Ella Enchanted the Movie

After my last post, K. A. Dawn asked how I feel about Ella Enchanted the movie. I won’t go into a lot of detail because this is a blog about writing, but I have a few writing thoughts connected to the subject.

I like the movie. I regard it as a different entity from the book, which is the way I can appreciate it. They are separate with a thin thread connecting them. And in my opinion Anne Hathaway is the perfect Ella. I’ve met her (Anne Hathaway, not Ella) a few times. When I visit schools, I tell the kids that if they touch me they will have touched someone who was hugged my Anne Hathaway.

There is one particular thing I love about the movie. When Ella is given a command, she reacts physically first. The producer or director decided that her body would receive the command, and her mind would catch up a moment later. I wish I’d thought of that. A mime was brought in to help Anne Hathaway get it.

I’m often also asked how much influence I had on the movie. I had something called “consulting rights,” which means that the producers had to show me the scripts (plural because there were many revisions and a succession of screenwriters). I had the opportunity to comment in an advisory way. No one listened when I protested an evil uncle and a talking snake, but they did make the dialogue changes that I suggested, and they took out moments when Ella was disobedient. However, in making the movie, instances of disobedience crept back in. You can see them if you pay close attention. They’re the only parts that I don’t like.

Just before it opened, Miramax toured me across the country to promote the movie. My husband and I got to go to Ireland to watch three days of shooting, which was fascinating. And I walked on the red carpet. If you watch the Extras segment and don’t blink, you’ll see me.

But the best part is that, to this day, the movie has been great for the book and has brought a lot of readers my way. So, if any of you who are reading this are producers or know a producer or plan to become a producer, I have many more books.

Here’s the connection to writing: As those of you who’ve read the book and seen the movie know, the plots are very different. In the book, Ella’s crisis over her obedience occurs when Char proposes. In the movie it comes at the wedding. I could have done it that way too. Or I could have waited until someone – Hattie or Dame Olga or an enemy of Kyrria – actually tried to use Ella’s obedience against Char. Maybe that approach would have been more logical. Or it might have slowed the pace.

Ella Enchanted and Dave at Night were the two books I learned how to write novels on (although, of course, I’m still learning). After writing 200 pages of Ella, I had to admit that only the first twenty worked. I threw out 180 pages and kept going and finished the book I hope you know. In the pages I tossed out was a whole political system for Kyrria, including oppression of the gnomes, elves, and giants. I came to realize that the politics weighted the story down, and I abandoned that entire thread. The screenwriter, who never saw my earlier draft, put in the ideas I had abandoned. Amazing.

These two examples prove that an idea (in this case obedience) is minimally important, and the expression of the idea is everything. It’s why an idea can’t be copyrighted.

Several times, after I’ve shown a newly completed book to a friend, the friend has said – innocently, not as criticism – How come you didn’t do such-and-such? The such-and-such is always a fundamentally different approach to my story. My head spins. I never thought of such-and-such, which is obvious and great, but I don’t rewrite my book, which came out of my imagination and my need to say a particular thing in a particular way.

For example, in my novel, The Wish, a witch makes Wilma, the main character, the most popular kid in her middle school. The book follows the consequences of Wilma’s sudden popularity. The story centers on that one wish. But what if the witch were to grant other wishes to other students as well as to Wilma? These wishes may or may not compete with Wilma’s wish. The result would be a completely different story.

Here’s a prompt: Think about stories and books you’ve written or abandoned. Consider how you might have gone in another direction entirely. Can you get a new story out of this other direction or bring new life into a story you couldn’t finish? Have fun, and save what you write!