I’ve been thinking a lot recently about books versus films. There seems to be a lot of chat about it on Facebook and Twitter – I guess it’s a perpetual source of debate. It isn’t a subject I have a clear view on. I’ve watched movies of books I adored and been disappointed. I’ve read books after seeing an amazing film and hated the written work. Some books – like ET or Abyss – are almost like study guides to the movie, adding in so much back story and depth to an enjoyable two-hour visual experience.
One thing that has solidified in my mind, if not always born out in my emotions, is that film and book should always be viewed as separate pieces of art and each be judged on it’s merits. I say not born out in my emotions because – as a former historian – I like accuracy. I like to know a piece of historical fiction is based on some level of fact. I hated that Memoirs of a Geisha was presented as truth and yet was entirely fabricated.
So when I watch a film of a book I know well – especially if I’ve read the book recently – I get irritated by what seem to be arbitrary changes. Re-watching Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire this weekend, I remembered that Dobby helped Harry with the second challenge, not Neville Longbottom. However, since becoming an author, I found the change no longer bothered me (much). On the whole the conflict was the same. Harry couldn’t do the task and, at the 11th hour, was saved by a friend. The story arc was unaffected by the change in detail, and lots of unnecessary animation was avoided.
It can be much the same way when writing a novel: dialogue can be moved from one character to another, gender can change and even locations be shifted when revising a first draft and yet the original story remain intact. I’ve changed character’s ages, nationalities, hobbies, I’ve killed off siblings and parents, sacrificed no end to fulfill a story. (Today I had to change the details of Claire’s story when I researched glow-worm tours and found out they were done in a boat.)
To a certain extent such changes are inevitable from book to screen. You can’t cram five hundred pages into two or three hours – no matter how much a picture tells a thousand words – without changing something. Also books are unique in their ability to present internal motivation. Without the ability to see inside a character’s head, some elements have to alter to allow the character arc to be accountable.
The hardest thing I find when watching a movie version is casting. If it doesn’t match my mental image (or if they change white skin to black, Pelican Brief I’m looking at you) it’s too hard to process. I couldn’t watch the Twilight movies because none of the characters looked as three-dimensional as I had imagined them in my mind. (Sorry, terrible first book aside, I loved the whole series.)
The best of all worlds is seeing a movie poster before reading the book so the right people are in my head while I read. With big fantasy movies like Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, watching the movie (a suitable time after reading the book, so the memory is flawed!) enhances my re-reading of the novels. I’ve never been very good at imagining big castles or battle scenes in detail.
The same goes for costume dramas of the long BBC sort. I’ve just finished re-reading Pride and Prejudice (finished it at midnight last night. Pass the coffee, please) and I enjoyed it all the more for the ability to visualise the rooms, settings and characters more fully than Jane Austen’s words ever offered. We don’t learn much about Elizabeth except that she has fine eyes and a muddy skirt. While I read, I had the lovely Jennifer Ehle in mind as well as the delectable Colin Firth. It’s the best of all worlds.
As ‘research’ for this post I got to watch the last episode on YouTube. I love the marriage and carriage scene at the end, with the beautiful chaste kiss. No such thing in the book, but who doesn’t love a wedding? The book and TV series combined to generate a deeper emotional experience.
As an aside, I’ve had people say my Dragon Wraiths front cover helps to visualise Leah and set the tone for the book. Maybe that’s why it’s such fun casting actors for your own works, so you can assist others in seeing what you see. For example Colin Egglesfield is Marcio in Baby Blues and Wedding Shoes. Oh yes.
Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:
Claire sat motionless, every nerve, every inch of her skin alert and listening. The dark closed in around her as her eyes adjusted to the gloom. Eventually a pinprick of light shone in the black. Then another, and another. She heard gasps around her, and craned her neck to see.
There, up above, like the stars being revealed by the setting sun, hundreds of tiny green lights blazed across the roof of the cave. The space was larger than she had imagined: the lights emphasised the vastness, as their eerie glow illuminated the contours of the ceiling.
The motion of the boat rocked Claire’s senses, calming her agitation. The walk through the cathedral cave had left her prickling with tension as she’d sought to keep her distance without giving away her unease.
Claire felt movement behind her and stiffened, waiting. She thought she could feel hot breath near her cheek. Resisting the urge to turn around, or brush at her face as if shooing a pesky fly, Claire gripped her seat and continued to focus on the glow-worms. Her ears filled with the sound of breathing, punctuated by the dripping of water. Waitomo. Water cave. Focussing on the facts, on what she would write in her blog, Claire casually leant forwards to get a better look at the luminous universe above her head.
As if the movement freed her, Claire felt the hoops release from around her lungs, letting in dank, stale air. Suddenly she needed oxygen. The boat became a prison. She wanted to push at the people around her, jump over the side and swim for the exit visible in the distance. Digging her fingers into the seat until it seemed her knuckles might cut through her skin, Claire concentrated on breathing in and out. She thought she could hear a chuckle behind her, but she refused to turn round.
At last the boat bumped against the shore. Claire scrambled forwards, not waiting for the guide’s offered hand. Almost tipping the boat in her haste, she gave a sob of relief as her feet touched solid ground. Without looking back, she strode up the slope and into the light.
Claire rested her back against the damp stone and gave a shaky laugh. When will you learn, missus? You should never have got into that pool.
The last twenty-four hours were a blur of panic and hiding. She’d fled from the beach pool as soon as the guide told them it was time to get back on the bus, draping her sarong around her tingling skin and practically running off the beach. If the driver had been surprised to see her sit at the front of the coach he didn’t comment, although she sensed something pass between him and Neal when the latter boarded a few minutes later. He’d chuckled as he walked past, setting her heart racing.
Claire had gone straight to her room at the hostel, not even leaving for the legendary fish and chips when the rest of them did. In the morning it was more of the same, and at the gold mine too. Constantly sticking near the guide, paying attention to the tour, taking notes and pictures. The perfect image of an enthusiastic tourist. All the while her brain had churned, trying to make sense of her emotions. That she was attracted to Neal was undeniable. That he was dangerous, equally so.
He’d beaten her in the tour; climbing into the boat when she was already seated, and taking a place just behind her. He had breathed one word during the journey, a whisper of a sound that she heard as, “Chicken.” His voice, more than the word, had set her pulse racing.
What do I do now? I don’t want to stay in this town longer than necessary, but that means getting back on a bus with him, checking into another hostel and knowing he’s sleeping down the corridor. Why me? I’m not exactly his type.
As she thought the words she knew they weren’t true. Neal had watched her since day one. Not flirting, not making advances. Just watching. Like a panther in the long grass.
Claire shivered. The caves had been cold and she’d left her jacket on the bus. Realising the rest of her tour had gone back, Claire hurried away, not wanting to be left behind again.
When she arrived at the bus it was full and the driver was just beginning his head count. A quick scan of the interior showed her there were only a few free seats. She took one at the front, next to a middle-aged man wearing glasses and a tank top. She could almost feel Neal’s smirk from his position towards the back of the bus.
Feeling like a cornered mouse, waiting for the pounce of soft and deadly paws, Claire pulled out her book and pretended to read.