4 Books That Are Just Unfilmable (And How They Can Be Pulled Off Anyway)

Books vs Movies. Nothing divides the literary community deeper than speculating which mode of media shall reign supreme, an unending war of many bloody battles that begin and shall always end with “I liked the book better”.

But no matter what you believe, some books just can’t be movies.

For one thing, you lose out completely on any third-person impartiality, whether that be backstory, or worldbuilding, or non-cringey flashbacks. They’re meant to be longer forms of entertainment, several hours as opposed to the “few” of film and cramming all of that detail into a tiny chunk of time like a narrative space bag is bound to be problematic.

But studios still try even though they should leave some of these alone.

Such as…

The Hobbit

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I know, I know, we’ve heard it before and a thousand other times that these movies were just plain terrible. I won’t delve into the why as so many others before me have. You know exactly what is wrong with this trilogy that should have never been.

But what exactly is it about this book that makes it just so unfit for the silver screen?

Well, for one thing, most of the most “cinematic” stuff happens off the page. The Battle of Five Armies? Was elsewhere. And that’s most of an entire movie right there. The book is also “narrated” in the “voice” of Tolkien, lending a very unique texture and flavor that just can’t be captured on celluloid. On top of all of this, if it feels like the chapters are on the episodic side as opposed to one cohesive story, well, it’s because they are. This book was intended to be a bedtime story, not a million-hours-long epic and shouldn’t be devoured in one sitting.

How To Actually Pull It Off

Make it actually for kids. Seriously. This was never meant to be a gritty PG-13 war epic and as much as I dig the edgification of the media I adore, this one needs to be left the h*ck alone. Let it be goofy, let it be fun, let it be a bouncy adventure with songs and riddles and magic rings.

I’m imagining a really fun animated miniseries something like Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network can air between longer shows made by an animator who knows how to have a fun, colorful time.

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A Wrinkle In Time

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Hate me all you like, Brie Larson, but neither movie of A Wrinkle In Time were very good. Bouncing between melodramatic dreck, PS1 level CGI, and overwrought feel-good moral goop, they both fell on the “unwatchable” side of mediocre.

But why?

For one thing, he book falls into a weird place in, well… time. It’s very clearly a period piece – what with how the kids talk – but from a period that makes us think of other things. And having it set mostly in space and in a sleepy town where I guarantee nothing ever changes – believe me, I grew up there – it sort of takes you out of that time period, too.

The book is deeply mired in cerebral thought, contemplating physics and religion and emotion and memory and the price of knowledge. That kind of stuff just doesn’t work on film.

Oh, and most of the science stuff is pretty inacurate now.

How To Actually Pull It Off

For this one? You kind of don’t. Maybe if you really set it in its own time and really sell the 50s Suburbia Hell of Camazotz instead of trying to shove it into “modern day” to make it “relatable” then it could possibly work. If not, then maybe it’s better as a concept album or something.

The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

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This movie should have worked. It had Martin Freeman who is an excellent actor who has shamefully popped up earlier on this list. It had Sam Rockwell who went on to make one of the most moving and beautiful movies about space that you should never google before watching. It had Professor Flitwick in a robot costume with the voice of Severus Snape.

Literally what else could you possibly ask for?

But much like Tolkein, Douglas Adams had a strong, musky flavor to his writing and even when you intercut with some prime absurdity, it’s just lost on the viewer if you play everything else around it straight. It’s also a book not meant for any heart-wrenching pathos (at least not for a while), it refuses to fit any of your silly three-act structures, and also it just kinda ends. So it’s hard to wrap a script around.

How To Actually Pull It Off

Give it to Baz Lurhman. Really. This is not a joke here.

Now, you may be thinking that the man had one amazing perfect movie that was only improved upon by putting Aaron Tevit in it, one movie that had Claire Daines making weird noises, and heahyeahthatotherone….

But here’s the deal. H2G2 has been adapted, re-adapted, re-written, and chopped into stew-sized chunks by its own author. Neil Gaiman wrote a book about it!

This more or less gives any director with the rocks to try complete creative freedom to be as zany and off the wall as theoretically possible and if you don’t think Luhrman’s quick-dollying rapid-cut rave seizure gooey handprint isn’t perfect to stamp upon it, then I don’t know what to tell you.

Harry Potter

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I heard that. That gasp of utter shock and then the heart-shattering consensus that yeah, these movies weren’t that great.

Many have picked apart the shortcomings of this adaptation, from cutting every plot thread like they’re writing Game of Thrones Season 8 to squashing characters entire personalities and motivations flat like they’re the Whomping Willow, these books have not been treated well.

How To Actually Pull It Off

A part of it does come from the medium, those books were doorstoppers at their smallest, the whole series clocking in at roughly four times as long as War and Peace.

Not only that, but the way movies treat characters is very different than the way books do. Book characters are allowed to be wrong, misguided, even unlikable, and they can stay that way for a decent chunk of time. In movies, that stuff needs to get out of the way very early on – or the exploration of these gray areas needs to be the point of the entire movie which is not the point of a series like Harry Potter. Turning Harry into a lovable goody-goody with a bit of an angsty streak who can do no wrong, Ron into a doofy best friend who’s along for the ride, and Hermione into a naggy know-it-all who never needs to grow past her Smartest In The Room phase does them all a disservice.

My thought is to write it all as one collective whole. The books weren’t written that way and it kinda shows in some barer patches, but this is a chance to smooth it over.

Producers would also need to decide whether each director will be allowed to have a wildly different idea of what Hogwarts and magic and the Wizarding World are like and make their own interpretations or it needs to be handled by one director, one team, one set.

And it should probably be a much longer thing on HBO.

Which book do you think can just never be adapted? Can it be done anyway?
Share in the comments!

My own book may or may not be film-worthy, but you can read it anyway! (whether you’re a movie exec or not!)

inter_linked The Series is the fun, sarcastic story of a girl and her android.

Follow the adventures of Anny and WISR as they try to help every robot they can, while the hardest part of the journey is putting up with each other.

Absolutely free to read:

[Self-Care Month] Schadenfreudoptimism

This month is Self-Care Month where I share some tips for writers on being good to yourself – but without lavender-scented BS.

This is a concept that may seem a little mean, but I advocate so strongly for that I invented a word for it: Schadenfreudoptimism.

Basically, it just means having a guilty pleasure but using it to feel better about your career:

Step 1: Go to Your Local Library and Find Something Deliciously Trashy

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Its cover has a swirly font and a purple cover or conversely it has a terrible embossed foil illustration of a dragon, spaceship, or concept car. Either way, it looks like it came out of the 80s but the copyright date says last year. Yes. This is going to be a good time.

Not only that, but look at you getting out of the house! The air is incredibly airy today and they make the trees in ‘green’ now!

Step 2: Check Out Proudly

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Don’t use those self checkout thingies. You slap that mass-market chunk of tree down on the desk and politely ask to check out that book. Revel in any awkward looks and be sure to say thank you. Librarians work very hard and MLS’s are nothing to sneeze at.

This also counts as your human interaction of the day. Achievement Unlocked!

Step 3: Cuddle Up With Something Good

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A glass of wine. A fudge chip cookie. A steaming mug of tea.

Whatever it is, as long as it’s tasty and makes you feel good inside, put it in your face!

Step 4: Enjoy

So here’s the thing about what I call the “junk food books”:


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You went to the place where books are. You went to the shelf. And you found something wonderfully bad and had a good time reading it and some publisher somewhere believed in this book enough to bring it to life and now you are holding it in your very hands.


Stay tuned next week for some positive affirmations to improve your writing life!

I promise THIS book isn’t an embarrassingly awesome chunk of tree.

inter_linked The Series is the fun, sarcastic story of a girl and her android.

Follow the adventures of Anny and WISR as they try to help every robot they can, while the hardest part of the journey is putting up with each other.

Absolutely free to read:

I Read a Bunch of Star Wars Novelizations So You Don’t Have To. A Review. (Part 1)

Tie-in novels are great. Not only do they occupy a weird part of the production cycle most people don’t think about, but they also can add a lot of emotion and internal thought to characters we generally only see emote (barring some narration, of course).

I’ve always wanted to write a novelization or tie-in, truth be told, and not just because my fanfiction is awesome. It’s a challenge, it’s entertaining, it’s just plain fun to be able to describe these visuals on the page and to bring characters to life in a way they otherwise wouldn’t on the silver screen.

(if anyone at Del Rey is reading, call me.)

I’ve read a handful of novelizations in my time, not enough to call myself an expert, but enough to say that they have the potential to be decent. So in an effort to better understand the medium, the artistry, I picked up a few from my local library and got down to analyzing.

Maker save us…

And holy wow what I found was… interesting.

(I also picked up The Shape of Water but that one turned out to be fairly decent and not really worth mentioning besides “It’s Good, Go Read It.”)

Star Wars (A New Hope)

The first Star Wars movie had a famously troubled production, to the point where there are multiple documentaries, fan films, and books about the affair. So it should be no surprise that the novelization is zero exception.

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Alec Guiness, moments before realizing this is all anyone under the age of 30 will ever remember him for (1976, decolorized)

While I was reading, I noticed that it was actually pretty well-written. A little pretentious, perhaps (who says “essayed” anyway?) but not bad! For being credited towards George Lucas himself, it was better than I’d – well – hoped. To the point where I got suspicious. So I did my research and it turns out, it was ghostwritten by Alan Dean Foster, who also wrote Star Trek: The Motion Picture (aka “The Bizarre One With the Computer Lady Who Has No Pants”) and the first Star Wars EU novel called Splinter of the Mind’s Eye (aka “The Bizarre One Where No One Told Alan Dean Foster That Luke And Leia Are Brother And Sister And This Is Very Awkward”).

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Star Wars was also very famously very bad when it was first put together and only the expert editing of Lucas’ wife-at-the-time and her friends saved it from being a bizarre slushfest. (There’s a great YouTube video detailing exactly what got changed around.) The novelization, however, comes curiously in-between. The subplot with Biggs Darklighter remains – who here remembers who that even is? – there’s the scene with Jabba the Hutt that got CGI’d in to later editions, and Luke is very much a troubled kid. He lies, he sneaks out, and his Aunt and Uncle are genuinely very worried that he might be getting into some bad stuff like his father did.

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“You don’t understand me… SPACE DAD”

Lightsabers are “still in use in some galactic quarters”, Chewie gets his medal, no they don’t say if Han Shot First, and it also has one of the only mentions of ducks in the Star Wars universe which Wikipedia tells me is notable.

It also mentions “The Journal of the Whills”, an early concept George Lucas invented. The idea is that the Star Wars films are actually a historical account by otherworldly beings, and that’s why the films start off with “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.”

Out of all of the OT, it’s the weirdest but most readable and most interesting. It’s also the longest by about 50 pages, even though it’s shorter than the other two movies.

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Some people consider this the most perfect movie ever created which I disagree with strongly as I am busy getting a beer and nachos during the boring Hoth parts in the beginning. Those of you who do have this opinion, though, will be surprised to hear that the book is bad. Really bad.

For one thing, the author can’t seem to get away from real-world references and compound simile… things. Taun-tauns are “llamalike”. We also get “stiltlike”, “gazellelike”, “wedgelike”, and “skullike”, and many others I didn’t bother writing down. Oh and Star Destroyers are “mechanized death angels.” I wish I was joking.

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It also seriously lacks in the emotion department which is really tragic considering it’s the most emotionally-charged of the three.

“Now, as she looked at [Han], he’d never seemed more handsome. But she was still a princess.”

Girlfriend, you are the princess of a bunch of blowed-up space rocks and you have bigger problems to worry about. He’s Harrison Ford. Literally what are you waiting for?

“No, no! That’s not true…” Luke said, refusing to believe what he’d heard. “That’s impossible.”
“Search your feelings,” Vader said, sounding like an evil version of Yoda, “you know it to be true.”

That’s it?! That’s all you can conjure when it comes to the inner turmoil Luke must be facing, discovering not only is his most hated enemy his own father? That’s all? Evil Yoda. That’s all we get.

“I love you,” [Leia] said softly, “I couldn’t tell you before, but it’s true.”
He smiled his familiar, cocky smile. “Just remember that, because I’ll be back.”

Yeah, I’m glad these lines were improvised because yeesh.

I know.

Yoda is blue and so is Vader’s lightsaber which they keep calling a “sword” (this bothers me for some reason), and they keep calling Han “Corellian” but Lando is only called “black”. The 80s had issues, why are we so nostalgic again?

Star Wars Episode VI – Return of the Jedi

Okay, I fully admit to being kind of tired of this book-chunk by the time I hit Jedi so I skimmed it because also who really likes this one anyway? It’s not the worst written, it’s not the best, it sits firmly in the middle of being “okay”, both the film and the book.

The opening is hilarious because the opening of the movie is a pan over empty space and then WHOA THERE’S A DEATH STAR I THOUGHT WE BLEW THAT THING UP IN 1977 WHAAAAAAT?!?!?!?!?

The first time I read this, I was super confused. It seems stilted, it seems kinda dumb, and then I realized what they were going for and I guess it makes sense?

Luke spends the whole book switching back and forth between this faux-eloquent “wise Jedi” talk and being a whiny “youth” (oh yeah, all three books continually call him this and it’s weird).

“Goodbye, dear sister – lost and found. Goodbye, sweet, sweet Leia.”

Um. Okay.

When O-Ben-Wan Kenobi’s ghost shows up, he talks for a LONG time about what actually happened to Vader, which is alright for a reader, I suppose, but wouldn’t fly for a moment onscreen. He actually talks about how Anakin “fell into a molten pit” and emerged as Darth Vader, making me wonder how early the lightsaber battle on Mustafar was planned out.

Leia has a complete meltdown when she finds out she’s Vader’s daughter, like a total blue screen of death that Han has to snap her out of and they imply they’d been having a relationship for some time offscreen. Aww.

There’s a really cool point-of-view chapter for Palaptine detailing what his worldview (worldsview?) was really like which was also, as the internet tells me, a criticism of Nixon. Neat.

Also, there’s an INCREDIBLY WEIRD part at the very end where Luke cries on an unmasked Vader’s face and he says how he LIKES HOW THE TEARS TASTE WHAT.

[Luke] saw the old eyes focus on him. Tears burned Luke’ cheeks, fell on his father’s lips. His father smiled at the taste.

Yes, there… he felt a raindrop on his lips. He licked the delicate droplet… but wait, it wasn’t sweetwater, it was salty, it was… a teardrop.

You thought I was making this up.

I think I’mma gonna puke up my bantha milk.

Want to hear more about my adventures into the Rogue One books? Stay tuned for Part 2!
In the meantime, don’t forget to like and comment!

What’s your favorite movie novelization of all time?

World Book Day 2018

Today is World Book Day, one of the greatest holidays of the year that doesn’t involve socks stuffed full of goodies or roast poultry.

In honor of this most auspicious day, I’d like to share some of my favorite spots to find books in New York City.



(Image courtesy Bluestockings website)

A small, independent bookstore in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Bluestockings is a feminist bookstore with both fiction and nonfiction titles. It is completely volunteer-run, has a cafe with fantastic coffee and tea options, and hosts a number of meetups and groups to discuss politics and the written word.

Greenlight Bookstore


With two locations, one not far from the Atlanttic Terminal/Barclays Center, Greenlight is one of my favorite indie bookstores in the city. It hosts many events with up-and-coming authors, I hope I see lots of my friends there soon!

Books of Wonder


The name barely does it justice, this bookstore near Union Square is a palace of children’s and young adult books, both new and old, and also features a collection of old and rare children’s books as well, most notably first editions of the Wizard of Oz series. Any author for younger audiences must make a pilgrimage here.

Central Library – Brooklyn Public Library

While I wish I could include each and every library in the city, I must narrow it down to my very favorite, the Central Library in the Brooklyn Public Library system. Located in the shadow of the Grand Army Plaza arch, this towering edifice of knowledge and good book smells seems to go on forever, a repository of everything you ever wanted to know. I have found everything here from a songbook about “drinking and cheating women” to books about publishing, Monty Python, art, and of course everything fiction.

The New York Public Library may be gorgeous and have very steadfast lions, but it pales in comparison to the wonder that is the Central Library.


Where do you go to find books? Do you have a favorite bookstore in your hometown, or have visited any of these? Let me know in the comments!


See Also:

Soundtracks to Write Fantasy To
What to do With A Writer’s Block
The World of Faehunter: Magical Plants and Other Herbaceous Things