Weekly Musing: The Ongoing Debate

Ahhh, the age old question: Is the book better than the movie/TV show? This simple, purely subjective question can quickly lead to some really ugly arguments with no solution. For whatever reason, people can’t seem to wrap their minds around the fact books and TV/movies are two different storytelling mediums. What works great in one medium will not work in the other because you’re comparing text to images. Imagine someone writing a description of a great piece of art. No matter how well-written and descriptive that narrative is, nothing substitutes for actually seeing the art piece in question.

For many readers, though, a beautifully written story allows the reader to visualize and ‘see’ but what the reader sees varies from person to person. 10 people reading the same exact description will visualize it 10 different ways based upon personal experience. And there are some readers who don’t actual see what they are reading. For example, when I read, I see the story rolling like a film in my mind but there are others who don’t. It’s not that they dislike or don’t enjoy reading it’s just that’s how their mind works.

Usually the biggest cause of arguments in book vs. TV/movie version lies in changes made. Again, we are talking about two different mediums. Book readers have different expectations than a TV/movie viewer. A slower paced story usually works much better in a book because it simply takes longer to read then to watch something. The visual medium has a fixed time limit. Viewers also expect a quicker pace (unfortunately) and if you don’t give that to them, they’ll change the channel or walk out of the theater. Because of that, cuts have to be made when a book is adapted. This could mean minor subplots are dropped, minor characters could be dropped or several meshed into one, major plots are changed, etc.

It is these changes that rankles readers and understandably so. Perhaps a beloved minor character just doesn’t show up. Or a plot is changed too drastically in order to fulfill a movie/TV viewer’s expectations. Sometimes an entire character’s personality is changed. Scenes between characters that aren’t in the book are frequently added in thus expanding a certain character’s role or adding more to the existing plot.

One thing a book reader must, must keep in mind is the author pretty much little to no say in the changes made when their book is adapted. One would think the author would be consulted, or at least given a heads up, but those in charge of the adaptation, and the studio backing it, call the shots at that point.

Casting has the potential to be another bone of contention. Do you cast someone who looks, or can be transformed through hair and make-up, identical to the character but can’t act? Or do you cast the person who best fits the role because they have the best acting ability but their looks may not quite fit the author’s description? Glad I’m not a casting director. In an ideal world it would be great if the person picked for the role not only could act, but also looked the part. But the world is never ideal. Personally, I’d rather have the best actor cast for the role especially if they ‘get’ the character they are playing over casting a horrible actor because they ‘look’ the part.

My personal belief is the book is almost always better than the movie/TV show and not because I’m a writer and love books. I love movies and TV almost as much and feel there are stories that are better told through the medium. But books can provide a lot deeper insight into a character, especially quieter, more introverted, introspective characters. And sometimes the setting is so fantastical and trippy that it’s best left to the reader’s imagination (CGI has changed this dramatically). More complex plots work better in books unless adapted into a mini-series or a set of movies.

There is no clear way to ever settle this debate. Pros and cons exist for both. While debate is healthy and can be fun, don’t let it turn into all out warfare. If you’re a book reader and hate the movie/TV adaption, that’s fine. Grumble and stick to reading the books but don’t treat people who prefer the adaptation as somehow stupider for it. For movie/TV viewers, if you haven’t read the source material, try picking up the book. Or not, it’s your choice just be prepared for the potential book snobbery. We all like what we like and no one should make another person feel bad. Truly it is to each his own.

Unless you enjoy anything Michael Bay directs. Then you and I can’t be friends.


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