In April 2023, a contemporary romance brought together two teenagers who are desperate for an escape: an aspiring screenwriter living in New York City dreams of escaping back to small-town Ohio, and a Hollywood teen heartthrob who becomes an overnight celebrity wants to escape the limelight. When the two teens collide one fateful autumn night, a twenty-four-hour descent into chaos follows in this debut novel. Creating such a heartfelt and romantic, yet absurd, story must’ve been a ride. And it’s exciting to have Sarah Ainslee, author of That Wasn’t in the Script, lay it all down—from watching an old movie to writing their first novel. This blog post may contain affiliate links. To know more about them, please read my disclaimer.

Credit: Sarah Ainslee

A heartfelt descent into chaos: Sarah Ainslee, author of That Wasn’t in the Script, on writing a romance that unravels in twenty-four hours and brings together an unlikely pair.

“Hey Sarah, what was it like writing a retelling of one of the greatest romantic comedies of all time?!”

I wish I could say it was as easy as watching Roman Holiday once and having the story magically figured out, but truth be told? The road to writing That Wasn’t in the Script was itself, rather unscripted.

You may be wondering then how one goes from watching an old movie in their bedroom to writing their debut novel. Allow me to walk you through the journey that turned a flippant thought into a story that reminds readers (and some days, me) what it means to chase a new dream.

Step One: Write a novel. And have it go nowhere.

That Wasn’t in the Script didn’t start as a Roman Holiday retelling. While the original draft for the story had many of the same elements—dual POV, pop culture references, a famous celebrity falling for a street level female protagonist—the story itself was wildly different. It involved a fake feud, a knockoff Blockbuster chain, and several weird Reddit threads with lame jokes between the chapters that had no reason for being there. (I wrote it at the start of the pandemic while stuck inside and drinking a lot of wine. I apologize for nothing.)

I learned a lot through the brutal process of querying that book. Mostly how it wasn’t ready to be published. By early 2021, it was shelved. I hid my disappointment, but internally I was devastated. Working in journalism for half a decade prior, I’d become familiar with the highs and lows of writing, but this was my first time being vulnerable enough with my creative voice to try to put it out into the world. With every rejection email that flooded my inbox (approximately nine gazillion), I began to wonder if my story would ever see the light of day. Worse, if I was cut out to be published at all.

Step Two: Get an idea for a better novel!

Right around the time I was wallowing in self-pity about my manuscript and the two others I’d written going nowhere, a friend convinced me to watch Roman Holiday for the first time. You wouldn’t think those two events would go hand-in-hand, but life has a funny way of surprising you. Especially when you’re drowning your sorrows in gushy old movies while stuffing your face with candy.

Halfway through the movie when Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn are recklessly speeding through the streets of Rome on a Vespa, I had an observation that would, inevitably, change everything: “This would make for a killer YA adaptation.

The lightbulb went off in my brain. Like, all the lightbulbs. For a brief moment, my head was the lighting department at Home Depot. I already had all the tools I needed to tell this story in the manuscript that never went anywhere. They just needed to be restructured. Entirely.

That Wasn’t in the Script by Sarah Ainslee

Josie Bradford feels stuck.

After being moved against her will to New York City and losing her father in the span of a year, the aspiring screenwriter dreams of escaping back to small-town Ohio where she can attend college and go back to some version of normal-if only she could afford it. 

Enter Hollywood teen heartthrob Rowan Adler, an overnight celebrity thanks to the viral streaming sensation in which he stars. Ever-reckless Rowan is bored, sheltered, and desperate to escape the limelight.

The lives of the two teenagers collide one fateful autumn night when Josie finds an escaped Rowan asleep in the middle of the greasy burger shack where she works, leading her to wonder: How much would this exclusive sell for? 

Buy now: Amazon US | Bookshop US

Step Three: Go to New York!

My original story was set against the backdrop of New York City. It didn’t play a major role in the book other than merely housing the characters. Because Rome was such a central part of the movie, I knew NYC needed to take on a bigger role in my story as well. So, I did what all normal wannabe authors do. I went on a three-day whirlwind trip around the city, barely slept, lived off coffee, and took pictures/voice notes of every person, place, and thing I saw.

It might be considered overkill looking back, but I’ve never been one to do anything halfway. I was determined to get the story right this time. I spent the entirety of my flight home mapping out the story, beat for beat.

Step Four: Plot and write the new novel!

Retell, not remake became my mantra throughout the writing process. I wanted my version to be close enough to the source material that you see the similarities between certain movie moments, but I also wanted it to be unique enough that my book stood on its own—especially the ending. (No spoilers!)

I knew I wanted to gender-bend the characters (Joe became Josie, Ann became Rowan) but I also wanted to flesh them out more than the film had a chance to. In the movie, we get to see why Ann feels stifled as a public figure, but we never learn much about Joe outside of him wanting money to return to America. It was fun to give my characters some nuance when it came to their reckless behavior! Because the story is YA, I also got to explore some of the complicated feelings that go along with not understanding what your future holds. As tattered as they may be by the end of their day together, Josie and Rowan also come out fuller versions of themselves, just like Joe and Ann.

Step Five: Publish the novel! (Super easy. Right?)

…wrong. It took another year, a few more tweaks, and about half a gazillion more rejections for my story to finally land with my publisher. I couldn’t be happier to have my book find a home with a team of people who believe in it so deeply. It was worth waiting for the right yes.

Recently, I found the original version of what would become TWITS. It wasn’t as great as I remembered (it actually sucked), but it was a small miracle how much of it fit into the final book. Even as I was rewriting the story and pulling things from the manuscript, it never occurred to me how fortuitous the whole thing was. (The entire beach scene near the end of the book, minus a few changes to the dialogue, was copied/pasted entirely.)

In my novel, both Josie and Rowan are coming to terms with letting go of the life they expected in order to chase the life they want. The similarities aren’t lost on me. For as heartbroken as I was that first book never became a reality, I can’t imagine a world where it didn’t morph into That Wasn’t in the Script.

I’m so proud of what it became, and grateful for all the wrong directions it took in order for me to get it there. Sometimes, the greatest thing that can happen is allowing your story to go off script.

Sarah Ainslee

Sarah Ainslee has worn several hats. Nanny, barista, social media manager, and occasional band wrangler (don’t ask.) Through it all, ‘writer’ is the only title that has ever stuck. Telling stories is what she always comes back to. She’s a YA contemporary author with a penchant for awkward encounters and whimsical adventures—a dash of romance never hurts either. She writes stories for the teenager inside all of us who still dosen’t know what they want to be when they grow up. Sarah currently resides in Nashville, Tennessee. You can find her at and on Twitter @sarahisawriter or Instagram @sarahisawriter


Everything stated in this post is independent of any compensation, and the guest writer’s comments and thoughts are solely their opinion; the formatting was done by the blogger but no changes were made in text.

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