The Utility of the Short Story: ‘Ender’s Game’ Adaptations

Ender’s Game is a staple in science fiction for both novels and films. Did you know the acclaimed book started as a short story?

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Ender's Game adaptations

Ender’s Game is a classic sci-fi novel written by Orson Scott Card referenced even now, forty years after its initial novelization. It explores harrowing topics about warfare and humanity, as the plot centers on a child being the ultimate weapon of destruction. Andrew “Ender” Wiggin himself is a third child, making him illegal in the world of the novel. Because he possessed the perfect temperament and extreme intelligence, the military excused his existence and took a special interest in him as a future leader in the war. Card’s work won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards, which are seen as the highest awards for speculative fiction novels. In 2011, the novel was picked up by Lionsgate and made into a feature film, grossing $125 million worldwide. All of this success started because Card sat down and wrote Ender’s Game, which originally started as a short story.

The Genesis of Ender


1975 was the year Orson Scott Card wrote Ender’s Game, slightly different than the version we know. Two years later, Orson Scott Card submitted that story to Analog Magazine to pay off his debts from school. After the short story was published, the 1977 World Science Fiction Convention made a point to nominate it for a Hugo Award. On top of this, the convention also gifted the John W. Campbell Award to Card for the best new writer. Because of the immense success, Card further extended the short story into a novel in 1985, earning even more credit and achievements.

Expanded Story in the Novel

The stripped plot of the short story is equivalent to the novel. There are a few name changes in the novel, some characterization is redone, and there are location changes. The novel also expands on Ender’s backstory and the technicalities of the conflict between the extraterrestrials and those of Ender’s world. The short story was already very well written, but the novel allows for more clarity and lengthening of topics that before didn’t have the opportunity to fully dive into.

Adapting Short Stories to Novels


Ender’s Game didn’t necessarily need to be adapted into a novel, but it was. Card purposefully crafted it so the novel would add so much to the story. This is incomparable to Ender’s Game‘s film adaptation, which did not add anything as expansive to the plot besides exciting, new visuals and slight alterations.

Card himself says this about the novel-to-film adaptation process:

As it’s written, Ender’s Game is unadaptable. The book takes place entirely inside Ender’s head. If you don’t know what Ender is thinking, he’s just an incredibly violent little kid and not terribly interesting. You have to find ways to externalize what he’s thinking. But he can’t be the kind of person who explains himself to other people. That would weaken him.”

Orson Scott Card, WIRED

Many short stories stand on their own, and compelling ideas and themes can be conveyed beautifully through the short story length. That being said, adapting short stories to novels is common. They create a strong foundation for a full-length story. Ender’s Game transformed from a solid short story into the classic, complex novel that it is now.

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