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September 13, 2012

Blog: with Linda Steinberg on The Book Was Better OR Why Read the Book When You Can See the Movie?


          Have you ever read an exciting book, looked forward anxiously to the movie version, and then walked out of the theater, slightly disappointed, mumbling, “The book was better”?
          Or have you watched a great movie, then rushed home to buy the book?
          Why? Why would you want to spend days or weeks reading a book when you can digest the same plot in a two-hour cinematic version?
          For many, the answer is, “I wouldn’t.” Movies and videos have become a staple of modern entertainment. They grab your attention quickly, hurl you into the action, and (hopefully) hold you transfixed for a short period. The value of developing a story as if it were a movie is now being promoted to novel writers. At almost every writer’s conference, a workshop is offered on screenwriting techniques.
          But not every novel is a good candidate for a movie, nor does every movie have the makings for a good book.
What elements of fiction does a movie do well?
          Action and suspense. Although a skilled novelist can use words to make her readers feel the tension as a character stands poised at the edge of a cliff, and horror as he tumbles over it, a movie can evoke the same emotional impact in seconds, and often more vividly. There are times indeed when a picture is worth a thousand words.
          Setting. Again, it might take several richly worded paragraphs to set the mood in describing the Scottish moors, but a movie implants it effortlessly into the viewer’s consciousness, without taking away even a second of focus from the action or dialogue.
          Dialogue. No need, in screenwriting, to worry over whether to insert dialogue tags, when we can see and hear who is speaking. Nor body language cues such as “He folded his arms over his barreled chest.” As with setting, these are noted by the viewer without taking focus off the dialogue, so the conversation seems rapid-fire and tight.
          So why read a book? What advantages does a novel offer to rival, or even surpass, the allure of movies?
          Words. Even though a movie can show us the Scottish moor instantly, a novelist can evoke a mood slowly, gently, even poetically. Words, to me, hold a charm in themselves. Alliteration. Varying sentence structure. Paragraphs that tease in the first sentence and lead up to a climactic end.
          Thoughts. A movie can show you a character’s back story by quick cutaway flashbacks, but it can’t dwell on the thoughts a scene arouses in him without losing track of the action. It can’t show the evolution of those thoughts. And it doesn’t allow the viewer time to stop, contemplate, and analyze the process of the character’s growth. Slam, Bam, The End.
          Emotions. Movies are great at showing fist-slamming anger. Some actors can adeptly show subtle nuances in facial expression that clue us in to angst or awkwardness. But only in novels can we experience the visceral emotions conveyed through a character’s deep point of view.
          I believe plot and action oriented stories adapt best to the big screen. Character driven stories are best told in books.

What novels do you think have translated well into movies? Which have not? Consider Gone with the Wind, Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice. The Harry Potter Books. Stephen King stories. What are your favorite movie adaptations? Which ones did you feel fell horribly flat?
          And if you like to experience BOTH the book and the movie, do you prefer to watch the movie only after you’ve read the book? Or does the movie inspire you to read the book? Why?

Linda Steinberg is a fabulous writer and a fabulous Plotting Princess.



Denise Moncrief said...

After watching Hunger Games, I was anxious to read the book. I was so disappointed I couldn't get past chapter one.

I love both the movie and the book Gone With the Wind, but I found the movie left out things because of its length that were in the book. I find the book to be a richer experience and I've read it several times and seen the movie repeatedly.

Girl, Interrupted...both the book and the movie were exceptional.

Okay, just three for me. I could go on, but I won't.

Liese said...

I heard somewhere that the script for the book "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" was basically written by taking all the dialogue from the book and putting it into screenplay form.

If that is true, it shows how strong dialogue can be in telling the story.


Elizabeth Essex said...

I like both movies and books, and love to read before and after some movies.

Sometimes I loved the movie so much, I read the book to dive deeper into the visual world that began with the movie, and sometimes, if the movie was bad, I read the book to jump back into the world I created in my imagination so I can excise the visuals from the bad movie.

Thanks for a fun post!

Meredith said...

I agree with Elizabeth: sometimes I like the movie, or the book, and sometimes the book inspires me to see the movie or vice versa.

I think Harry Potter and Hunger Games are both excellent books that translated well into movies.

However, with both "The Other Boleyn Girl" and "The Time Traveler's Wife," I was horrified at the movie versions. With TOBG I just didn't understand why they changed so much of the book; and with TTTW it was a tricky book and probably shouldn't have been made into a movie.

My husband and I watch "Game of Thrones," and it is inspiring me to read the books. I'm glad I'm reading them - although I already know most of the plot from the show, I'm getting a richer, deeper appreciation for the characters by reading the book.

Marian Lanouette said...

I always read the book. Very rarely go to the movies. The books give me more details and descriptions and pull me deep into a story.

Pamela Stone said...

I enjoy both. Agree with Linda that for action type stories, the movie works best for me.

But I typically prefer character/emotion driven stories. For most of those, books do work best. However there are a few actors who are exceptional at pulling them off. I'm dating myself here, but I remember reading an article on Redford that said he was a master. It described his face as a blank slate just waiting to be written on.

Phyllis said...

I admit I am more of a movie fan.

I hardly ever read the book first and go to the movie second. I prefer to see the movie, then read the book.

I do this because when I read a book, I have pictured all the characters and scenes in my head to what I think they are. When I go to a movie following the book, I am usually disappointed with the movie.

In contrast, after seeing the movie first,the book experience is enhanced as the book delves into more detail. I am rarely disappointed this way.

Anonymous said...

I believe the movie series Lonesome Dove was very close to the books. Of course, the movie was filled with really good actors. Oh, I read the book before I watched the movie.

Linda Steinberg said...

Good morning, Ladies. Thanks for stopping by and I really appreciate all your interesting comments.

Denise, I didn't expect to enjoy the movie Hunger Games, but I did. I think because they built up the characters before getting into the horrific action. My Significant Other, of course, thought it started "slow."

Liese, I am right there with you on dialogue. It's what I read for in a book and even if a movie starts with a bunch of action, I'm still waiting for the dialogue to begin.

I agree with what many of you said, that after seeing the movie, the book enhances the experience, giving you a deeper, richer flavor.
Phyllis, I hadn't thought about it until you mentioned it but when I read the book I do get a vague picture of the character in my mind (not always the same as the author's description)and then I am disappointed when the movie forces a different visual on me.

Great comments, everybody.

Vicki Batman, sassy writer said...

Hi, Linda! My first big oh no over a movie adaptation with My Sister's Keeper, a Jodi Picoult book. The ending is changed completely from the book. The book's version is totally captivating and really makes for a much richer story than what the movie did to get a "feel good" ending. I screamed out, "They changed the ending," without meaning to in the film.

For my book club, we occasionally read classics, this one time being "Member of the Wedding." What a bore. Yesterday, TCM ran the older movie version with Julie Harris as the young girl. Oh MY!! The story sprung to life and was incredibly better than the book (for me).

Great topic, girl.

Liz Lipperman said...

Since I had to give up reading for entertainment when I signed on the dotted line and had deadlines, I am a big movie fan. (When I read I get so caught up in the characters I can't get back into mine easily. So it's better to just stay away from reading when I do write--which hasn't been too darn much lately--sigh!!)
I absolutely loved The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and wonder if anyone saw the movie and read the book. If so, what did you think?

Jillian Burns said...

I prefer to read the book. And once Ive read the book I'll usually go see the movie just to compare, but I have low expectations. To me the movie can never get into the characters' heads as well. Every once in a rare while I'm pleasantly surprised. Especially if it's an OLD book, like Jane Eyre or any Jane Austen, because those books tend to have been written in a style that is foreign to contemporary styles and therefore the movies/ TX mini-series is SO fantastic to watch, to see the costumes and the styles of the period brought to life.
However, once I've seen a movie I NEVER go read the book. Too time consuming when I already know what's going to happen.

chris k said...

a little late to the party-

Believe it or not I can't remember when I've seen a movie that matched a book in a gazillion years-

but usually I'll have seen a movie and will by a book to find out if there were any more details that got left out.

THe last time I remember that happening was with the divine secrets of the yaya sisterhood- Loved the movie the first time I saw it and bought the book -

never got passed the first chapter -

Same thing with Fried Green Tomatoes- never got past the second chapter

unfortunately, I have no idea what that says about me!! LOL.

chris k said...

A little late to the party-

I rarely read books that become movies- I think Harry Potter may have been the only one -

but I have seen movies and picked up the book to see if there was more detail or info-

unfortunately, I rarely like the book after seeing the movie- Loved Divine Secrets of the YaYa sisterhood - never got past chapter one.

same with fried green tomatoes- I might have made it to chapter two- lol.

don't know what that says about me -

chris k said...

this is why one shouldn't post from work at a quarter to eleven-

sorry ladies!!

Sheila Seabrook said...

I rarely read the book, then go watch the movie, and vice versa. Once the story has been told (in either format), I'm ready to move on to the next book or movie. Part of me is concerned about the inconsistencies between the movie and the book. I simply don't want to be disappointed, so I avoid the situation. Plus, there are so many books and movies, I'm ready to move on to the next story.

Mona Karel said...

There's a scene in Jurassic Park where the T-Rex is following the Jeep. The camera is on the rear view mirror, which reads at the bottom "Objects in mirror are closer than they appear." The mirror is filled with T-Rex jaws. THAT is where the movie was better but otherwise...the book scared the pants off me, the movie kept me decently clothed