Since I was a kid, movies and books have both been a huge part of my life. I’m not all that social, so reading and watching others’ stories were my way of experiencing the world when I wasn’t up to being the “ditsy blonde” of the classroom. So when my favorite novels, such as Harry Potter, Twilight, and True Blood began showing up on the big screen, I was thrilled. What could be better than a book made into a movie? It’s the best of both worlds!
At least, not necessarily. We’ve all experienced it. We find out our favorite book is turning into a T.V. series or movie and excitedly sit down to witness the utter awesomeness of seeing the characters we’d pictured oh-so clearly in our heads portrayed on screen. It simply couldn’t get better than this! Until you realize…it pretty much sucks.
Come on. Anyone who’s read the Harry Potter series will tell you that the movies pale in comparison to the complete and total epic-ness of the books. And if you’ve ever seen the Twilight movies…just the thought of them induces a shudder. Not that I don’t enjoy the eye-candy. I do. But it’s not just the people playing the roles that messes these movies up. Nor is it the setting—it looks just like we imagined it, right? And the lines are the same, if not similar. Nobody can fault the director, since he or she clearly did a fine job with what they were given…so what the heck?
Why do movies and T.V. shows oftentimes suck compared to the books?
Before I go there, I have to give credit where credit is due. Not all movies adaptations are stinkers. Look at True Blood. Okay, granted it’s a T.V. show and not a movie, but go with me. I started reading the True Blood series before the show debuted and I loved the books. Sookie and Bill’s sexy romance made for some excellent late-night reading, and the plot felt rich and intriguing. The writing was excellent. What more could I ask for?
And then the show premiered. At first, it was basically the book put to screen…and then a few episodes passed and—I stopped reading the books. The show was so amazing I didn’t want to ruin it by reading the books first. This was unprecedented. I’d never been so enthralled by a movie or T.V. show that I actually put down the books in order to preserve the mystery of the show. As a lifelong lover of books (and, hello, an author) I couldn’t help but wonder why? What made this show – and a handful of movies – so much better than the books?
In the case of True Blood, I have to go with all of the side stories. In the books, there is none of that. Tara is a tier three character at best, Lafayette gets killed off in book one, and Jason is practically a nonexistent character until around book four. As much as I loved the books (and I so do) I couldn’t help but feel cheated after seeing the show. Where was Tara’s role? Why couldn’t she be BFFs with Sookie? I missed the storyline of Jason doing V, and Sam shooting his brother in the leg.
The richness of these side characters’ stories and the emotional depth that’s played out in the show is just lacking in the books. And I get that it’s supposed to be a crime mystery/vampire romance novel and that you can’t include all of the side stories in a 60,000-ish word book, but it really made me understand the importance of well-developed side characters. They may not be as important as our heroes, but they matter to the reader, and as evidenced by True Blood, they make the story so much more real.
But let’s face it: True Blood is a welcome exception to the movies v. books battle. More often than not, the movie is trash when held up to the book, and as a writer, I have to wonder why? What about these books is so amazing, and why doesn’t it translate to the big screen?
It’s just a fact of life that you cannot squeeze in every single scene from a book into a two-and-a-half hour movie. Even the super long movies like the epic three-hour Lord of the Rings sagas can’t fit it all in. So we have to accept that some things will be left out. Which, yeah, sucks. We don’t want scenes to be erased! We love those scenes! Those scenes are what made us fall in love with the books, and what made us spend $15 to come see the movie adaptation. I found myself thinking after the Harry Potter movies, that I would have sat around and watched thirty more minutes it they’d only included another Quidditch match.
But maybe I’m just a HP nerd.
Okay, I’m definitely a nerd. But that’s beside the point.
The point? Us writers have the upper-hand when it comes to the timing issue. We can include so much more in books. The trick is to make sure that this extra wiggle room is used to our advantage. Useless scenes that fail to move the plot forward are well, useless. Just because a book is long (and holy crap the sci-fi books my husband reads sometimes cross the thousand-page marker, so I know these suckers are long) doesn’t mean it’s good. Each scene has to mean something. And in great books, they do. So stop taking them out, movie people!
Second issue: inner narrative. Now, this is an element a writer can really take advantage of. In books, the author is blessed with the ability to get inside his characters’ heads. He can analyze their every thought and choose to either hide it from the reader or exploit it to serve his story. In movies, it’s more difficult to portray the complex, and sometimes conflicting emotions roiling around in our hero’s mind. They usually end up saying their feeling aloud or acting them out, which, while effective at times, just doesn’t measure up to actually feeling these things with the characters the way you do in a book.
In a book, it’s almost as if you are the character and everything they go through, you go through right along with them. And while it is possible to empathize with an on-screen character, well, it’s just not the same. You don’t get that closeness you get when reading a book. In other words, it’s not a personal experience. And that’s ultimately what you take away from a great book, right? Something that affected you in a personal way. It’s possible to do in a movie, but I think it’s almost always more impactful in a book.
Movies v. books will battle forever in pop culture, warred between those who live for books and those who’d rather see the “speedy version.” I’m still not sure which side I’m on, since I’m crazy about both forms – all I can say is that no matter how many horrible movie adaptations I see, I’m still going to go see the final Twilight movie. And the Hunger Games. And The Mortal Instruments. And The Hobbit. And whatever comes next.