Don’t judge a book by it’s movie. The book is always better.
There seems to be a war against adapting novels into films. Fought with phrases like the ones above, many people assume the written work is superior to the adaptation. Maybe it is. But then again, if a picture is worth a thousand words, how many words is a film worth?
Now I do not intend to end the controversy. This discussion will probably continue for as long as these two mediums of story exist. However, what can be gained is some perspective on the issue. And that perspective starts with wondering why the book is always better.
Why The Book is Always Better
In general, reading a book is a more intimate experience than watching a film in a theater.
A book presents a significant person, place, or thing. No matter how detailed the description is, the reader fills in the gaps that still exist through the power of her imagination. By using imagination, the author doesn’t only allow the reader to participate in the story—the story becomes more memorable because of the participation. This is the primary advantage that a book has over a film.
For example, an author may write that her main character was very beautiful. The reader forms a mental image of the most beautiful woman she can think of. That mental image is fine-tuned to the preferences and ideals that the reader has in mind. And all the author had to do was write that she was very beautiful.
A film tries to do the same but with visuals. However, this almost always fails to satisfy the audience. The preferences and ideals of the director does not perfectly fit those of the audience. Therefore, the imagination of the audience trumps the visuals of a film.
To put it simply, a film shows its audience the imagination of another. A book uses the imagination of the reader.
The Advantage of Film
If a book has such a great advantage over film, then shouldn’t the discussion end there? A book gives its readers an intimate experience that cannot be replicated. A film cannot challenge that . . . and it doesn’t have to. A film finds its advantage in an entirely different area—the integration of its elements to incite emotion.
Sculptors, composers, authors, dancers, painters—each artist has their own medium to create their work of art whether it be musical notes, paint, or even their own bodies. However, film is different.
Film remixes many different art forms to create a narrative. The music of a composer, the dialogue of an author, the body of an actor, the imagery of a photographer, and the rhythm of an entirely new type of artist—the editor—all combine to form a cohesive narrative called a film. The advantage of film is its ability to unify various elements for a specific purpose.
However, this advantage can quickly turn into a disadvantage. A film can only work if there is perfect collaboration amongst its artists and an adherence to the film’s vision. It’s a chain that can be quickly broken due to a weak link. Therefore, there are far more bad or mediocre films than genuinely great ones.
These two mediums of story have different advantages over the other and, for that reason, are not suited to direct comparison. One uses its words to incite the imagination of its audience. The other presents the imagination of another through combined art forms. Neither is superior to the other.
Besides, there are elements in each medium that work for some stories and don't for others. For example, a book has an inherently slower pace than the unrelenting stride of a film. A film can utilize the intertextuality of music and visuals--something books cannot do. On the other hand, the inner monologue in a book is impossible to replicate in a film. Each of these can be an advantage or a disadvantage depending on the story meant to be told.
Therefore, preference of one art form over another is subjective. Personally, I prefer film. Why?
I don't know. Probably because it’s just . . . better.
I was looking for good advice on writing stories when I came across this:
“If a story teaches but doesn’t entertain, then it’s a sermon. If a story entertains but doesn’t teach, then it’s escapism.”
I found this to be quite strange. Not wrong—just strange. This statement views story as having to balance entertaining the audience with teaching them. A story lies somewhere on a scale between teaching and entertainment. If it strays too far to one end, then it no longer becomes a story—it becomes a sermon or escapism.
When a story becomes a sermon, it becomes a different medium of communication. The story loses its defining qualities which is definitely a bad thing. The sermon, itself, isn’t wrong. What’s wrong is the fact that the story is losing a vital part of itself.
However, it’s a little different with escapism. A story doesn’t become a totally different medium of communication when it becomes escapism, because escapism isn’t even a medium of communication. A so-called escapist story is still a story. Therefore, the bad side of escapism is escapism itself. But is escapism really that bad?
Every storyteller fears it. Everyone is frustrated with it. Nobody likes it. What is it? Clichés.
When a storyteller pours his heart and soul into a story agonizing over every plot point and character flaw, the worst thing you can say to him is “that’s so clichéd.” Upon hearing these words, the storyteller drops into a haze as he wonders how his “completely original” idea can be considered cliché. The fear of including something clichéd in a story is a fear every author can relate to.
I have. You have. All authors have looked at the computer screen like the stick figure man above. It may be the characters, plot, pacing, or even the premise. No matter what the cause is, we have all, at one point or another, been frustrated with how our story is progressing.
Most of the time we're overreacting, but in one case, our actions may be justifiable. That time would be when the problem is related with the climactic moment.
Why the climactic moment?
Simply because, it's the most important moment in an entire story. It's the culmination of all the events in your story. The most exciting--the most thrilling--the most intense moment. The grand finale.
The climactic moment is the most anticipated event in your whole story. You cannot mess up on this one. Doing so would destroy just about everything that happened before. And since the climactic moment is, ninety-nine times out of a hundred, located at the end of your story, a bad climactic moment will ruin your entire story.
Unfortunately, many stories do mess up the climactic moment. Though there are many things that could go wrong, the problems can normally be filtered into two categories.
The antihero is a well-known character in popular media. Whether in film & television or in novels & the nightly news, we have all met the antihero. Though antiheroes have proliferated in the past few years, the character type has actually changed dramatically.
A Quick Walk Through History
In classical literature, the hero was described as a virtuous figure. He was honorable and caring; strong and brave. He looked good, wanted good, and did good. Society celebrated, even worshiped, the archetypal hero.
The antihero was, obviously, the opposite. This guy wasn’t brave or strong. He wasn’t worshiped by society. He was antisocial; a loner flawed and scarred from some past experience. The common element of all antiheroes was that flaw. That ugly scar. This was the antihero in all his glory—or lack thereof.
The antihero character type proved to be popular and spread throughout entertainment. Fast-forward to modern times. The archetypal antihero is the dominant character type. Everyone has a flaw—even the professing heroes. Luke Skywalker is inept and reckless. Harry Potter is impulsive and angry. Superman struggles with identity and is lonely. The ubiquity of the flaw transformed the definition of the antihero. For if everyone is an antihero, then nobody is. This conundrum begs the question: what is a modern antihero? To reveal the new, we must first understand the old.
“I think what ‘The Hobbit’ and Middle-earth deal in are quite universal and timeless themes of honor and love and friendship . . . so they’re things that do resonate with people.”’
Martin Freeman is the actor who portrayed Bilbo Baggins in “The Desolation of Smaug,” the film he was promoting when he said this quote. Martin was definitely correct when he said this. ‘The Hobbit’ and Middle-earth do deal with universal and timeless themes. Boromir’s great sacrifice at the end of the ‘Fellowship of the Ring’ and the faithfulness of Samwise Gamgee are examples of timeless themes within the world of Middle-earth.
But Martin Freeman was wrong too, because none of the films in ‘The Hobbit’ trilogy truly resonated with me. How can this be? Universal themes should resonate universally. Don’t the films in ‘The Hobbit’ trilogy use universal and timeless themes?
Of course they do. Bilbo Baggins is a man of great honor. The bond among the dwarves is clearly seen. We even have a romance between Tauriel and Kili. The problem isn’t with the themes that ‘The Hobbit’ trilogy deals with. The problem is with how they deliver these themes.
Three or four years ago I found a Christian writing website for teens called KingdomPen. I found many helpful tips there and quickly discovered that you could have your work (short stories, poems, articles) published on the website for free. So I decided to contribute.
I've written a total of three articles for KingdomPen. And I've decided to share them to you in the links below. KingdomPen, as a website, is very well-done. You can tell by the quality of the information and the friendly community that they truly desire to help teens "write for Christ." If you're a teenage writer looking to improve your skills, then I wholeheartedly recommend KingdomPen to you.
How To Create An Intriguing Character
Fight Scenes 101: Planning the Fight
Fight Scenes 101: Writing the Fight
How God Fits Into Character Archetypes