Movies And Novels

The post I put up last week—just below this one—had to do with not describing everything in a piece of writing.  I generally write fiction (novels and short stories) but that admonition applies to non-fiction as well.  Keep description short, I said, just enough to allow the story line to flow from the page into the reader’s mind.  Let the reader imagine everything else in his/her mind’s eye.  Let the reader fill in the details.  Keep it simple, stupid.  (That’s the KISS philosophy.)  In short, never tell the reader what to think.  Now I want to take that concept in a slightly different direction.

It’s that word “details” that’s important in writing.  Details get filled in by the reader.  This has the effect of allowing the reader to stay focused on the action.  I know I like to follow the action of a novel I’m reading if the writer hasn’t peppered it with too many details.  I like to visualize it on my own.  The more details I fill in by myself, the more I enjoy the book I’m reading.  I have a difficult time with manuscripts that try to cram in too much detail in the narrative.  I can get confused, wondering if the details of the action are those of the author or my own.  I don’t want to be told everything, I want to imagine it.

That’s where, as the title of this post demonstrates, movies come in.  Movies are great at showing action, but they show everything.  Car chases, airplane dogfights, love scenes, you name it and its all there, put on the screen for the audience to see.  Movies are a descendent of the stage play, of course.  Plays existed for thousands of years before Edison invented the motion picture camera.  Playing things out on the screen in all their glory is a time-honored way to provide an exciting and entertaining time for all of us.  And motion pictures can do things that would be impossible in a stage play.  Can you imagine the chariot race in Ben-Hur on the stage?

But isn’t that the problem with transferring novels to the screen?  The novel is, if done correctly, a medium of minimalism.  Minimal description that allows the reader the chance of experiencing the action in his mind.  Taking a novel to the screen removes that chance.  The movie does it all for you.  It shows you everything—what the characters look like, what they’re wearing, their mannerisms—in short, everything.  These are two different ways of doing the same thing.

I like movies that didn’t come from a book.  Star Wars and Star Trek, for example.  (Books have been written using the Star Wars and Star Trek characters, but they came after the movie.)  When you watch a movie, everything is done for you.  The plot may have twists and turns you couldn’t see coming, but the details are spelled out.  A novel gives you more chance to immerse yourself into the action.  You have to do more.  You don’t have the advantage of someone else showing you.  And that is why I have decided, provisionally, at least, not to allow my books (if they ever get published) to be optioned or purchased for the screen.  Either the big or small screen.  I want the reader to imagine what is going on.  Not see it as imagined by some movie company.  Never tell the reader what to think.  And that’s just what a movie does.

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