What Writing an Original Princess Screenplay Taught Me

Some time ago, I promised that I would turn my story The Stolen Jewel into an original full-length screenplay under the UCLA Professional Program for Screenwriting. I am pleased to announce that I successfully completed my polished first draft a few weeks ago. The Stolen Jewel is not the first princess story I have ever written, but it is one of the few that was not adapted from a pre-existing fairy tale. Through the program, I received incredibly valuable feedback that carried my writing to a level that I didn't even realize was possible. I also learned a lot about how people respond to modern princess stories and how that attitude has changed over the years. I am so happy with how The Stolen Jewel has turned out, and I would like to share some of my experience working on it with you.

My intention with The Stolen Jewel was to reverse the tired old "Cinderella" formula of "rags to riches" by telling the story of a princess who starts out having everything she could possibly want and losing her crown and title due to the rash actions she takes to try to protect her kingdom. Princess Charlotte is clever, hard-working and dedicated to her people. After the death of her parents in the Magic War, she became more determined than ever to become the perfect queen when she comes of age to take over for the acting regent, her crippled aunt, Denise. Little does she know that Denise plans for her to marry Prince Braydon to form an alliance with her kingdom's worst enemy before passing on the crown. Charlotte feels backed into a corner and takes some questionable measures to break up the alliance that backfire in the worst way possible as her world comes crashing down around her.

The most popular "Cinderella" adaptations were made in the '50s when it was common for people to struggle as children and teens before finding overwhelming success later in life. I hate to throw around the term "millennial," but people born in the '80s and '90s grew up with amazing animated princess heroines and successful parents who told us we could do anything if we put our mind to it. Most people from my generation grew up feeling like princesses or princes living in a magical world of wishes and dreams. Many reached adulthood to learn that it was a lot harder to find success than it was for our parents and lost that feeling of magic and wonder. That's why I think a story about a princess who loses it all and has to deal with the harshness of reality would be easier for today's generation to relate to than one who starts with nothing and ends up with everything. However, The Stolen Jewel isn't meant to be a downer. After losing everything she hold dear, Charlotte spends the rest of the script fighting to restore magic to the world, which represents the hope that we all have deep down that one day things will get better.

What surprised me the most about presenting this story to my class is that today's audience has become hardened against the concept of fictionalized romance. Princes are certainly a dying breed when it comes to the film industry, but they are still quite prevalent in fairy tale-themed books. Much of the feedback I received was adamantly opposed to any scene I wrote that progressed the budding relationship between Princess Charlotte and Prince Braydon. Fairy tales have a tendency to develop relationships at unrealistically accelerated rate, but no one had much of a problem with that until the past decade or so when Disney feebly attempted to push back against this trope with Frozen. It's difficult these days to tell a story about a strong woman in power needing help from a man because it perpetuates the Damsel in Distress stigma that Hollywood is fighting against like a plague right now. I refuse to have a character who is so invulnerable that she never needs support and refuses to believe in love. We all have our strengths and weaknesses and need to be able to lean on each other during difficult times.

Something else learned when working on this screenplay is that ladies-in-waiting make the best princess sidekicks. Prior to this, I had written a book about a lady-in-waiting, so I was all too happy to give a few to my heroine. Lily, Charlotte's bubbly but sometimes oblivious best friend, added a light-hearted innocence that the story could not have had if it only focused on Charlotte's downfall. Lily also had a love interest in Charlotte's cousin Henry because sidekicks are allowed to fall in love too. Charlotte's other cousin, Krystal, is a jealous lady-in-waiting who causes all sorts of trouble for her. It is definitely beneficial to have human companions in the story instead of animal sidekicks because humans provide a dynamic insight to palace life that animals cannot. The decision to make Krystal the daughter of the regent queen was one that I came up with after a suggestion from my teacher, and I think it helped a lot with the jealousy factor and why it took Charlotte so long to realize she couldn't trust her.

Would you like to see me convert The Stolen Jewel into a novella to add to my roster of books? Let me know in the comments. I will definitely consider it if I get enough interest. I converted my novella Rebirth: A Faery's Tale into a screenplay a few years ago, but this would be my first time doing that in reverse. The feedback I got from the program at UCLA was invaluable in helping me to create the perfect princess movie for my generation. I learned a lot about how differently people perceive female characters and romance today than they did when I was growing up. It also made me long for more originality from the princess content that is being produced in Hollywood today. Charlotte is a princess that could not have existed when I was growing up because the generation that inspired her is so different from the ones that inspired my favorite princess stories from my childhood.


Green Glow said…
Your princess story sounds very interesting. I have been working on a princess story, myself, for quite some time and I am getting close to finishing it. Would you be prepared to look at my draft and give me dome feedback on it? My princess is something of rebel and pays dearly for it. At one point she loses everything and sinks to one of the lowest stations in life. I'd love it, too, to become a screenplay, but I doubt it's a good enough story. I need some objective advice about what works and what doesn't. I'd appreciate your comments.
Lisa Dawn said…
Hi Green Glow,

I'd be happy to take a look at it as long as it isn't too long. Feel free to click on my name to email it to me. :)

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