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Ned Vizzini – Author Interview – Novels vs Scriptwriting (House of Secrets Blog Tour)

HoS cover

Hi Ned, thank you for agreeing to talk to me as part of the blog tour for House of Secrets.

I was very excited to hear that you also write on the TV series Teen Wolf so wanted to ask about the differences between scriptwriting and novel writing as well as the benefits/challenges of co-writing.  Here goes…

I’m probably going to ask you to pick between your babies now, but which do you prefer, writing scripts or writing books? 

Yeah, you’re not going to get me to pick between those two. Books are wonderful but they take a long time. A script for a TV drama is written in a week!

I guess writing on a TV series you are used to co-writing with others – do you think this helped or is each writing partnership different?

It definitely helped me in writing House of Secrets to have written with my TV partner, Nick Antosca, on Teen Wolf and Last Result. I’m actually doubly stepped in co-writing, because I have a writing partner in TV and then when you actually write for TV, you do it in a room with lots of other writers. So I’ve been learning since 2008 how to subsume my ego into the greater requirements of the work.

Chris Columbus had written screenplays before (including two of my all time favourites – Gremlins and The Goonies) but not novels. What do you think was the biggest thing that he had to learn?

Chris had to learn how to be a prose writer! He got good very quickly. He can now do in prose the kind of quips he was always known for in his movie dialogue.

I think (correct me if I’m wrong) that you did things the other way around, novels and then screenplays? So same question what was the biggest thing you had to learn?

The biggest thing I had to learn to write for TV & film was to put emotion over language. In a book, a good turn of phrase can be enough for a reader. But in TV & film, your viewer has signed up for a precise emotional roller coaster. The emotions of each scene are more important than the words used.

I read the novel over two days and it would have been hard to read it slower as it is very fast paced. It also reads very visually. Was it always the intention to film the books? If so do you think that affected how you wrote it? 

House of Secrets wasn’t written with the intention to be filmed, but it was written to be read the way you read it! Thank you!

I also felt that a couple of the scenes were quite gruesome – do you think it is easier to include these in a book than in a screenplay? 

All of the books I loved as a kid had gruesome scenes. Cluny the Scourge, the villain in Brian Jacques’ Redwall, was gruesome:




 [fan art by LittleFoxStudio]

The predicaments that Johnny and the Professor got into in John Bellairs’ books were gruesome.
kill robot






It’s certainly easier to include gruesome scenes in a book than in a screenplay—it’s easier to do any kind of scene in a book than a screenplay, where you always need to think about produce-ability.

All of the early press releases I’ve seen suggested the family would be called Pagett but in the version I read they are the Walkers. Is this just a UK thing or how did this change happen?

We were worried that people would pronounce “Pagett,” which is actually pronounced “PAA-jet,” so that it would rhyme with a certain homophobic slur. So we changed it to Walker late in the game.

What scene are you most looking forward to seeing on film? Mine would be those with Fat Jagger.

I would love to see the pirate Captain Sangray on film!

I enjoyed the fact that books played such an integral part in the story and the fact that despite her dyslexia Eleanor perseveres with her reading and writing which benefits the family in the story. The three children have different relationships with books too. What books that you’ve read would you like to write the screenplay for?

I would love to work on a screenplay for Redwall, or any of John Bellairs’ books!

What can we expect from the next two books in the trilogy?

You can expect some interesting questions about loyalty, wealth, and worldly temptation. It’s not only The Book of Doom and Desire that can lead a person astray.

What compelled you to tell this story?

I always wanted to write something that could have its own action figure.

Finally a question I always like to ask writers (my PhD will be looking at this) – Why do you write?

I write to beat death.


Ned Vizzini is the bestselling author of the acclaimed young-adult books The Other Normals, It’s Kind of a Funny Story (also a major motion picture), Be More Chill, and Teen Angst? Naaah…. In television, he has written for ABC’s Last Resort and MTV’s Teen Wolf. His essays and criticism have appeared in the New York Times, the Daily Beast, and Salon. He is the co-author, with Chris Columbus, of the fantasy-adventure series House of Secrets. His work has been translated into ten languages. He lives in Los Angeles.

A huge thank you to Ned for taking the time to answer all of my questions – I’ve got a couple of gruesome books to follow up and the answer to the change of family name question wasn’t what I thought it would be at all – great reasoning though.

I write to beat death – what a powerful response but I know exactly what you mean.

If you want to follow Ned’s blog tour I added the links to my previous blog post here.

House of Secrets is released on 25th April and J.K. Rowling calls it ‘A break neck, jam packed, rollercoaster of an adventure about the secret power of books.’ I concur – my full review of House of Secrets will follow shortly.

MWIPCD – Writers Beware this terrifying affliction!

MWIPCD – Writers Beware this terrifying affliction!

As I posted on Twitter I think I have multiple writer identity personality confusion disorder after this weekend. Novels, poems, short stories, screenplays or all of the above? And what about abstracts, journal articles, powerpoint and poster presentations, essays, PhD theses?

I had an amazing weekend at the inaugural Southern Script Writing Festival at Bournemouth University. As a staff member and graduate of BU (PG Cert Health and Social Care Education) I was able to claim the early bird student rate of £15 a day. This included all of the conference sessions, a buffet lunch and drinks in the break. What the weekend more importantly gave me was a massive confidence boost but also a case of MWIPCD.

On the Saturday they held an informal pitching session where you had 2 1/2 minutes to pitch an idea in front of an audience of delegates. I decided, against my better judgement and shaking hands, to pitch my NaNoWriMo Novel Idea. I didn’t get any boos (yay) and got some claps so I was pretty happy, though my hands were still shaking and my jaw was very uncomfortable for about four hours after (from the nervous tension I suppose).

So when on Sunday they actually had spaces left to pitch to some of the conference presenters I initially said no way, but it played on my mind throughout the first presentation (Be brave and go for it, what have you got to lose, dumbass) and I went back and there were still spaces. I booked myself into the last one of the day so I had time to mentally rehearse and try and remember some of the plot of a novel idea I’d started a few years back. I left the last session early to prepare and stood outside the door feeling an anxious wreck, having to resort to using positive self talk to calm myself “You are an intelligent, articulate woman and your ideas are as good as other people’s”.

The time came to enter. I had my notebook with me full of scribbles that I probably wouldn’t be able to read (and we were told in an earlier session not to read, but to try and recall it more naturally). I wasn’t sure whether to shake hands, I didn’t in the end. In the room was three people, not just the two I was expecting. I mentioned this obvious fact (!) and asked who everyone was; I like to know who I am speaking too (and this gave me time to calm down). The panel consisted of Tim Clague, Mike Garley and Dan Pringle. I was asked if I wanted to stand or sit (ummm sit please, if I stand I will most definitely faint!). Dan asked me not to read from the book and I said this was fine (they so got that it was a comfort blanket).

So I pitched my idea and then came the feedback. Tim put his head in his hands saying he needed to think about it before launching into feedback. The others tried to reassure me this was normal (I wasn’t too concerned, blocking out sensory stimulation like light can help me concentrate too!). I have to say they were very nice, I got some great constructive criticism about what I shouldn’t have said and what I could have said and they started arguing over a couple of aspects and coming up with visuals, which they told me was good. A couple of comments Tim made I’m sure were overgenerous but I’d really like to thank him for them as it was a massive confidence boost at a time when I was having huge writing doubts. Hearing things like, if you pulled this off you could have one of the greatest modern screen villains and in response to my suggestion that I just need to find time to write this alongside the day job and PhD he quipped leave them, write this. I wish…

So why have I got MWIPCD? Most of my experience with creative writing so far has been with writing fiction and poetry, although I did write a couple of scripts on my OU courses. I am halfway through a novel and have started two others but this weekend got me so excited about script writing that I now don’t know what to focus on (I like all of them). Then there’s the day job…if only there were more hours in the day and I had more energy to make the best of using them.

But despite the MWIPCD this weekend I got to feel like a writer and that was fantastic.

I will be writing more about the festival and some of the hints and tips I learnt next week.

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