November 11, 2019

Why The Book is Always Better, Part 2

By Dan Walsh

In last month’s column, I talked about one of my Bucket List items that seems likely to happen, probably in the 2nd half of 2019. One of my novels is being made into a feature film (The Reunion). I’ve had the pleasure of becoming friends with the 2 main producers of the project over the last 2 years (one of them is now an Oscar-winning screenwriter, and he’s adapted the book into a screenplay).

One of the biggest challenges he’s had was trying to keep intact all the important elements of the book (that made him want to make it into a movie in the first place), while having to cut out more than half the content, so that it can fit into a 2-hour movie. As I said last month, my novel is just over 300 pages. The script is about 105.

That got me thinking about why the overwhelming majority of people who watch a movie that started out as a book say, “The Book was SO much better.” Today, I want to talk about ANOTHER big reason people always like the books more. And this second reason goes to a big advantage novelists have over screenwriters when we set out to tell a story.

A novelist can take “the camera” to places a filmmaker can never go.

What am I talking about? I’m sure most of us have heard of the concept of “the close-up” in television and movies. That’s when the camera zooms in on the actor’s face. A director usually calls for this shot when he/she wants to convey to the audience what an actor is experiencing emotionally. Maybe it’s anxiety or fear, anger or hate, love or desire, sadness or joy. Any number of emotional reactions.

So actors have to learn how to do effective closeups, how to communicate using facial expressions alone: their eyes, eyebrows, their mouth and lips. But see, in a film, the actor’s face is as close as the camera can go.

As fiction writers, we can take the camera much deeper. We can bring the reader into the very mind and heart of our characters. It’s much more than simply stating a thought a character might have. Done properly, the reader will feel as if they are actually experiencing what the character feels as our story unfolds, to where the writing almost comes across like reading the pages of a character’s diary or personal journal.

Listen to how best-selling historical romance author, Tamera Alexander puts it:

The primary reason readers read is to be moved, to be changed, to live the experiences of the characters themselves. They want to turn that last page and be different for having taken that journey with those characters they’ve lived with―they’ve become―over the past 350 pages. This happens when readers connect with characters who are real…”
―Tamera Alexander,
A Novel Idea (pg 47)

As an object lesson of what I’m talking about, read the opening paragraphs to my 2nd novel, The Homecoming (and try to imagine a camera attempting to capture even a fraction of what is shared). Our main character is a husband who’s come home from WW2 to care for his son, because his wife has been killed in a car accident. He drives back to the place where they first met.

Shawn looked down at the empty seat beside him, trying to imagine Elizabeth there. He tried to remember the smell of her hair, the sound of her voice, one of her smiles. It all seemed just out of reach.

She wasn’t there. She would never be there again.

He came here, in part, thinking some time alone might help. He was tired of pretending to be fine. It was exhausting. Pretending to see scenes out the window, pretending to read a book, pretending to listen. Elizabeth preoccupied his every waking moment. Shawn had known a depth of love with her he’d never imagined possible, a love he was sure most men would never see, not in a lifetime…

…But the main reason he came back was to remember her, to reclaim moments of time, conversations they’d shared, places they’d visited. He wanted to see and feel all these things again. To do anything that helped him see and feel all these things again.

Compare these words and what they convey in just a few moments to the limitations of a camera doing a closeup shot of an actor—even a great one—trying to communicate to the audience through their facial expressions.

That’s a tall order, if you ask me. And another big reason why I believe “The Book is Always Better.” It’s not the movie’s fault, the screenwriter’s fault, or the director’s or the actor’s fault. It’s just the limitation of the medium used to tell the story.

Of course, I’m not sharing this to debunk movies or discourage people from watching them. I love a great film, and we’re hoping and praying The Reunion becomes a great one soon. But even the best of movies can’t take the camera to places a skillful novelist can go.
Dan Walsh is the bestselling author of 21 novels (all available on Amazon), including The Unfinished Gift, Rescuing Finley, When Night Comes and The Reunion (now being made into a feature film). Over 750,000 of his books are in print or downloaded. He's won both the Carol and Selah Awards multiple times, 4 of his novels have been finalists for RT Reviews Inspirational Novel of the Year. Reviewers often remark about Dan's rich, character-driven storylines and page-turning suspense (even with his more inspirational books). He's been writing full-time since 2010. He and his wife Cindi have been married 42 years, have 2 grown children and 4 grandchildren. They live in the Daytona Beach area, where Dan grew up. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter, read his blog, or preview all his books by visiting his website at Dan’s books: If These Walls Could Talk - DAN'S NEWEST NOVEL, When Night Comes, Remembering Dresden, Unintended Consequences,  Perilous Treasure,  Rescuing Finley, Finding Riley Saving Parker and  The Deepest Waters (2nd Ed)

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