Last fall, my Random House editor, Kerri Buckley, called me and asked if I’d ever considered writing a movie novelization. I’d just returned from a writing conference where I met several writers who did such work, and I was intrigued. Though I’d published five original novels, I’d recently branched out into other kinds of fiction writing, including short stories, and I was eager to experiment more. In addition, I was excited by the potential of working again with Kerri, who’d edited my first four books.
My editor thought I’d be a good fit for the project, Morning Glory [released in November and still in theaters], because it was a snappy, female-focused workplace comedy, and she thought the script shared a sensibility with Secret Society Girl, the series I’d written for Random House. She pitched me to Paramount, who agreed, and a deal was struck.
At that point, I’d never seen a film script before. It was exciting to receive the script in the mail, emblazoned with the Paramount logo. Every page had my name watermarked across the front, so they could track me if I leaked the script. I loved the story on first read, and I remember my husband saying “Must be good, huh?” after he heard me laughing from the next room over.
My goal was always to remain as true to the script as possible, and to preserve the content, tone, and intent of the screenwriter. I knew Aline Brosh McKenna had done her own adaptation work with her screenplay for The Devil Wears Prada, so I tried to think of how she’d translated the book into her medium, but backwards. Since I also knew who they’d cast, I had a good idea of how the actors would imbue their personalities into the parts, and I was especially thrilled about being able to put words into the mouth of Harrison Ford.
I’ve always been a plotter for my original novels, but in this case that step was even more important. I plotted out chapters based on turning points and scene breaks in the script. This was helpful because there are certain things that work well in a film (such as musical montages or a series of quick scene changes) that don’t translate in the pages of a book. I also wanted to keep the same quick sense of pace as in a comedic film.
Sometimes, I had to rearrange scenes or expand on something that can be glossed over in the movie with a shot or two and a bit of soundtrack sparkle. For instance, there’s a shot in the movie that shows the main character, Becky, falling for her date over dinner, but although you can get a lot of mileage out of two attractive actors staring at each other in candlelight, saying “dinner was spectacular” in a book doesn’t work as well, so I tried to imagine and recreate what must have been their scintillating conversation.
Adaptation utilized unusual writing muscles. I was playing in someone’s else’s sandbox, and I often had to zig when my impulse was to zag. McKenna’s characters didn’t always take the same logical paths my characters would, and since I was recreating the reasoning and interior narrative, I had to figure out how they’d arrive at that conclusion. I feel I came out of the experience a stronger writer, able to write more diverse characters who could see the world in different ways. In my next project after finishing the novelization (“Errant” in the anthology Kiss Me Deadly), I wrote dueling perspectives for two diametrically opposed characters, and I think my experience with Morning Glory helped me pull it off.
Though I’d seen the script, I hadn’t seen the film (I had to find out what color Rachel McAdams, who likes to switch it up, had dyed her hair from a few publicity stills I got off the internet) and so after I finished the book, we needed to have it vetted by Paramount to make sure I got the details as close as possible to the final version. Luckily, there hadn’t been too many script changes since the version I’d received, and the revisions were relatively simple.
I had to adjust to the idea of not getting final approval on the text of a book, but it was also freeing to just let go of the project rather than agonizing over every word at each proof. The entire experience was an exercise in learning the art of pacing, characterization and creative compromise, and I hope I can bring those lessons into all my future books, whether they are media tie-ins or original novels.