist yourself affect the way in which you, for example, bring Stephen King's work to the comics page?

PAD: In the case of King, it involves being aware that King fans are accustomed to lots of words on a page. So I tend to put in far more narrative and descriptions than I ordinarily would--typically preferring to let the pictures do the job--because I believe the King fans will feel that the comics are too "light weight" in comparison to the novels.

NRAMA: At this point, is it fair to say that you find one form comes more easily than another? The assumption might be that it's easier for you to script a comic at this point because you've written many. But is there something to the idea that each form presents its own challenges each time?

PAD: Probably novels are "easier" since they don't have a stringent length (22 pages) and one doesn't have to constantly be thinking visually. I can do 10 pages of dialogue in a book and if the words are compelling, then I'm fine. If I do 10 solid pages of dialogue in a comic, that's going to be a problem because it can be very difficult to make that look interesting on the page.

NRAMA: Here's the inevitable aspiring writer question: is there one piece of advice that you can give that would apply writing hopefuls across all fields?

PAD: Don't take rejection personally.

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