Thursday, May 3, 2012

From Book to Screen (and back again): An Interview with YA Author D.J. MacHale

Twilight, Hunger Games, Gossip Girls, Vampire Diaries…. the list of books turned successful film and television franchise seems endless.  We think to ourselves, if they can do it, why can’t we? 
Books that have become movies
We write novels, screenplays, sometimes both! We’re half way to a three-book deal with a hefty advance… it’s all up here, in our heads…we’ve just…got to get it on paper.
Needless to say, the written road, whether it’s a feature, television series or our soon to be billion dollar novel franchise is filled with long hours, late nights and lots and lots of writing.  Lucky for us, there are those who’ve paved the way and who’s advice can help us reach our goals (or at least avoid a pothole or two). 
On my Thursday of every month, I’ll be interviewing an author who has successfully bridged the chasm between books and film. 
Headshot of author D.J. MacHale
D.J. MacHale
We begin with writer, director, executive producer and creator of several popular television series and movies D.J. MacHale.  Oh, did I forget to mention he’s also the New York Times #1 bestselling author of the Pendragon book series?
JP: So what’s harder, writing a screenplay or a novel?
DJM:  It’s always about good characters and good storytelling.  Coming up with a good plot and plot twists is important no matter what you’re writing.  The challenge with script writing is that it’s not the finished product.  You’re writing the blueprint for a lot of people to then transform it into something else.  So what you write on the page has to be literal.  It has to be exactly what you see.
With novel writing, the word is the finished product.  It goes from my head (through a couple of steps) right to the reader.  So I find novel writing easier in that it’s less collaborative.  It’s pretty much whatever I say goes.  Where with screenwriting, you have many people that you have to appeal to, whether its producers, execs, you name it. Everyone thinks they know it better than you do, so it can be very frustrating.
JP: How did your background in TV help when you started writing your first novel?
DJM: My prose isn’t the most literary and wonderful in terms of flow.  But what you’re trained with in screenwriting is to write visually.  My readers can see what I’m writing, especially since I’m writing a lot of action adventure.  There’s no confusion to what they’re reading. They say to me, “Wow, it’s like watching a movie.”  So that’s helped immeasurably. 
Author D.J. MacHale speaking on the "YA To Be Continued Panel" at the LA Festival of Books
D.J. MacHale, YA To Be Continued Panel, LA Festival of Books
JP: If one of your novels were to be produced (for film/TV), would you want to write the screenplay?
DJM: For TV – yes, because I have a history in TV.  Where with movies I haven’t written any feature films that have been produced.  So there’s that hesitation in Hollywood.  They say, well, he’s never written [a feature] before so he can’t.  So I wouldn’t even attempt to do that.
JP: What advice would you give to an aspiring YA writer?
DJM: You have to write what you know.  The people, places, events, conflicts, and emotions that you are either familiar with directly or indirectly (through someone you know) because if you do that, you’re writing from a place of authority. Even if you’re writing huge fantasy adventure stories, at its core there has to be a character or characters in conflict that are relatable and understandable and will be interesting because that gives you the heart of the story.  The rest is the explosions, the running around, the cliffhangers and all that stuff.  The best stories are at their heart about characters that we care about and I think that has to come from experience.
Pendragon Book SeriesJP: Finally, book you just finished reading?
DJM: Stephen King’s 11/22/63
JP: Book you would recommend?
DJM: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand.  It’s non-fiction but the story is incredible.  It’s about a Japanese POW from WWII and you wouldn’t believe it if someone made up the stuff that this man went through.

Find out more about D.J. MacHale and his book series PENDRAGON and MORPHEUS ROAD here.  
Have a Book to Screen author you'd love to read about? Post their name in the comment section below and I'll get right on it!

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