A couple of years ago a friend suggested I read the memoir, ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK, when she found out my novel in progress (STRONG WOMEN GROW HERE) is about a young woman in prison.
Aside from the clever title, I didn’t find much to pay attention to when I read the first few chapters. Never finished the book.
OITNB received an average rating of 3.5, on Amazon, by 189 reviewers.
One reviewer put it this way:
“The book could have easily been condensed to nine pages:
Page 1 — I’m blonde.
Page 2 — I’m white.
Page 3 — I’m privileged.
Page 4 — I went to Smith.
Page 5 — I’m better than you.
Page 6 — I’m well liked.
Page 7 — I can’t believe I am in prison.
Page 8 — I need to mention again that I am white, blonde and went to Smith.
Page 9 — I deserve a movie option on my book.”
The protagonist in my novel has none of these privileges. She is seventeen, dark haired, an immigrant, uneducated, has a baby, was a wife, and innocent (well, almost).
My daughter is an OITNB devotee and described the Netflix series in much more favorable terms than the book reviewers on Amazon or what I recalled in the memoir.
This peaked my interest as usually the book is better than the screen version.
So last night I decided to watch OITNB and find out how an ‘average’ memoir ended up receiving the coveted movie option (Page 9).
I didn’t intend to watch past the first episode, but I was pulled into the story so quickly that I had to watch more. I spent six hours watching six episodes on my Kindle Fire and would have watched the seventh episode, but I had a neck ache.
So how is it that this memoir by Piper Kerman found its way to become a Netflix series?
Created by WEEDS writer Jenji Kohan, she and writer Marco Ramirez converted Kerman’s novel into dramedy, blending dramatic moments with comedy. The novel became a launching pad for television writers who took the characters and made us care about them enough to want to know what happens to them next. It is OISTNB redux.
The character’s backstories, intermingled throughout the episodes, show us their motivations, what drives them, their truths, and ultimately we care about them enough to watch an episode after episode.
OITNB-the Netflix version, does what readers want from a great book.
Writers have to make the reader care enough about the characters in the story to keep reading.
Readers want to see how or if the character changes and what is the outcome. It doesn’t matter too much if they are in prison or in an English countryside.
What matters is whether the writer can sweep the reader into the story to the end. There is no doubt that the Netflix series does just that.