Friday 1 March 2013

Why Books Should Be More Like Movies

I anticipate people getting a little uptight about this but I promise it makes sense.

The last few novels I read have been rather annoying in that they had these pauses in the story to explain the entire background or why a particular character was doing something. It was distracting and often redundant. It also got me thinking about those teen movies with too much voice over so it felt like you were watching The Accessible Channel. There's so much explanation that you actually miss the plot. Books should be more like other movies - the movies that are big hits - there's a reason everyone watches them.

Yes, books and movies are a lot different and yes, usually the books are better; but there's something to be said for appealing to your audience's vision rathe than pure imagination. So much gets lost in translation when you assume that your reader knows what you're talking about.

Keeping in mind that these are just my opinion, these are a few things books can learn from movies.

· Concise. While you have 200+ pages to tell a story, they have 90 minutes to tell the story and keep the audience entertained. That means they need to shave off the tiny little tidbits in favor of telling the main plot. In general, your readers are looking for the same thing. The world has gotten a lot busier and your reader can never be bored. Give everything purpose - every scene, every sentence - and shave off all the extra fat.

· Show Don’t Tell. Ignoring the obvious, what I mean is: unless you’re in a drama class, lose the soliloquies. Don’t have these chunks of inner thought about why this is unusual for your character; show me that this is unusual for your character to be walking alone at night. Simply saying "I don't usually do this" over and over gets redundant and frankly, I stop believing you after awhile. Show that she's nervous but lifting her chin so she can neatly avoid eye contact and yet appear confident. Your readers are privy to the workings of human emotion.

· Pacing. You can complain about a movie’s pacing all you want but you cannot deny that it’s varied and that alone makes it interesting. Give weight to certain scenes – let them elongate – but not every scene or your audience will start skimming. Cut out scenes were you need to - because you never end up needing all of your scenes to get the point across - and play with others. Stretch them out and play with them so your reader gets lost in your words but never stop the plot. Basically, don't stop to smell the roses, pluck the rose and smell it while you're walking.

· Music. Every scene has background noise. In a movie it’s music or a score that sets the tone. There’s no music in books but there is a background noise - whether it's the clatter of dishes at a dinner or the scene that you're hearing violins when you're at a character's funeral. It’s your job as the writer to set the music in the reader’s head.

Because you all know my obsession with Castle, I’m using an example from the show to make my point. This is a scene from the Season 4 finale. Below is the same scene with and without music. You can feel the difference. Now it’s a matter of writing down that difference on a page.
Without Music --
With Music --

· Colour. A lot of times when watching a movie you can tell just by the colour of the scene – the light, the clothing, the buildings etc. – what is going to happen in a scene or whether or not you need a tissue. Ever colour has a mood association and can even have a metaphorical meaning. More than that, colours in real life can be tasted, smelt, and heard - no matter how improbable it may seem, you know you've smelt green before. Make these colours come alive.

· Ending. Whether it’s a standalone or it’s the second movie in a series of eight, every film has an ending; a sense of closure - we're ignoring a few select films that don't really follow that rule.. Never leave your reader asking anything but the questions you want them to ask. It's perfectly alright for your reader to finsh your story and go "oh my god, did that just happen" if that's what you want them to ask. Essentially, avoid plot holes on your journey through life.
Do you agree? How else should a book be like a movie?

1 comment:

  1. I agree. Most people probably prefer the books because they can get more in depth understanding of the characters, or extra little scenes that the movies always cut because they only have so much time to tell the story.

    This is clear in books like Harry Potter, Stephen King's -Misery, The Davinci Code and even The Chronicles of Narnia series, while were a great read, many fantastic and memorable scenes were cut from the movies. It is the sign of a true writer when one can get lost in their words and create an entire new world of sights and sounds; it can be the greatest escape.

    However, there are books that suffer from the things you have mentioned. As much as I loved The Lord of the Rings series, by JR Tolken, I could have done without the pages and pages of back history, ancient ancestors and relative family trees. The movie in this case, for me anyway, was better.

    The same goes for The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo series, the books were very good, but stilted in parts, so that the movies (the original Swedish films) flowed much better and I found I was far more invested in Lisbeth watching her on screen, than when I was reading the books.

    Two other ways for a book to be like a movie could be...One to have great, realistic dialogue . I have read many books where the dialogue was too stunted, because the Author was more concerned about proper grammar or diction. While both are important, you have to remember that you aren't writing a university essay that will be graded, you are writing as a character actually speaking.

    And two...Books that introduce a main character ever other chapter is, to me at least, annoying. It gives you almost no time to invest in a character, because just as you start to get to know them, you turn the page have the biography of someone totally new, who, sometime after three or more chapters, end up together with the other characters. It can be hard to follow, where at least with most movies, the characters are identified almost immediately and you can follow through the movie with them.