Safe Haven: An Interview with Nicholas Sparks

ROLEMOMMY sat down with one of our favorite authors of all time, Nicholas Sparks on the set of SAFE HAVEN his novel turned major motion picture which hits theaters February 14, 2013.
IMG_8368.JPGRM: How would you define a Nicholas Sparks character?
Nicholas Sparks: A Nicholas Sparks character, for the most part, whether male or female if they’re your main leads, unless they’re a specifically bad character.
Like Kevin Tierney (played by David Lyons) in Safe Haven, what you would want is someone that you would feel like they could be your brother, your sister, your kids, your neighbor, your friend from college, your friend from high school, someone that you know and like, someone you work with, right? Because the simple fact is that nobody walks around being perfect. And so, you don’t want to create a character that’s absolutely perfect.
They have to have flaws. And yet, for the most part, most of my characters are created with my own worldview I guess.
And my own worldview goes something like this. I think that 80 percent of the people 80 percent of the time try to do the right thing.
They try to do what’s best for their kids. They try to support their friends or their family. Nobody’s perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. But, I tend to see the glass half-full when it comes to humanity.
A Nicholas Sparks character would be, the glass half-full type of character.
Yes, they have flaws. Alex (played by Josh Duhamel), he gets frustrated. He’s lonesome. He has problems, right? He’s got his own baggage.
Rolemommy: He seems pretty perfect.
Nicholas Sparks: Well, he’s a nice guy at heart. He tries to be the best dad that he can and run his business. And you know, you’ve got the guilt of bringing someone new into your kids’ life. And what if they’re not the right person, you know? Some people never think of that. But, I think eight out of 10 people do.
Rolemommy: How are you going to portray her ex, because you did such an excellent job in the book of making the reader grasp that he was crazy. And you felt a little bad for him, not that it’s excusable. But, how do you portray that for film?
Nicholas Sparks: You know, as soon as you move from novel to film, you have to start making decisions. You know, Kevin was a very introspective character.
To be quite frank, some of that is impossible to bring out – Without a lot of time. So, you kind of pick. Instead of this almost an OCD paranoia, you make it a little more just a little crazy.
And then you throw some booze in it, and it ignites.–There’s always differences with the transition from novel to film. So, again we had to pick. We couldn’t do all of that for Kevin. So, what was the most important characteristics about Kevin? He scares her, right? He’s dangerous. He’s a very good cop and she knows that if he ever finds her, she’s in big trouble. He’s got a drinking problem, etc. So, you pick the big things and you make them work.
Rolemommy: There is a BIG twist in the book and we wonder how you bring that to the big screen. We thought, “Oh, you can’t leave that out of the movie because that’s–.”
Nicholas Sparks: It’s very tricky. It’s tricky to do it in film, and it’s tricky to do it in a book. And we’re–yeah, it’s in there. But, how–it’ll probably be a little bit different than it was in the book, be how they do the reveal or the exact nature of the relationship.
But, simply, again, for time reasons, you know, they — In a book, I had 30, 40 pages to devote to that relationship. In a film, you’d probably have eight to 10. Some things get condensed.
Rolemommy: Are there certain things that you were disappointed that had to be left out or tweaked?
Nicholas Sparks: It is a different kind of thinking. You have to be able to capture things. You know, a novel is a story told with words. A film is a story told with pictures. I’ve written both screenplays and novels and it’s a different thinking. I find novel writing much harder.
Rolemommy: Are you thinking about how your book will look on film when you are writing your books?
Nicholas Sparks: No. I think about films in the conception of the story. Before a single word is written because what you’re looking for is three things. You’re looking for things to be interesting, original, and universal. That goes to the theme of the story, the journeys of the character, but also the specific elements in the book.
For example, one of the questions I always have to answer is, “What’s an interesting, original, universal way for the characters to meet and come together.”
It is really easy to do two of those three. Original and interesting, and you get Hannibal Lector. But, he’s not universal. You don’t feel as if you can know him. So, in The Notebook, the character climbs up on the Ferris wheel, and he dangles, right? But, it seems realistic. You can see him doing that. But, you’ve never seen it before. You’d never read it before. You’d seen John dive off the pier to save her purse. You’ve never seen it before. But, it seems like it could happen. Someone finds a message in a bottle.
So, the conception of a story and the elements within the story — I do have to think about that because it needs to meet those three criteria for both novel and film.
But, then once I have those things sorted out, I sit down to write only about the book.
–‘Cause there’s no guarantee that’s going to be a film.
Rolemommy: Can you give us an example of something romantic that you have done?
Nicholas Sparks: Ha sure. Every year for our anniversary, I write my wife a love letter and it takes me four days or so to get all the words perfect. I type it up first. And then after I have it all typed, I handwrite it. So, everything is perfect. And it recaps the years, the ups and downs. And through it all, she’s just the one for me. Some women find that romantic. And they’re really well-written letters, by the way. I worked really hard on them.
Rolemommy: You appeal to people like my aunt who’s 87 and my niece who’s 16. So, what do you do to get inside the mind of an abused woman to write this character? It is shocking and very impressive. What is your process when you outline your characters?
Nicholas Sparks: It is always a challenge because by the age of the characters is the first thing I make a decision about in any novel. It’s always the first thing.
RM: What age group are the main characters that fall in love?
Nicholas Sparks: I try to vary it from book to book because most people like to read about people they relate to, right? I look back on my past. I said, “Well, I had The Last Song, and that’s teenagers. I had Dear John. They’re in their 20s.”
Nicholas Sparks: So I said I’ll do 20s for Safe Haven or whatever. But, then I said, “Oh, my gosh, where’s my middle-aged people?” So, here comes The Best of Me characters in their 40s and 50s. And so, then what you do is say, “Ah, but everyone wants to enjoy these.” So, in my teenage story, I also make it a father-daughter story. And in my 40- and 50-year-old story, they had a love story as teenagers. So, believe me, all of that is done purposefully to keep everybody happy.
Rolemommy: I found this book a little darker than your other novels. Especially the character of Kevin, so was that a conscious shift to go more violent suspenseful?
Nicholas Sparks: What you do when you’re among the many decisions you make in the creation of one of my novels is we all know it’s a love story, right? We all know that. It’s love and something. Love and something. You can have love and mystery, love and forgiveness, love and loss, first love, right? You can have all these things.
This was love and danger. I chose love and danger because it’d been a long time since I’d done one. I did that with The Guardian.
The Guardian was a stalker-type danger. A woman goes out on a date one time with a guy, and he will not go away. The guy is psychotic and nuts. That was a stranger danger.
I look back, say, “Okay. Now, I can do it. It’s been a long time. It was never a movie. No one’s familiar with it. No one will even remember about The Guardian. It’ll feel similar but, I will make it different.”
For Safe Haven, it could’ve been a female danger. It could’ve been a guy. But, I’m like, you know, “That fatal attraction was is still such an iconic film you know.”
Rolemommy: What research did you do to develop the story and the character?
Nicholas Sparks: Research is an interesting thing. For the most part, you know the basic. When it comes to how to be an abused woman, maybe that’s just a knack I have, but I think it’s partly because, from the very beginning of my career, I’ve jumped into different characters.
At the very first novel I wrote, I was 28 years old, this 80-year-old guy with all–you know, his wife has Alzheimer’s. You know, I’ve never been 80. (the successful novel and movie “The Notebook”) Next book was Message in a Bottle. And even though Kevin Costner kind of may dominate your memory, if you read the novel, it was about woman. That was a book about a woman. And she was divorced, so I made that jump. If you say, “Okay. Now, what if it was like if she has been beaten?”
We all know what it is, right? There’s just different varieties and this and that. So, you try to make it–how would a normal person in this situation–not crazy, not weak ’cause I didn’t really want to create a weak female.
And the question you really have to ask is — ’cause it’s what my wife would do when she’d watch this situation play out on talk shows — “Why didn’t you leave?”
Why didn’t you leave? He’s whacking you over the head with a frying pan. Why don’t you go? So, you had to say “why” and answer that question.
So you think, “Oh, okay. Maybe she did couple of times. Maybe he found her both times.” So, why would he be able to do that? Because he’s a police officer. She went to the police. They’re covering it up. She’s got no family. She has nowhere to go. He keeps track of the money. He does all this. Okay. Now, you know why she can’t leave–and you know what? She still does anyway. She does it. That’s part of the success is because she’s smart.
For your chance to see Nicholas Spark’s characters brought to the big screen don’t miss SAFE HAVEN in Theaters February 14, 2013. In the meantime, click here to see Nicholas Sparks introduce you to his amazing, complex characters.