‘Five Feet Apart’ hits theaters this week. Here’s how a Pitt grad wrote the novel in just 14 days

The novel is based on a screenplay — and you can see the movie Wednesday.

"Five Feet Apart" author and Pitt alumna Rachael Lippincott

"Five Feet Apart" author and Pitt alumna Rachael Lippincott

courtesy of Rachael Lippincott / photo by Alyson Derrick
MJ Slaby

While writing Stella and Will’s love story in “Five Feet Apart,” author Rachael Lippincott pictured them in a hospital similar to UPMC in Oakland.

“It’s a little outside of [Downtown], but you can see the skyline in the distance,” she said of the hospital.

The film adaptation of “Five Feet Apart” premieres here Wednesday, and while the story doesn’t specify a setting, the book takes some inspiration from Pittsburgh, where Lippincott attended college and now lives.

Unlike most young adult novels that are adapted to film, this started as a screenplay, became a New York Times Best Seller by Lippincott after it was published in November, and is now hitting the silver screen. It tells the story of two teens who fall in love but have cystic fibrosis, so they can’t touch.

Lippincott, 24, of Lawrenceville completed the novel in less than a year.

After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in December 2017 with a degree in English Writing, she planned to work on a book of her own while also launching a food truck. Then in March 2018, Lippincott got a call from her mentor Siobhan Vivian, who teaches writing youth literature at Pitt and is a YA author herself.

Vivian’s publisher, Simon and Schuster, had reached out and asked if she could recommend an author to write the “Five Feet Apart” novel.

“It was a really beautiful story,” Lippincott said, adding that she read the screenplay and fell in love with the characters, as well as how the story aimed to raise awareness of cystic fibrosis.

She wrote the first chapter as a tryout and got the job around the same time that her food truck, Lone Wolf Grill, launched.

To meet her deadline, Lippincott would walk from her house in Lawrenceville to a coffee shop and spend the morning writing before working at the food truck at lunch and returning to writing. She also spent time at other coffee shops across the city, always ordering vanilla lattes.

Lippincott wrote the first draft in just 14 days last spring before four rounds of edits happened while the movie was under production.

She used the screenplay as an outline but said she was able to add her own creativity to the story as well. While the movie is from Stella’s perspective, the book tells the story from both Stella and Will’s points of view, she said. Plus, she was able to add details and emotions that weren’t written into the screenplay.

Lippincott researched daily life with cystic fibrosis to be as accurate as possible, including watching videos from Claire Wineland, a patient and advocate who also worked with the screenwriters and actors. There has, however, been a mixed response to the film’s trailer which came out before Lippincott’s novel, with Cystic Fibrosis News Today noting:

The movie might be trash and mislead people about our disease. But at least people would bring up our disease so we can tell them the truth: that this disease is monstrous and we’ve endured its pains silently and often without the in-person companionship of people who fully understand, like many other disease communities are afforded.

While Lippincott talked to the screenplay authors the entire time she was writing, she first saw the movie in February at a pre-screening in the Waterfront. It went just as she’d hoped.

“The entire theater was laughing at the one-liners,” she said, adding she could hear tissue packs ripping open at the sad points, too.

“It was really cool to see people see the story,” she said.