Monday, February 20, 2012

Behind The Scenes: Novelizations

With the promotional release of the e-book novelization of the feature film HEART OF THE COUNTRY, I decided readers might enjoy a glimpse into how novelizations work. Each novelization is different, and comes with its own challenges and benefits. HEART OF THE COUNTRY is my third novelization, and I am currently working on my fourth.

When I was first approached to consider writing the novelization for the feature THE ULTIMATE GIFT, I was seriously perplexed as to what the appeal of a novelization would be to readers. I figured if they'd already seen the movie, why would they want to read a book based on the movie? But I was also drawn to it, as I've always loved screenwriting and the idea of merging the world of publishing and film seemed the exact right fit for me. So I eagerly agreed and found that it was a bucket full of fun for the writer and the reader.

Because I was hired for the novelization during post-production of the THE ULTIMATE GIFT, I was working from a fully developed script and a movie that had already been cut and edited, so I did not have a lot of wiggle room. But it was still really fun to write. I jumped inside the heads of the characters, a thing that a film simply cannot do. So to me the novelization was like a deep dive into an already beloved movie...kind of like a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the characters' hearts and souls.

Working on THE ULTIMATE GIFT introduced me to screenwriter Cheryl McKay. I had loved her script of the movie so much that we began to correspond. I learned she had another script that had yet to be produced. As soon as I read it, I knew it would make a great novel. But it wasn't even in pre-production, so what were we to do?

We came up with the idea to write it as a novel that stood apart from the movie, meaning that if the movie was never made, it was, by itself, a great novel. If the movie did get made, it would be a bonus for all involved. So we set out to make ourselves a book. I drew up a proposal, wrote sample chapters, and shopped it around just as I would another one of my books and it was bought by WaterBrook Press. In 2010, it won the Carol Award for Best Women's Fiction, and as far as Cheryl and I know, it was the first time a screenwriter and novelist have paired together to adapt an unproduced script into a novel.

This led to HEART OF THE COUNTRY. Tyndale had been meeting with filmmaker John Ward and discussing his script. Because Tyndale publishes many of my books, and they knew I'd written novelizations before and had screenwriting experience, they thought it would be a good fit. It was.

What makes screenwriters so wonderful to work with, in my experience, is their generosity toward the other artist. Novelists tend to work in a very solitary, isolated environment, and though we're used to being edited, and usually trust our editors, we're not always great at playing with others. Screenwriters, on the other hand, are used to their work passing through the hands of producers, directors, actors, costume designers, sound engineers and more. They're open to other people's interpretation of what they've written. Invite it, in fact.

When the screenwriter and novelist partner to make a story together, it's kind of like magic. The screenwriter has done the hard work of character development, plot development, story arc, visuals and so on. The novelist then takes the story and spins it into inner monologue, motivation and all the fun things that set apart novels and movies. Screenwriters are super talented at dialogue. I get to use what's in the script as a jumping off point for the dialogue that will continue on in my scene.

Another interesting difference between scripts and novels is budget. The sky is the limit for novelists. We can make anything explode, set our scenes anywhere in the world or universe, and never think about budget. A screenwriter on the other hand is confined by budget, so they must work very hard to create a great movie with a certain amount of boundaries. When I see what a screenwriter must think through when developing a story, I am awed by the self-discipline and creativity they use to make a story work within the confines of money, page count, seasons and so on.

I worked with John Ward on HEART OF THE COUNTRY in much of the same way I worked with Cheryl McKay on NEVER THE BRIDE. I read the script and began making notes as to what would and would not work in the book. John's script was exceptionally difficult because it involved a lot of flashbacks, which work great in movies but not always in books. That was actually the most challenging part of writing the novel. And, to make a screenplay a full-length novel, it cannot be adapted scene for scene. The novelist must be able to add scenes, quite a few in fact, to make the novel the right length. But in my experience, the screenwriter really enjoys this process, because they often have to leave scenes out they wanted to put in, for time and budget sake. And, not only did Cheryl and John enjoy the new scenes I added, they both got a kick out of reading about the thoughts of their own characters. They loved how I interpreted the characters' motivations. As much play as it was for me, it was for them too.

What is exciting for me is to see adaptation take on a new frontier. Books have been adapted into movies for nearly as long as cinema has been around. And certainly novelizations have been around too, but in the past they seem to have been more for commercial purposes...another product to sell a movie with. I see that transforming with modern novelizations--the novelization becoming its own art form. Just as the Oscars recognize the artistic achievement of both original and adapted screenplays, I hope we are headed to a time when novelizations will come under that same recognition.

In the meantime, I am having quite a bit of fun collaborating with these unique artists we call screenwriters. I'm teaming again with Cheryl McKay for an upcoming rom-com called GREETINGS FROM THE FLIPSIDE and working on another novelization proposal.

In the process, I have learned to be a more generous artist like my screenwriting counterparts. They are truly gifted in more than writing. They are gifted in collaboration, and I've become a better writer for learning that art as well.


To read more about HEART OF THE COUNTRY and A STAR FOR A DAY, the promotional contest that is being offered in conjunction with the e-book release of HEART OF THE COUNTRY, click here: