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Adapting a YA Novel: How To Do It Right!

Written by Amanda Baltazar. Published: January 27 2024
(Photo: Disney+)


Last month "Percy Jackson and the Olympians" dropped on Disney+ with big hopes of making fans happy after the dismal reaction of the 2010 movie. Although the movie didn’t do quite as well as it was projected to do, the mass following of the book series by Rick Riordan kept fan hope alive that another more faithful adaptation would materialize sometime in the near future. With a dedicated and passionate fan base, the "Percy Jackson" has the potential to be the next "Shadowhunters" or "Shadow and Bone"!




But what is it exactly about this transition that makes it so hard for these YA novels to make a great movie or TV series? Don’t get me wrong, there been quite a few hits like the Harry Potter series, the Twilight saga, and The Hunger Games trilogy, but for every one of those, there’s a The Host orBeautiful Creatures. Here are a few things I think are important when making a popular YA book series into a movie or show:


1. Try to Stick as Close to the Original Story as Possible.

This seems obvious, but sometimes changing storylines can easily turn off fans. Trust the writer. They know what’s best, and their choices are the reason why it was such a good read to begin with. There are exceptions when certain story elements aren’t conveyed well on film, so when changing plot detals is absolutely necessary, please collaborate with the writer! This brings me to number 2...


2. Involve the Writer.

They are the scholars of all of the key elements in the story. The movie/show should always make the author proud and comfortable putting out the adaptation of their creation. I think the writer’s input is crucial to a successful YA book-to-screen transition.


3. Casting.

This is essential to any movie/TV show but specifically for YA adaptations, I noticed that the stars of the successful book-to-screen projects have fairly new or unknown/unlikely actors and actresses. I think this is because having a relatively unknown star of your project allows the audience a clean slate and gives the actor a chance to create their own image of the character as opposed to a well-known actor when you already know how they will portray a character. Think of this as an opportunity to find the next big star!


4. Be an Expert.

The best way to do this is to start out as a fan. And, hopefully, if you want to make a book into a movie or show, it is because you are already an aficianado of the book. So many book-into-screen adaptations have failed terribly because elements like setting, character portrayals, and soundtrack, for instance, didn’t stay true to the vibe and tone of a novel. Know the ins and outs of the book’s universe so that you can get the fan’s support.


5. Remember to Bring It to Life.

Probably one of the most important but forgotten elements found in failed book-to-screen adaptations. It’s easy to get lost in all the aspects of the movie or series, especially in the fantasy genre that a lot of the YA books are trending towards these days. Don’t forget that fans are coming to the theatre so that they can see the world they love come to life.