Reading versus watching

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Stephen King — ‘Books and movies are like apples and oranges. They both are fruit, but taste completely different.’

This is true. It’s also true that sometimes the apple you bite into is mushy and full of worms, or the orange has gotten blight or froze on the tree before it was picked, something you don’t notice until you’ve already had a few bites.

It is rare (in my opinion, of course) that a movie does an accurate or even a passing job of both hanging on to the original story and being good. Often, it does one or the other well, and rarely both. And sometimes, both the book and the movie are dreadful – the only consistency that exists as it relates to that title. Authors don’t generally have control over adaptations to their work, and I grasp this.

There are exceptions, of course. King would know, given the number of movies made from his books or novellas. Some of the movies are quite bad (Maximum Overdrive), some could be better with better casting (The Shining – Jack Nicholson looked crazy right from the beginning, which kind of spoils his devolvement into madness at the Overlook), and at least one is fantastic (The Shawshank Redemption). Does this mean no books should ever be made into movies? Of course not. I would suggest, though, that if you do see a movie based on a book, you should also read the book if that is at all possible. In some cases, at least for me, I have started, but not been able to finish, those books.

Example: Forrest Gump. The movie was quite good. I found the book to be simplistic pap. The Bridges of Madison County was a passable movie, but again, the book I found to be unreadable.

More recently – and by that, I mean today – I watched Divergent, which is based on the novel of the same name by Veronica Roth. I know, I’m behind the times, but I’m okay with that. The movie was not bad, inasmuch as it’s aimed more toward the teenager crowd. Some cliches here and there (the class, or faction in this case, bully; it just happens that the two people in Dauntless who happen to be Divergent are a woman and a man who happen to fall for one another; one of them is turned against the other but saved by love in the end, and so on) but overall, not a completely terrible movie. So, I decided I should probably read the book, which is my thing to do if I’ve seen the movie first.

I am not a fan of first person narratives. Or of present tense. The book has both. That knocked it down slightly in my head as I started reading, but I got past the urge to purge it from my Fire and kept reading. It also is not terrible, at least not to chapter thirteen, which is where I am currently in reading. The same sorts of cliches, but thus far, the movie is fairly true to the book, so that sort of cancels out the first person, present tense issue a tad.

What’s the point of all this?  As I said above, don’t just watch the movie and think you’ve read the book. That is the child’s way, or the way of people who proudly say things like “I don’t read.” (and I hope there are not too many people surrounding you who say that). There are films based on books that are completely unrecognizable if you have read the book, as almost everything is changed, not always for the better. Plus, if you’re going to be a writer, you must also be a reader. Reading the book and watching the movie, both carefully, and particularly for movies and books that make oodles of money, will give you insights not just about the differences, but allow you to look at those differences and note how they may ultimately impact the telling of the story. Nicholson as Jack in The Shining versus the character portrayed in the book opens a wide gulf of how the story is told: in the book, it takes longer for Jack to reach the crazy point, and you expect this because he is a normal sort of guy, all things considered. One look at Jack in the movie, as depicted by Nicholson, and you simply know the crazy will come on much faster as it seems he’s already halfway there.

Thus ends my not-a-rant-but-interesting thought for today’s entry. Hope you’re writing on whatever schedule you picked or whatever goal you selected to mark your progress. Keep on keeping on.

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