Why YA Screen Adaptations Made Major Changes



In an oral history of The Princess Diaries published by Cosmopolitan, author Meg Cabot described why Princess Mia’s father, who is alive in the books, was killed off for the film adaptation.

Cabot said, “[Producer] Debra [Martin Chase] called me and said, ‘We have to kill off the father from your book.’ And I said, ‘Why?’ And she said, ‘We want to have a bigger role for the grandmother because we’ve got this great actress that wants to play her.’ And I asked, ‘Who’s the actress?'”

When Cabot was informed it was none other than the great Julie Andrews, she responded, “Oh my god. Kill him. Kill the dad.”


Stephen Chbosky, who wrote and directed the adaptation of his beloved coming-of-age novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, told the Lamplight Review that he altered an iconic conversation to reflect how he’d matured since writing the novel (and to take advantage of the talents of the cast).

In both the book and the movie, Charlie’s English teacher, Mr. Anderson, tells him, “We accept the love we think we deserve.” But in the film adaptation, two lines of dialogue are added: Charlie asks, “Can we make them know they deserve more?” And Mr. Anderson answers, “We can try.”

Chbosky explained, “As I was getting older, I realized some people don’t think that they deserve an awful lot, and so I thought, Let me just write something that’s a little more encouraging. Especially when you have someone like Paul Rudd, and when we got Paul, I wanted to give him more because I just love him as an actor … I thought [adding the new lines] was just a lovely, positive, hopeful way of letting people know that they can have better love and better friends and more passion in their lives.”


And in an interview with Vanity Fair, Chbosky explained why he changed the song the characters listen to in a pivotal moment from Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” to David Bowie’s “Heroes.”

Chbosky said, “‘Landslide’ is a beautiful song, and I would have loved to include it, but it’s a very soft ballad. The problem was when we got to the tunnel scene, I just thought, We need something that’s not soft. We need something that’s driving, that’s epic in nature, and ‘Heroes’ was a perfect fit. Alexandra Patsavas, our music supervisor — it was her idea.”


Author Angie Thomas told Entertainment Weekly that the character DeVante was cut from the adaptation of The Hate U Give because it was thought that including him would have “take[n] away from Starr,” the protagonist.

Thomas said, “When they first told me they were cutting DeVante, my gut instinct was, ‘No, you can’t!’ But then when George [Tillman Jr., the director] explained that it would take away from Starr, I understood. So, for me, it really was about just letting go and being okay with things because as long as the heart of the story was there — and the plot was still there — that’s what matters.”


In The Hunger Games, Katniss narrates the story from a first-person perspective; when she’s in the games, she can only guess what’s happening outside the arena. But in the film adaptation, the audience gets to see the behind-the-scenes effort that goes into producing the reality television component of the gladiatorial competition.

In a fan Q&A published by the New York Times, director Gary Ross explained the decision to give audiences a glimpse into a side of the story that Katniss would have no way of knowing about. He said, “In the book, Katniss speculates about the Gamemakers’ manipulations while the Games are going on. Of course, in the film, we can’t get inside Katniss’s head, but we do have the ability to cut away and actually show the machinations of the Capitol behind the scenes. I created the Game Center and also expanded the role of Seneca Crane for those reasons.”

He explained that since so much of the film takes place in the wilderness, it was important to him to remind viewers that the Gamemakers are “manipulating these events for the sake of an audience.”


Effie Trinket — Katniss and Peeta’s Capitol escort — disappears for most of Mockingjay, the third and final book in the original series. It’s implied that she was taken captive and tortured by the Capitol, with Katniss noticing her trauma when they finally do reunite after the end of the war. But in the Mockingjay film adaptations, Effie escapes (or is forcibly taken, if you ask her) to District 13, where she acts as both a trusted adviser and a maternal figure to Katniss.

In an interview, director Francis Lawrence explained that Effie has a larger role in the film series because author Suzanne Collins was so impressed with Elizabeth Banks’s performance in the franchise’s second film, Catching Fire. Lawrence said, “When Suzanne Collins saw Catching Fire, she called, and one of the first things she said was, ‘There’s no way Effie Trinket cannot be in the Mockingjay films.’ Effie brings such warmth and fun and levity to these dark stories.”


In an interview with United by Pop, Becky Albertalli, the author of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, praised and explained the addition of Ethan, a character who does not exist in the book, to the film adaptation Love, Simon.

Albertalli said, “Every time anybody mentions Ethan, I just start bawling and saying I love him so much. … I just feel like he’s my adopted child. He’s not in the books, and I hate that I didn’t think of him, but he’s just a little cinnamon roll — I love him. I love the actor Clark Moore, who plays him.”

She went on, “They [director Greg Berlanti and screenwriters Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger] wanted to show the different ways of expressing being gay and how that can look in high school, how those experiences can be different, and yeah, I think it was a really nice counterbalance to Simon. Simon is very conventionally masculine and from a very affluent white family; there are a couple of details about his experience that are not universal. If you take Simon and Ethan and the other LGBT characters in the book and line them all up, you’re still not going to come close to portraying a universal experience, but I think it cast the net a little wider as to how people see themselves.”


Author Veronica Roth told Vulture that the plot device of “the box,” which only a Divergent possessing qualities from all five factions can open, was added to the film adaptation of Insurgent to transform a complicated plot into a more readily adaptable one.

Roth said, “The plot of Insurgent, more than the other books, is complicated. There are a lot of people with a lot of conflicting desires. There’s a lot going on. So I figured they would have to streamline it and simplify it. I didn’t know exactly how they would do that, but the box is the way they decided to. So the good thing about it is that it gives Jeanine a lot of motivation for targeting Tris specifically and for targeting Divergents generally.”

She added, “And it puts all the simulations in Insurgent in one place because Tris has some simulations when she’s trapped in Erudite, and she kind of goes under one when she breaks into Jeanine’s office. So the box puts all these things in one place, and I thought it was a good solution to the problems the plot presents, as far as the movie adaptation goes.”


In the dystopian Community at the center of The Giver, people are euthanized in a practice euphemistically referred to as “release.” The main character Jonas’s father is responsible for the Community’s babies, and at one point in the novel, he releases an infant simply because they have a twin. Afterward, he says, “Bye bye, little guy.”

While this horrifying sequence is for the most part kept in place in the film adaptation, that line was cut for being too upsetting. Producer Nikki Silver told the Washington Post, “Onscreen, it was just too chilling. And it felt like we never wanted that scene to be interpreted any other way than what it is.”


In Holes, the protagonist, Stanley Yelnats, loses weight while performing manual labor at Camp Green Lake. This plot point is not included in the film adaptation because of ethical and practical concerns over asking a young actor to gain and lose weight in a short amount of time.

Author Louis Sachar told Forbes that while he would’ve “preferred an overweight Stanley who gradually got into shape,” it just wasn’t feasible. He explained, “You can’t ask a 15-year-old kid to gain a hundred pounds for a role; plus, movies aren’t shot in sequential order, so he would have had to be changing his weight up and down depending on the scene.”


One of the many plot points that got cut in the adaptation of the mammoth Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was the trip to the magical hospital, St. Mungo’s, where Neville’s tragic past is revealed to most of the main characters: His parents, while still alive, were both tortured to insanity and permanently incapacitated by Death Eaters. In the film, Neville tells only Harry this story while they’re in the Room of Requirement.

Screenwriter Michael Goldenberg told Salon that while he saw the value in and tried to prioritize the St. Mungo’s scene, it ultimately had to be cut for a very practical reason: Building the set came with too high a price tag. He explained, “Toward the end of shooting, we had it in but it required a new set. And whatever people think about Harry Potter films, there are not unlimited budgets, and we didn’t really need it to tell the story, so it got cut. But it was something we all held on to until the very end, and I would have liked to see it.”


Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince director David Yates told IGN that he and screenwriter Steve Kloves decided to cut the Dursleys from the movie to subvert the audience’s expectations of how a Harry Potter movie normally progresses.

Yates said, “Traditionally these films have always opened at the Dursleys’ and there’s a pattern; the audience is used to that. You sit down, you see the Warner Bros. sign, you hear the tinkly-tinkly stuff, and then, oh, it’s the Dursleys. It’s that comic Dursley bit at the beginning, and then we’ll get on with the story.” It was Kloves’s idea to change their approach and keep viewers on their toes.


In an interview with ScreenRant, author Anthony Horowitz explained the decision to give Tom Harris, a “very minor character in the Alex Rider books,” a much more prominent role in the 2020 television adaptation. For the most part, it seems that everyone involved thought the young spy needed to open up to a friend.

Horowitz explained, “But it was [series creator] Guy Burt’s idea to actually have somebody of [Alex’s] own age to talk to and, actually, that the secret that he is a spy should be shared, which is not the case in the books. I think it’s a brilliant idea.”


And finally: Author Jenny Han told Teen Vogue that a Halloween scene from To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before was cut in the movie adaptation because of copyright concerns over Lara Jean’s and Peter’s costumes.

Han said, “I was hoping to see the Halloween scene where [Lara Jean]’s dressed up as Cho Chang and Peter’s dressed up as Spider-Man, but I think that Spider-Man was a rights issue with him being allowed to wear that costume in the movie.” She added, “I’m fine with that not being in there; I’d rather it be as it was or not at all.”

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