How Book to Screen Adaptations SHOULD Be Created // a heartfelt analysis from someone who has been disappointed way too often

I know whenever we think of story-ruining adaptations, we probably have flashbacks to the poor, disgraced nature-bending boys of 2010. *thinks sadly about the Percy Jackson and Avatar: The Last Airbender fandoms*

Although I’ve never seen* any of the Avatar-related medias, I know the film was granted “Worst Movie of the Year”, and I may not be the best at deduction, but that sounds pretty bad to me. So I can only imagine how hard that time must have been for people who were in both fandoms. 😦

Last year, I made a post about what I would love to see in a Percy Jackson TV series, and it got me thinking… what exactly must happen in order for an adaptation to satisfy the fans? Is there a formula for this? Because if so, Hollywood sure as heck has not found it yet.


Step One: Should This Book Be Adapted? 

Look, I want more adaptations just as much the next book lover. But just because some of our favorite books are good, doesn’t mean they should get a movie or TV adaptation. 

GIF by Giphy QA
Me, crying, because a book was just SO GOOD and I loved it

One of the most recent examples is one of my favorite books, Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman. It’s a great book about growing up and mental illness, loosely based on Shusterman’s experience with his son, who dealt with schizoaffective disorder. It’s a great book, and you can tell the author put a lot of thought into how mental illness was portrayed in the story, but… does it really need to be a movie? And a Disney movie, no less? 

A few months ago, Disney announced Challenger Deep would be released as a Disney+ original, and although they haven’t confirmed if it will be a film or show, most likely it will be a movie.
(Source: Disney+ Acquires Neal Shusterman Novel ‘Challenger Deep’ With ‘Toy Story 4’s Will McCormack Adapting)

On one hand, its great that Disney is willing to tackle a story about mental illness, schizoaffective disorder in particular, because this is something not often represented in films for young people (especially the Disney audience). On the other hand… it has to be done right. Not necessarily accurate to the book, but at least accurate in its experiences, since mental illness is a very real thing you can’t take lightly.

💫 related: BOOK REVIEW ✨ Challenger Deep

Ultimately, I think the answer to this question really depends on how the content is handled overall, in every aspect of the film. The most important things they need to consider carefully are the themes and how the audience already perceives the book, and in this case, the theme of mental illness is a highly important aspect to be handled with care and accuracy. And the team of people already signed on, a writer from Toy Story and a producer of Dumbo, have to take this seriously. 

So it seems the big question is actually… why should [insert book here] be adapted, and will it work for the target audience with the story’s original intention? 

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Why Change The Plot? 

When adapting a book into a movie, or a book series into a movie/TV series, everyone should expect for certain scenes and characters to be taken out of the story. In that case, it just isn’t possible to keep everything in the story. Movies are typically 90-120 minutes long, while it can take anywhere between 3 and 16 hours for the average reader to finish a book. It’s just not possible to keep everything!

But there’s a difference between cutting some random scenes and changing scenes to make the plot a completely different thing. 

Tbs Ending GIF by The Guest Book
This is the film writers whenever they feel like changing something.

Examples of films which changed the plot from the book: 

  • Percy Jackson (The Lightning Thief)
  • Divergent and Insurgent 
  • Artemis Fowl 
  • Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

If a filmmaker feels the need to change the plot, it should be in order to make the plot better, not just to fit the filmmaker’s desired target audience. 

However, all of the above films seem to have lost their charm due to major changes in the plot. For example, I never read the Artemis Fowl books, but I know that Artemis is kind of a gray hero. He’s supposed to be an evil genius boy who is more like a villain than anything else. And yet… Disney took those characteristics away, made Artemis a confused and excited child, and that, in turn, changed the tone and plot of the story. It’s no longer about mischievous plots – now, it’s about a scared boy trying to find his father. 
I’m sorry if I’m wrong here, but I’m just trying to prove a point!

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Handling Character Ages

One of the most obvious differences between the Percy Jackson books and the films is that the characters are 3-4 years older in the movies (and the actors were, at least, 6 years older). While some may say* this change was beneficial to the films because it made them more appealing to a wider audience, my only response is… did it really?
*(it’s funny because I really don’t think anyone would say this, but I needed an argument for the sake of my point 😉 )

💫 related: Everything We Need in a Percy Jackson TV Show ⚡️ 📺

One of the biggest obstacles in the plot is that Percy and his friends need to get from New York to California (roughly 3,928 km away, or 2,441 miles), but since they’re basically 12 years old and cannot drive in any way, they must find other ways to travel around. But by making the characters 16 in the movie, they’re all able to drive and pass as good drivers… and then that obstacle is mostly gone, taking several interesting scenes with it. There were no emotional late-night talks about life and mistakes in the middle of the woods, no heart-felt scenes in the back of a hijacked circus van. 

In general, there were no serious “getting to know you because we’re in this terrible situation together” scenes at all, unless you count that little talk at the motel pool. And why? Because they were old enough to drive, and no one stopped them from doing so. And that’s it! More than half of their problems were solved! 

percy jackson GIF by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

In other words, a lot of the struggles Percy and his friends faced were due to their lack of trustworthy transpiration, because they were children. And can you imagine taking a deathly road trip around the country when you’re 12? and people are trying to kill you? It would be very scary for any 12-year-old, but that concern the audience is supposed to feel doesn’t have the same effect when it comes to grown adults teenagers who look like they’re in their 20s.  

If Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events adaptation could find a way to remain faithful to all thirteen books in almost every way, then I’m not taking any more excuses. Either keep the character ages, or give me a very good reason to change them.

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Character Development… Or Character Decline 

Evidently, there are only two ways we can see our favorite characters on screen: 1) they’ll either be represented perfectly, or 2) they’ll have the emotional range of a wet towel.

Based on what I’ve experienced, one of the worst things that can happen to a character is when the filmmakers don’t keep what makes the characters unique. They don’t include any backstory or characteristic dialogue, and the characters end up just… boring shells of whatever they used to be. 

It’s simply not enough to hire an actor with the canonical hair color. In fact, despite your grudges against Annabeth in The Lightning Thief, hair color doesn’t matter as much as you think it does! Physical characteristics are (in my opinion) less important than the other fundamental things that make a character special. 

percy jackson and the lightning thief gif

More than anything, what we really want is to see the character development. If we can’t see the main character’s growth, then we can’t feel much towards them. And this has nothing to do with whether their hair is brown instead of black. 

Click for a small rant about eye color inconsistencies in the Harry Potter films, if you wish:

Throughout the Harry Potter books, Harry was constantly reminded by adults that he had his mother’s green eyes. Naturally, when Daniel Radcliffe played Harry in the films with his blue eyes, some fans were upset, and I understand, but… it wasn’t that big of a problem. The important thing is the connection of his eye color to his mother, not his eye color in general. The characters in the films also reminded Harry about his maternal eye color, which was good. Yay for the filmmakers keeping a reoccurring aspect of the books! 

However… in the last film, during a close-up of Harry’s mother when she was young, you can clearly see that she has brown eyes. Dark brown eyes! How hard could it be to find a young girl with light eyes so it kind of looks similar to Daniel Radcliffe’s eye color??

This isn’t really a huge issue, but if you’re going to keep some canonical aspects of the books, you should either follow through or not do it all. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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Please Don’t Add Things Just Because You Can 

There’s a bit of romance in just about every film adaptation, and you know what? That’s fine, but we don’t need it unless it makes sense to the story. 

I mean, you can’t just throw in random concepts that didn’t originally fit into the plot. Sometimes it’s okay, but it really needs to be kept to a minimum.
And this doesn’t just apply to romance – it applies to other things, such as montage scenes unrelated to the story or… I’m running out of brain words. You know what I mean. 

Season 3 Ryan Did You Actually Read The Book GIF by Portlandia
Me, to the filmmakers

I don’t think this has really been an issue in the adaptations I’ve seen, but I figured it needed to be mentioned. The idea is that the author knows what’s best for the story, so filmmakers should really just stick with the content they were given in the canon. 

This is what I’m referring to: Have you seen the Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children film with Asa Butterfield? The last 20 minutes were completely made up for the film and had nothing to do with any of the books. I cried with confusion during these scenes, and then I cried at the end bc I realized they could not possibly make another film in the series, what a relief!

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Don’t Take Away Key Concepts, Either 

This is pretty self-explanatory. Just… please don’t take away key parts of the story. 

One of my absolute biggest pet peeves with the Harry Potter films is their lack of explanation for the Marauders. (If you don’t know who they are, you can just read this HP overview post. 😉 )

If you only watched the movies, I really don’t understand how you picked up on all of it. Here’s a timeline of what you need to know about the Marauders, and the things in bold are what they left out. *spoiler alert if you haven’t seen/read Harry Potter*

  • Sirius Black is the prisoner of Azkaban 
  • an animagus is a wizard who can turn into an animal at will 
  • to become an animagus is a very difficult task which must be signed off by the Ministry of Magic
  • Remus Lupin is a werewolf 
  • the Marauders made a map which shows everyone/everything around Hogwarts 
  • the Marauders consist of Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs
  • the real names of the Marauders are Remus Lupin, Peter Pettigrew, Sirius Black, and James Potter respectively  
  • between ages 13-15, the Marauders illegally and secretly became animagi so they could assist Remus during the full moon
  • they also made that map for the same reasons 
  • Sirius Black was able to escape Azkaban because he was very thin from starvation and turned himself into Padfoot, a dog
  • Harry saw a glowing stag chase away dementors and he assumed it was his father 
  • Harry thought it was James Potter because James was Prongs, and the “prongs” nickname refers to the stag’s antlers

Please let me know if you can’t see the bolded parts, because it’s seriously a lot. Those are all of the things they left out of the films, and because they never got mentioned, there were scenes in other films which also did not make sense. *extreme facepalm*

sarcastic hermione granger GIF
*sarcastic slow clap for the film writers who tried, but not enough*

How to understand what is important:

  • Is it relevant to other parts of the book or the series?
  • Did it make the readers cry? 
  • Is this character in at least 1/3 of the main plot? 
  • Did the readers love this character/scene? Are there memes? 
  • If you took it out, would you also have to take out other parts in order for everything to make sense? 

If the answer is ‘yes’ to any or more of these, then it’s important. It should probably stay, even if it has a small part in the final product. 

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The Formula: Decoded

Back to my original question: Is there a formula for making a great adaptation, and if so, what is it?

In general, I think each book-to-screen adaptation can be made differently depending on the original intentions with the plot as a whole. Sci-Fi books must be adapted differently than one would adapt a Contemporary Romance book. Young Adult books have different structures and character types than Middle Grade and Adult books. There are different key concepts and plot points which are important to each individual book, and ultimately, there is no one “formula” for any story, either. It all comes down to the specific needs of each individual book, and what makes those books special to the audience.

Ultimately, the audience is most important. Although the people who see the adaptation will not be the exact same people who originally read the book, and vice versa, the people who make the adaptation need to find a way to interpret the story so that both sets of audiences can enjoy it for multiple reasons. They just need to learn how to do it right. (And that no, you can’t just cast Logan Lerman, Amandla Stenberg, Nick Robinson, or Katherine Langford and consider it a job well done.)

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*Since I started writing this post (like 7 months ago, haha), I have seen 14 episodes of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and let me just say… I later watched the trailer for the movie, and I actually cried. Real tears of anger.

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How do you feel about adaptations? Do you agree or disagree with my points? What are some other “ruined” adaptations?
Knowing me and my Many Thoughts, would you… want to see a Part II of this post?

Chat with me about it! 


You can also be my friend on Goodreads!

Happy reading, everyone! 💕 💫 Have a lovely day! Stay safe and healthy!

Starry Sky Books-13

39 thoughts on “How Book to Screen Adaptations SHOULD Be Created // a heartfelt analysis from someone who has been disappointed way too often

  1. I heavy agree with Lily’s eye colour. So Harry’s eyes couldn’t be green, okay. Lily who only has a bit part could have been cast to match him? I’m also so mad about how old they casted all of the marauders. James and Lily should be 21. They look like late 30s. That heavily affects how viewers see their lives/story. It’s less tragic when you can’t see how young they were.

    The Prisoner of Azkaban has always bothered me for those reasons. As far as adaptations go I adore Harry Potter but I feel like watching the films without reading the books…they made some weird choices about what to leave out. Some things had to be cut, but they leave a lot of plot threads not making much sense with some of their choices.

    Don’t even get me started on how they took Ron and Ginny’s characters and twisted them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree, those HP changes are so upsetting. 😦 So many of the films bother me now, so I kind of stopped watching them after a while, mostly for those reasons. There are some better, or similarly good, adaptations, but I feel like filmmakers just need to follow a lot of the key concepts more in order to make a good adaptation. I understand that things need to be cut, but everything needs to be cohesive! I also agree with that, Ron and Ginny were so lackluster in the films.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. *SCREAMS* This is such a fantastic post, Xandra!! I legit am so wary of all adaptations because I have been burned more times than I can count. The things that bother me the most, though, are changing the plot and changing the ethnicity/rep of the characters. Can we stop whitewashing and …thinning (idk but if a character is fat keep them fat ffs) characters?!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Kal! 💕 Changing the ethnicity/rep for an adaptation is one of the biggest problems I have, unless they add rep (but they rarely ever do, and it’s usually the other way around). They should just keep things the way they were in the original work, or make it more diverse.

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  3. I’m so with you!!! Especially with your point “Handling Character Ages”! That’s one of the first things I always mention when I speak about the “Percy Jackson” movie adaptions! The characters were just too old! (and the actors too!) I mean there are two Percy Jackson movies and there are 5 books! They never got to book 3 because by then the actors were already so old that no one would have bought they are still in their teens. *lol* Also I hate it when they change the plot for no reason. There are so many movies (for some reason I can’t think of any right now) where they could have easily gone with the plot without changing anything about it and then all of a sudden they make such a major change that it becomes something entirely different and I’m like: NO, NO, NO!!! WHY??!!! You could have followed the book and now THIS?! Always makes me shake my head.
    This is such a great post! Thank you! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Ginny!! Yeah, I will never understand why they made the Percy Jackson characters so old. It is like they knew they would fail from the beginning! I remember they chained the prophecy age from 16 to 21, but that’s just way too old for a teen/children’s movie. I wish they would stop changing the plots, too! It just doesn’t make sense, and I think everyone would enjoy it more if the plot was the same. Even people who didn’t know the original plot would love the movie or show so much more, because the author put a lot of thought into the original plot.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. THIS is the post. I remember we were all so excited when Percy Jackson got an adaptation… and then we were all crying over it… and then we were all celebrating it getting cancelled after Sea of Monsters lol because the aTROCITY. I don’t underSTAND why they felt the need to make Percy a 12 year old who is supposed to be 16 but played by someone 20 or something… Literally got so mad when they were dRIVING across the country my 10 year old self was not there for 12 year olds dRIVING I am sTILL uPSET. Also I knew the movies omitted a lot but I never realized qUITE how much of the Mauraders is omitted from POA and that’s an atrocity I swear

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I wasn’t a fan of Percy Jackson back before the movie came out… I actually saw the movie first and thought it was okay 😂 But now that I’ve read the books, I have much better taste and I can see how much better the adaptations could have been if they had just made them closer to the books! I hated the fact that they just drove everywhere so much! It basically solved all of their problems, haha. But now that Uncle Rick is working with Disney+ I feel much better about how the show will turn out. 😊

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  5. I couldn’t agree more! *claps* I understand it can be hard to get in a character’s head, and with movies you have to solely show, not tell. But still it drives me nuts when the actors aren’t the same as the characters or when huge plot points were left out. *smh*

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh I LOVE this post! Can we just send this to every Hollywood exec out there please?? So many of these things frustrate me so much, and I honestly do not understand at all why filmmakers would change major things like plot, character ages, etc. I never read Artemis Fowl either, but from what I’ve heard, the changes in the movie make it a COMPLETELY different story, which seems to defeat the entire purpose of adapting it?? I do not understand.
    The aged up characters in the Lightning Thief movie was such a terrible choice. They ruined the chances of ever making it a franchise, since the actors were ALREADY too old to be playing the characters. Why would they shoot themselves in the foot before they even started?? Ugh.
    Honestly, the detail about Harry and Lily’s eyes frustrates me so much. It’s such a small thing but it’s HUGELY important. Especially since Snape told Harry that he has his mother’s eyes only like two scenes before we see that her eyes are a completely different color??? What??? And the fact that 98% of the Marauders storyline was left out of the movies breaks my heart.
    I completely understand your rage tears at the Avatar live action adaptation. As someone who’s loved that show for over ten years…I understand that pain 😭
    Anyways, fantastic post – this was so enjoyable to read!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, I’m glad you liked the post! 💕 I can understand why filmmakers might want to make the characters a bit older, but sometimes it just doesn’t work with the plot, if they even care about the plot at all! I haven’t read Artemis Fowl either, but from what I understand, Artemis was a morally-gray criminal in the books, and in the movie he’s just… an innocent kid who lost his dad? That doesn’t sound right. I’m actually going to read the first book just to write an analysis on how they should have handled the adaptation, haha.

      I agree, the PJO movies should have started the characters at 14 or 15 if they were going to make them older… 16 year olds played by 20+ year olds would not have worked as a franchise. It’s like they set themselves up for failure, I swear. And there are so many little details they missed in the HP films, too, and a lot of them could have been fixed just by giving some characters one more line. As for ATLA, I might want to watch the live action after I finish watching the show, just to see how bad it is, but I’m not sure if I could actually put myself through that pain. 😭

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  7. YESS THIS! I want to @ so many shows and movies right now. I will never forget the utter dumpster fire that was Sea of Monsters (Annabeth literally dies and they put a blanket over her and she comes back to life how???).
    So there’s a bunch of e-mails that Rick Riordan posted on his blog where he shits on the movies to the producers and pretty much tells them the casting and screenplay is trash. I highly recommend you read them if you haven’t already, truly beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Almost every adaptation does not live up to expectations in so many ways, and that’s so sad to me. I haven’t seen Sea of Monsters in a long time, but from what I remember, it felt at least a little bit better than the first one, haha. 😅 I’ve seen Rick’s emails! I hate how they ignored basically everything he said to them, it was truly tragic.

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  8. I agree with a lot of what you said in this post. Ultimately, books and TV/film are completely different mediums. I think that a lot of book fans think that everything should stay exactly the same in film adaptations, when that’s just not possible. I really appreciated your insight on this issue, and the specific examples provided really helped paint the picture in my head.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I agree, books and tv/films are very different, and you can’t just translate them perfectly. I don’t need any adaptation to be 100% like the book, but all I want is for the adaptation to keep the major plot points and obstacles faced by the characters, and for the characters to be at least a little bit like the characters in personality, not just looks.

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  9. I feel like every time I log on twitter now there’s a new book to screen adaptation and I’m so. stressed. Whether or not the adaptation stays true to the book aside, a lot of the adaptations end up aiming for Hollywood flash and sparkle over true depth. Which… if that’s what you wanted, then come up with some other idea. Don’t take what already existed and has a loyal fanbase because we all see what you’re really doing–you’re making a cash grab.

    This post is *kisses fingers* utter beauty.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Sha. 💕 Honestly, it’s kind of stressful for me, too. Especially since most of the books these adaptations are based on were released 10+ years ago! Like, what’s up with that? Why does it take so long for them to start production, a decade after the initial hype? And I don’t understand why these filmmakers think special effects can make up for a lack of plot. It almost never works, and those movies are always so bland. They just never learn.

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  10. I’ve seen so many book to screen adaptations that I don’t stress myself out over them anymore and just rate them on how much I enjoyed them. There are times where things being taken out of the story are completely understandable because it’s just not possible to do them on-screen (like the living topiaries in The Shining being changed to a hedge maze, and also one sex scene involving all the kids (ew, Stephen King) from IT being completely removed). As long as the plot isn’t too loosely based on the book, I don’t really mind, as long as I have a good time watching it and the screenplay was written by someone who actually understands the source material.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I totally agree! There are some things that need to be taken out of adaptations, because some scenes are repetitive or just unnecessary, but what really bothers me is when the adaptation completely cuts out the personality of the characters and the charm of the story. Yeah, I remember hearing about that scene from IT and I was so glad it was taken out, it probably shouldn’t have been included in the book, either. 😅 As long as the screenplay writer understands the heart of the story, I think that should be enough for it to be at least a decent adaptation.

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  11. The ASOUE adaptation by Netflix really gave me high expectations for book adaptations… it was just so close to the source material that I remember just staring at my screen and wondering why, if it’s possible to do it for 13 books in a row, isn’t it done much more often ?

    Liked by 1 person

  12. This is such a well put and detailed post hahahahahah I can also feel your frustrations while writing this! Lovely post Xandra :> I agree with all of your points most especially the first one! We readers don’t need all of our beloved books adapted to the screen. Most details got lost in translation esp. when it comes to characters dealing with their personal turmoil through monologues and their thoughts. If translated in films, most of them just get lost; these nuances are what makes reading books worthwhile and it really saddens me when they aren’t given the justice they deserve huhuh. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this :>

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! 😊 I often talk about how much I wish my favorite books could have adaptations, but I know most of them would probably not turn out as well as the book, so I think I’ve come to terms with that for now. Personal turmoil from the characters is often a big part of the story, and that’s usually one of the first things to get cut from adaptations, which is why I think a lot of them tend to fail.

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  13. Xandra this is such an amazing post!! I think you’re totally right in that not everything should be adapted and adaptations should be made with care; changing character ages and names is so dumb I actually hate it, and it’s a big part of why I never got into The 100 TV show; I read the books first and it just bothered me too much that they changed people’s names AND ages. I did read an article somewhere about the changes they needed to make for production purposes due to the sci-fi setting of the books, but that’s unrelated to age/name changes. Especially when it comes to TV shows that are adapted from books, it’s inevitable that there will be differences in plot and/or continuation from where the books end, but such plots definitely shouldn’t be in there just to appeal to a wider audience or something of the like.

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