J.J. Abrams and novelist Doug Dorst reinvent the hardback.
When J.J. Abrams conceived the idea for “S.” he knew there was only one way to tell the story – and it wasn’t onscreen. There would be no special effects or big-name actors. Abrams felt that the only medium that would work was a good old-fashioned book.
“It all started in LAX when J.J. found a paperback book,” co-author Doug Dorst tells Metro. “Someone had written a note to whoever was going to find it.” The note got the gears in Abrams' brain turning, and he came up the idea of telling a story within a story.
“S.” is not your typical book. The pages look old and worn, with scribbles all over the margins. There are inserts of photos, postcards and letters tucked into the pages. It’s presented as a novel called “Ship of Theseus” written by V.M. Straka. But the notes and inserts tell another story, between a female college senior and a male graduate student who pass the book back and forth, leaving notes to each other.
Since writing a novel is a bit different from writing a script and Abrams was, you know, busy, he enlisted the help of acclaimed writer Dorst. “We spent the better part of a year talking about the characters, why they would pass the book back and forth to each other and the context of the notes,” Dorst says. “Abrams told me, ‘Go, run with it.’” Dorst would pass each chapter off to Abrams, who would then weigh in.
Telling two parallel stories with all the extras was no easy task. Unlike writing a traditional book confined only to a document on the computer, Dorst had to work in new ways. “There’s a ridiculous amount of detail in the book,” he says. “I didn’t actually have a great system of keeping track of it. It was a lot of scribbled notes and keeping a lot of it in my head, which is not the most efficient way to work.”
Despite not having everything figured out, Abrams and Dorst were on the same page (metaphorically speaking) the entire time. Though Abrams is familiar with screenwriting, where everything is mapped out beforehand, he adapted to the novel-writing process, letting the story unfold as it was being written.
So, are Abrams and Dorst hoping their book will inspire people to forgo their Kindles and go back to buying hardbacks? “I just want people to read!" Dorst laments. “I don’t think one form has to win out over the other.”
"S." is being released electronically as well, but for the full experience, go for the hardback.
J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst will be doing a reading of “S.” Nov. 23, hosted by Lena Dunham. The event starts at 6 p.m. and tickets are $25, for sale at SymphonySpace.org.