4 Reasons Why Book Trumps Movie

The Hunger Games was released in theaters on Friday, March 23. Like many others, I saw it on the same day. The reviews have since been rolling in. I personally enjoyed the film and give it a hearty thumbs-up . . . yet I still believe that reading the book is a superior experience.

As I pondered this question again, I decided to re-run an early post of mine for Deep-Fried Friday. I have tweaked the post slightly, but here it is.

You’ve been waiting for this moment for months! You have purchased your ticket, bought your popcorn, found a seat in the exact center of the theater, and made it through twenty minutes of previews. The film begins.

Two hours later, you toss the last popped kernel into your mouth, lazily stretch, and shuffle down the aisle desperately wanting your two hours back. I mean, really: Did the filmmaker even read the book!

It’s a proverb we can all quote: The movie is never as good as the book.

Why is that? Here are a few reasons:

1.  Dramatic License. The phrase “dramatic license” is often an excuse for the screenwriter, director, or producer to cast a whole new vision on a familiar book to communicate whatever is burning in their hearts or brains. If, however, you loved the book, you don’t want the filmmakers to vary drastically from the original. If they have a different tale to tell, they should make a different movie!

2.  Incompatible Casting. If you envision a character a certain way after reading the book, and someone completely incongruous with that image is cast in the movie role, it can throw off the movie’s rhythm like giving a toddler a pair of drumsticks.

I submit that the reasons I could not watch more than the first film of the Twilight series and Lord of the Rings trilogy are Kristen Stewart and Elijah Wood. Both of them struck me like limp toast acting on screen. I couldn’t get past not believing either one of these actors in their roles. It’s entirely my opinion – and there will be opposition to it – but ultimately, the actors cast in the movies didn’t suit the picture I had drawn in my mind from reading the novels.

3.  Too Much Editing. Face it, an amazing 700-page novel cannot be properly conveyed on the screen in two hours. One of the complaints that Harry Potter fans have voiced is that there is SO much left out of the movies that appears in the books. Well, of course. Let’s say you have a 300-page novel (maybe 75,000-ish words). Quick internet research informed me that screenplays are about 100 pages (20,000-ish words). That’s a big discrepancy.

I know the saying that “A picture is worth a thousand words.” But not really. Some things simply must get left out when retelling a story on screen. Unfortunately, what gets omitted may be something which made that book so delightful to you in the first place.

4.  Imagination vs. Reality. Imagine your perfect man. (Didn’t we do this back in high school?) He’s tall, broad-shouldered, rippling muscles, and athletic; intellectual, well-read, poetic, and creative; rich, generous, well-respected, and successful; romantic, sensual, attentive, and downright delicious. Yeah, I can describe him, but that doesn’t make him real. It’s like Paul Simon declared, “If you took all the girls I knew when I was single, put them all together for one night, they could never match my sweet imagination . . .”

When you imagine a story, it’s better than the reality. Our imaginations are wonderful things. When you read a brilliant novel, you can picture the whole thing, and it’s exactly how it should be. Then someone renders a reality version. And it isn’t the same. It simply isn’t as good as your imagination.

By the way, when it comes to picking a husband, I recommend going with the real thing (Does that guy on the front of the Harlequin cover know how to change diapers? My hubby does!). But for books, imagination is superior.

Actually, I have a few tips for helping you to enjoy a movie made from a book you’ve read:

1.  Make sure it’s been a while since you read the book. If you still remember specific dialogue, plot details, and character quirks, it’s too soon to see someone else’s interpretation. Wait for the film to come out on DVD.

2.  Prepare yourself that the filmmaker may have had to cut out plot points, mesh a few characters into one, or ditch background story or world building in the interest of time. You can still enjoy the surface story that the movie relates while separately cherishing the depth of the book.

3.  Find others who can relate (or commiserate). It can be refreshing to discuss things you liked and didn’t like in a film compared to the book. I have these discussions with my kids from time to time, asking what was different about the movie, how they would have cast the roles, and what they enjoyed about the book that didn’t show up in the film.

So now it’s your turn!  Do you have any additional reasons why the movie is never as good as the book?  Do you have examples of movies that were as good as the book, or that were not worth the cost of popcorn compared to the book?

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A (Mostly) Pantser Tries Plotting

Sometimes, it feels like a scene from West Side Story where two rival gangs meet in the dark alley and – after dancing around for a little while – square off for the fight. Who is the better gang? The bigger gang? The victorious gang?

Jets vs. Sharks, West Side Story

Instead of Sharks vs. Jets, however, I’m talking Plotters vs. Pantsers. Plotters consider themselves superior with their colored post-it notes on the wall or their beat sheets filled out to perfection before a word of the novel reaches the page. Whereas Pantsers believe themselves to be better because they follow their muse wherever it guides as words glide freely across the page.

Which gang do I belong to?

Well, once I learned these terms, I decided I was more of a pantser (writing by the seat-of-my-pants) than a plotter. Something like this:

Plotter <——————————————-X———> Pantser

I definitely had an overview of my mystery novel and a basic plot, but it was maybe a page long. Moreover, as I wrote, plans changed. The whodunnit had no longer done it, and the main protagonist had a different romantic ending than originally intended. Then I wrote a second manuscript (a middle grade novel) and pantsed my way through that one with a general theme and plot in my head.

After my total pantsing experience made me want to slam my head repeatedly against the tile floor, I decided I’d better learn more about this elusive concept of plotting. I read Save the Cat by Blake Snyder and Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. These authors outlined logline, category, characterization, beat sheet, and much more. Now I had a better sense of the underlying structure of a storyline.

Yet I was having a hard time translating Brooks’s story structure to my novel, so I put together a flow chart for myself. In case it helps anyone else, here’s what I drafted:

Of course, this doesn’t make sense unless you read the book! You can also find more information from these writing gurus at their blogs: Blake Snyder and Larry Brooks.

Getting closer now . . . but I didn’t have tools to apply what I had learned and found my word processing software lacking and the idea of writing stuff down on note cards brain-numbing. Then I downloaded Scrivener for Windows. I started plugging my middle grade manuscript into the software, scene by scene. I wrote synopses for those scenes. A virtual cork board helped me to see how I had laid everything out and where plot gaps occur.

Tony & Maria

With my new found perspective and better tools at hand, I am shifting on that Plotter vs. Pantser continuum. I likely won’t end up on the extreme side of plotting, but I might be in the middle somewhere. In fact, I feel an affinity for both gangs – pantsers and plotters. Why not? If Maria and Tony can find love, why can’t the disparate sides of our own writing selves get along?

Not a happy ending for West Side Story, but a happy ending for this writer!

Writers: Where are you on the plotting/pantsing continuum? Have you shifted? Which tool has been the most helpful to your writing?

All: Are you a planner or an ad-libber? Do you like the Jets or the Sharks? What’s your favorite West Side Story song?

Friday Fiction: 4 Reasons Why Book Trumps Movie

You’ve been waiting for this moment for months!  You have purchased your ticket, bought your popcorn, found a seat in the exact center of the theater, and made it through twenty minutes of previews.  The film begins.

Two hours later, you toss the last popped kernel into your mouth, lazily stretch, and shuffle down the aisle desperately wanting your two hours back.  I mean, really: Did the filmmaker even read the book!

It’s a proverb we can all quote:  The movie is never as good as the book.

Why is that?  Here are a few reasons:

1.  Dramatic License.  The phrase “dramatic license” is often an excuse for the screenwriter, director, or producer to cast a whole new vision on a familiar book to communicate whatever is burning in their hearts or brains.  If, however, you loved the book, you don’t want the filmmakers to vary drastically from the original.  If they have a different tale to tell, they should make a different movie!

2.  Incompatible Casting.  If you envision a character a certain way after reading the book, and someone completely incongruous with that image is cast in the movie role, it can throw off the movie’s rhythm like giving a toddler a pair of drumsticks.

I submit that the reasons I could not watch more than the first film of the Twilight series and Lord of the Rings trilogy are Kristen Stewart and Elijah Wood.  Both of them struck me like limp toast acting on screen.  I couldn’t get past not believing either one of these actors in their roles.  It’s entirely my opinion – and there will be opposition to it – but ultimately, the actors cast in the movies didn’t suit the picture I had drawn in my mind from reading the novels.

3.  Too Much Editing.  Face it, an amazing 700-page novel cannot be properly conveyed on the screen in two hours.  One of the complaints that Harry Potter fans have voiced is that there is SO much left out of the movies that appears in the books.  Well, of course.  Let’s say you have a 300-page novel (maybe 75,000-ish words).  Quick internet research informed me that screenplays are about 100 pages (20,000-ish words).  That’s a big discrepancy.

I know the saying that “A picture is worth a thousand words.”  But not really.  Some things simply must get left out when retelling a story on screen.  Unfortunately, what gets omitted may be something which made that book so delightful to you in the first place.

4.  Imagination vs. Reality.  Imagine your perfect man.  (Didn’t we do this back in high school?)  He’s tall, broad-shouldered, rippling muscles, and athletic; intellectual, well-read, poetic, and creative; rich, generous, well-respected, and successful; romantic, sensual, attentive, and downright delicious.  Yeah, I can describe him, but that doesn’t make him real.  It’s like Paul Simon declared, “If you took all the girls I knew when I was single, put them all together for one night, they could never match my sweet imagination . . .”

When you imagine a story, it’s better than the reality.  Our imaginations are wonderful things.  When you read a brilliant novel, you can picture the whole thing, and it’s exactly how it should be.  Then someone renders a reality version.  And it isn’t the same.  It simply isn’t as good as your imagination.

By the way, when it comes to picking a husband, I recommend going with the real thing (Does that guy on the front of the Harlequin cover know how to change diapers? My hubby does!).  But for books, imagination is superior.

Actually, I have a few tips for helping you to enjoy a movie made from a book you’ve read:

1.  Make sure it’s been a while since you read the book.  If you still remember specific dialog, plot details, and character quirks, it’s too soon to see someone else’s interpretation.  Wait for the film to come out on DVD.

2.  Prepare yourself that the filmmaker may have had to cut out plot points, mesh a few characters into one, or ditch background story or world building in the interest of time.  You can still enjoy the surface story that the movie relates while separately cherishing the depth of the book.

3.  Find others who can relate (or commiserate).  It can be refreshing to discuss things you liked and didn’t like in a film compared to the book.  I have these discussions with my kids from time to time, asking what was different about the movie, how they would have cast the roles, and what they enjoyed about the book that didn’t show up in the film.

So now it’s your turn!  Do you have any additional reasons why the movie is never as good as the book?  Do you have examples of movies that were as good as the book, or that were not worth the cost of popcorn compared to the book?

(And while we’re at it, how is Water for Elephants?  I read and liked the book, and now I’m wondering whether to see the movie.)

Friday Fiction: Firecracker Duds

So what’s that one book that everyone raved about, that you spent $20 on the hardcover to purchase or twelve weeks on the library waiting list to receive, that you opened with excited anticipation… only to finish and wonder what all of the hullabaloo was about? 

For me, it was Life of Pi.  When I turned the last page and set the book down, I thought, “I want my two hours back.”  Or maybe I expended three or four.  I don’t know.  I’ve tried to block it out like a humiliating high school memory or the knowledge that your parents had sex.

But I do know that I was not interested in the story, and I kept reading because I thought, “Surely it must get better because everyone is talking about how great this novel is!”  To my mind, not only did it not get better, it got worse with one of the lamest endings I’ve ever read.

Let me be clear.  The author writes well.  The book was well-crafted.  But I am among those who need a character in a book that I can relate to or root for.  No such person existed in The Life of Pi for me.

Also, showing that it is my opinion alone, everyone else in my book club liked the book.  That did not, however, stop me from ranting about it at our meeting.  (By the way, thanks for listening, book club friends, or at least pretending to listen while you played with your dessert or made a shopping list in your mind).

I recently picked up another strongly suggested read from an acquaintance and after a hundred pages tossed it back into the library book drop without once wondering what the characters might do next in the 600-page novel.  I guess my taste just differed from my friend’s.  It happens sometimes.

How many “amazing” books were what my kids would term an Epic Fail for you?  What titles were rampantly recommended that turned out to be time-suckers or firecracker-duds?

Or have you recommended a book that you absolutely adored to someone who reported back that they didn’t like it at all?  Why do you think that happened?

Round of Words in 80 Days Update:  wrote 2,632 of 5,000 words this week; edited 81 of 186 pages in my middle-grade novel; trying out a new blogging goal of 3 times a week – Monday Mumblings, Wednesday Words, Friday Fiction (We’ll see how that goes!)

Wednesday Words: Sesquipedalianism

I love long, descriptive words that hint at their meaning.  Serendipity is surprisingly delightful every time it rolls off my tongue.  The word tentacles seems to reach and encircle me.  Rambunctious has a pop in the middle of the word that seems energetic and ornery at the same time.  Effervescent sounds hissing and bubbly.

But perhaps my favorite example is the word sesquipedalianism – which means the use of long words.  Isn’t that grand?!  I’ve known people who are sesquipedalians (given to the use of long words), including my husband at times.  There is something intriguing about a person who can insert the perfect, arcane four-syllable word whenever a situation calls for it.  Plenty of authors are in favor of peppering their writing with tongue-twisting words of great length.  I’ve read them; haven’t you?

I don’t know when I could possibly interject the word sesquipedalianism into a novel, but I await that golden opportunity.  Maybe I’ll create a character who uses long, esoteric words excessively and have another character quip about his rampant sesquipedalianism.   Perhaps I’ll babble on and on in a novel myself and refer to the narrator’s sesquipedalianism.  Someday, though, somehow, someone in my novels will display sesquipedalism.  (Perhaps I’m doing it already.)

In case you’re wondering about the word’s etymology, “sesqui” means one-and-a-half and “ped,” of course, means “foot.”   Thus, the use of words over a foot-and-a-half long!

In reality, of course, most writing should be far more accessible.  The trick is to make what the narrator and characters say seem natural, effortless.  A well-placed, multisyllabic word can be appropriate.  But C.S. Lewis, replying to a letter from a child, advised, “Always prefer the plain direct word to the long vague one.  Don’t implement promises, but keep them.”  Soon after, he added, “Don’t use words too big for the subject.  Don’t say ‘infinitely’ when you mean ‘very’; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.”(Letters to Children, p. 64.)

I agree.  In fact, it would be awful to talk about serendipity when something is only slightly surprising or nice.  Or to constantly refer to my children as rambunctious when they rarely run that wild.  In fact, I have yet to find a perfect spot for my word sesquipedalianism.  I have opted instead for relatively average words of average length.  I hope that makes my writing more readable.

Still, one of these days, the perfect circumstance will arise, and I will happily type sesquipedalianism on a stark white screen.  Okay, not simply on this blog, but in a book.  Won’t that be serendipitous?

What are some of your favorite one-and-a-half foot words?

Round of Words in 80 Days Update:  1,392 of 5,000 words written, 64 of 186 pages edited, and two sick kids back at school.  Okay, that last one wasn’t a write goal, but now that they are well, I can write even more!

It Begins with a Hurricane

While 104 mile-per-hour winds rattled and ripped apart our roof and rain swirled and surged into our dining room, we slept soundlessly on the brass bed of a relative’s home.  Hurricane Ike was assaulting the shores of Southeast Texas, and we, like many Houston area residents, didn’t hang around to eyewitness the destruction or experience the weeks-long power outage afterward.  Having stuffed enough clothes and toiletries for a week as well as some precious mementos and important paperwork into our compact car, our family had evacuated to San Antonio.

With a suddenly open schedule and open laptop before me, I decided to start writing a novel.  I had written in the past – songs, poetry, newsletter articles, a novel chapter or two.  I was likely embarking upon another hopeful but fruitless attempt.  I began Chapter 1.  Then I wrote a plot line.  Next, I wrote Chapter 2.  Hey, this was actually going well!

Fast forward to a return trip to our home halfway between Houston and Galveston, the discovery of a huge hole in our roof, and the kids’ return to school.  In between the many insurance-related phone calls, I committed to write for at least an hour a day.  As I wrote, everything around me blurred into a fog and evaporated.  I soon realized that I could sit at my laptop for 3-5 hours at a time, delving into characters and weaving the plot for my mystery novel.

At some point, I emerged from my bedroom to announce that I had 50 pages, and my adolescent son said, “Way to go, Mom!”  Then I had 100 pages, then 150, and so on, until my 250(ish)-page first draft was complete.  It took months of writing and editing to get a final product, but eventually a manuscript was birthed.

Now I could say with confidence:  I am a writer.  An author.  A novelist.

It’s April 2011, and I am not a published novelist (but will be!).  Yet I have begun other projects – a juvenile fiction book and a couple of young adult novels.  After schlepping around the house with my laptop for months – from study desk to bed to living room couch to bedroom desk and back – I finally took a section of our guest bedroom and created my own writing nook.

Looking for inspiration from authors, I found Virginia Woolf’s famous quote:  “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”  How true!  Thanks to my hard-working husband, the finances are taken care of, and now I have that room of my own.

But of course, that’s only the beginning.  You also must have ideas, time, commitment, a working computer, perseverance, a willingness to edit with a machete at times and a scalpel at others, and the notion that someday, somehow, somewhere, someone will read what you have written . . . and like it.

A Round of Words in 80 Days Update: 5,354 words last week; two blog posts; starting my first middle-grade novel edit this week.