The Wild World of YA Film Adaptations

There’s no denying that book to movie adaptations are dominating the cinematic world at the moment. If we look over the past few years of these adaptations, we can clearly see a pattern in what Hollywood is searching for.

Young Adult fiction is the chief genre being transferred to cinematic production. In terms of book sales, the genre itself has undergone a major explosion over the past decade. The number of YA titles published between 2002 and 2012 has grown by more than 120 percent. Other estimates show that between 1997 and 2009, that figure was closer to 900 percent. While the genre is theoretically targeted at an audience between the ages 12 and 18, more than half of all YA novels sold are bought by older adults.

YA Fiction to film
YA fiction is breaking records on the bestseller lists and at the box office… Image Credit: Willow Twin via Flickr Creative Commons.


When you see adults on their commutes reading the hard covers of these books, with their jackets removed, it means the movie has a far better chance of working,” says Ben Schrank, president and publisher of Razorbill, the YA imprint of Penguin Random House. “The fact that there are more people writing better books for young people than ever before, combined with a culture where fewer and fewer people think of themselves as old, makes over-saturation in the immediate future seem unlikely.”

So, if you’re looking to cash-in, all you have to do is develop a story that contains;

  • A female protagonist (to lead a rebellion)
  • Realistic elements
  • Strong hints of romance
  • Supernatural/dystopian setting


This can be seen from the recent releases of Young Adult adaptations such as; Divergent and Vampire Academy. Both implemented because of their successful predecessors; The Hunger Games and Twilight. Along with these books providing for great films, the films are also simultaneously putting the previous bestsellers back on top.

Though many of these books are great reads, and succeed in pleasing their desired audience, I’m sure many readers would like to see a shift in adaptations, towards the more grounded, realistic novels. It looks like Hollywood has relented slightly with the upcoming cinematic debut of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. However, there are still many out there that haven’t been considered, as Green states:

 They make far fewer movies than we make books. They are much more trend-obsessed. We are little trend-obsessed in the world of publishing, but Hollywood is super trend-obsessed. I hope it’s not either/or because there are a lot of supernatural romances I love and there are a lot of dystopias I love and would love to see as movies. I would love to see some of Laurie Halse Anderson’s novels made in movies, but I would also love to see Marie Lu’s series, Prodigy, made into a movie. My hope would be that we can have some breadth in movies we make for teenagers just as we have some in books.

Moreover, recent examples have shown, that despite being bestsellers, the transfer to the silver screen has meant a loss of allure. Schrank says the trick to success in YA adaptations comes down to a simple understanding; book series such as Harry Potter, Twilight and The Hunger Games achieved the most success in crossing over to an adult readership. The Hunger Games alone moved over 50 million copies for scholastic just months after the release of the first movie. Other YA books that have been adapted, while were still successful, didn’t quite extend beyond their young adult fan base. For example, The Divergent series has sold to date, around 16 million copies of its trilogy. A huge number, retrospectively, though not nearly on par with its biggest competitors.

Ultimately we have seen a booming climb in YA novels, as authors such as Green, Collins and Meyer continue to sell over millions of books worldwide, despite the numerous challenges publishers are now facing due to the domination of e-commerce giants and self-publishing. It is because of the genre’s enormous success, that we have seen the reclassification of some of the most classic novels of the 20th Century; Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, Fahrenheit 451, Lord of the Rings all having appeared in NPR’S 100 best-ever teen novels.

So, if you like where YA fiction is heading in the publishing industry, here are our tips…

Don’t just write a book in hopes of it becoming a movie

There is a reason screenwriters exist. To write screenplays- for films. The most important thing is to indulge your audience with a satisfying reading experience. This in turn, will ensure an avid fan base that is determined to see their favourite book made into a movie.

Have a clear plot line

This may seem obvious, though, it’s surprising how many books you come across that don’t have a definitive plot. The biggest issue with writers, is we can get so entranced by the art of language, in trying to provoke the reader emotionally, we lose the most basic skill in narrative writing.

If you’re writing with film adaptations in mind, you’re going to need to make sure something huge happens, ideally in a three-act structure. Disaster (with an attempted resolution, leading to a bigger problem)- climax- resolution. Add some action in there, while you’re at it.


This is essential. You don’t want your beautiful creation to be destroyed in the adaptation because you weren’t able to vividly describe the surroundings. However, you also need to be wary of over-describing. The key is to find the right balance; allow your reader the authenticity of your setting, without including unnecessary details.

Memorable Characters

By this, we don’t just mean the protagonist. That one, is hopefully just obvious… Minor characters can and should play a core role in the dynamic of your story. Think of any single adjective that can be attributed to a human, and just give it a name. Some of the greatest characters from Young Adult literature have been the result of this adventurous thinking; Neville Longbottom.


It is not likely that the Young Adult outbreak will cease anytime soon, though hopefully readers will feel inclined to shift towards the more realistic stories.

The fact that there are more people writing better books for young people than ever before, combined with a culture where fewer and fewer people think of themselves as old, makes over-saturation in the immediate future seem unlikely,” states Schrank.

To read the full interview with John Green, click here.

Eloise Edstein

Eloise Edstein is currently undergoing a Bachelor of Communications; Creative Writing at the University of Technology, Sydney. She is an obsessive reader and passionate writer, and has plans to endeavour a Masters in Publishing. She seeks inspiration from many authors, particularly; J.D Salinger and Stephen King. Eloise has a deep respect for Children's Authors; Jacqueline Wilson and Morris Gleitzman, who taught her the love of reading. You can follow Eloise's writing journey here.

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