Books to Movies: What Happened to the Story?

book cover of Princess PainThis is a guest post by Michael D’Ambrosio, author of “Princess Pain“.

After his successful Fractured Time Trilogy, Space Frontiers Series, Night Creeps Series and Princess Pain, Book two in Michael’s Pain series, The Queen of Pain, is due out in June from AZ Publishing. Michael also has several appearances scheduled. Look for him in Phoenix at WesterCon June 30th to July 4th for the big annual West Coast gala. Visit his site at for more details. Books are available through AZ Publishing, Amazon and other online venues.


Michael D'Ambrosio


When fans at conventions learn that I adapt my novels to screenplays, they always ask, “What happens to the story when a book becomes a movie? It’s never the same and is sometimes unrecognizable.” I’ve been fortunate over the years to meet with industry professionals to discuss this very topic since it applied directly to my adaptations.

Before anything else, one has to look at the story structure. Since a movie script is derived from about twenty percent of a novel, most of the material won’t make it into the script. If several of the chapters are mini-adventures that can be removed without ruining the story, then you have a good chance of maintaining the integrity of the story. If the chapters are sequenced integral parts of the plot, then there is going to be changes.

The script can be developed by a producer and writer (i.e. Centropolis Pictures with Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin); the development department; an independent writer who sells his/her script to a film company; or in-house writers who function based on instructions from the producer.

In the second case, where each chapter is pivotal to the plot, the void created by the missing material needs to be bridged. This is where things change significantly. Sometimes characters are merged into one to reduce the number of cast. Sometimes multiple scenes are merged to keep certain details. If a bridge can’t be found, then that part of the story is altered into something different to make it work. This is where viewers often say, “That wasn’t in the book!” or “That’s not what happened!”

Before a producer takes on a project, he’ll review the script. He has to be passionate about the story if he expects to have any success with it. Jerry Bruckheimer is an ideal example of a passionate producer.  Any movie or series he has produced is loaded with emotion and intrigue. Those two traits are a big part of his projects’ success.

The script is reviewed by other staff members to determine the budget, special effects, and casting. Their concern is payroll and marketing when it comes to casting. A-list actors are expensive, especially when you hire several.

Unless it’s a story he has a special affinity for (i.e. Peter Jackson and Lord of the Rings), the producer won’t care what the book was about; only that he can do a successful film. This is where a story can take on a drastic change. A good producer will make sure the changes are an improvement in the story to appease the readers as well as entertain the viewers. In this case, the script is treated as something entirely different from the book with only the concept of the book of importance. Smaller budgeted projects tend to be based on concept more than content. Because of the limited resources, they need to do whatever is necessary to make a successful film, regardless of what it is based on.

For a writer who wants to keep some semblance of his/her story, it is wise to write the novel with the script in mind. I’ve found that by identifying the major points in a script before writing the book, I can make the script true to the book while accomplishing the goals mentioned above.

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