From Film To Novel: The Process of a Novelization

With The Academy Awards taking place tonight and the release of the novelization of Home Run next week, I wanted to share the process of making a novel out of a movie.

In December of 2011, I received a confidential call from my publisher at David C. Cook (publisher of my teen series The Solitary Tales). He asked me about my writing schedule and I told him it looked pretty clear. He told me they were bidding on a novelization of a film about a baseball player who is forced into recovery. I joked “Yeah, I’m the one you call when you need a novel about a messed up character.” He told me the other publishers who were bidding as well. I told my family about this and prayed Cook woud get the project.

The following week, I got an email from the deputy publisher at David C. Cook saying they had negotiated the deal and were thinking of me to write the novel. The film was called Home Run and they wanted me to finish the novelization by February 15 or March 1 at the latest, giving me just over a couple of months to work on it.

A week later, David C. Cook and my agent negotiated how much I would be paid to write this novelization. They went back and forth and lots of cursing and heated discussions took place. I’m joking, of course. It was very cordial and the deal came together very quickly. I knew this was going to be a great opportunity for me, so I really wanted this project. David C. Cook is a great publisher who I already had worked with, so everything came together nicely.

Even before officially signing the contract (but after all parties agreed that I’d be the writer), I started asking for the script. I had hoped to read it over Christmas break, but publishing virtually closes the last couple of weeks of the year. I received the script via email on January 3 and started reading it right away.

As I read the script for the first time, I made notes to myself. I had done one novelization before (ghostwriting project) so I had some experience. These notes were just thoughts on the story and the characters. Things I thought I could do, places I could improve, things I liked.

Even before I connected with the producers or signed the official contract, I started writing. I couldn’t help it. I remember writing what I called interludes that later went in between the chapters. This was just a random idea but one that worked.

I connected with Carol Mathews, primary producer of Home Run, on the phone and in email. We also arranged for me to meet with them in person. They flew me to California to attend a Celebrate Recovery One Day leadership training session. I not only met the producers but also many of the leaders of Celebrate Recovery. At this point, I was taking everything in, making notes in my notebook and in my head.

The main thing I wanted was to get at the heart of what the producers wanted with their film. A story is a story and can be told in a hundred ways. What were the hot buttons and the things that Carol and her team wanted out of this novel? I learned that quickly enough, and continued to learn that as I worked with them. I didn’t have a lot of time to brainstorm and think and plan—no, they needed a full-length novel written in a couple of months, so I started living and breathing both baseball and Celebrate Recovery.

It’s not hard to imagine a character getting drunk out of his mind. I’ve had some experience with that. But I’m not a baseball guy. I quickly immersed myself in the world of baseball just so I knew the things I was supposed to know. I got half a dozen books on baseball, started watching baseball movies and documentaries. I wanted to know all the things I needed to know—what does a major league clubhouse look like, what’s the life of a professional baseball player, etc. Along with this I studied and discovered what Celebrate Recovery was all about. As I wrote, I asked Carol a lot of questions. They were always answered quickly and thoughtfully.

My main priority was to write a meaningful novel and deliver it on time. The great thing was I knew they were allowing me a lot of creative license. I attempted the novel in first person and then after about 15,000 words, I decided it couldn’t only be in the baseball player’s POV. I tried some different things but stuck to the story of the script. I simply expanded and enhanced it. Not because I was being lazy but rather my job was to expand and enhance. I needed the novel to serve as a literary companion to the movie. The movie was the boss—the movie informed all the other storytelling decisions I might try to make.

Thankfully, the publisher and producers were thrilled with the novel. Even though the date of the movie changed from fall 2012 to spring 2013, that didn’t impact the novel since it was already finished. I felt that compressed time worked for the novel and how it came to life.

I’m going to write a longer blog soon about how to write a novel based on a screenplay—some of the struggles and some of the fun parts of that process. The best part of this process for Home Run was all the support I’ve received, from both the publisher and also from the Home Run team. I love the movie and the people behind it. I hope and trust the movie and novel both perform well simply because of the people behind them. I got invited to this cool party and it’s been fun to be a part of it.

See Home Run when it opens April 19! And buy the novel when it releases March 1. It’s a beautiful story of redemption and hope, a story that can inspire anybody. 

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