Why is the book better than the movie?

And a deeper question for writers…

by Margaret Welwood

It always takes me a while to recover from reading a Francine Rivers book because the characters continue to interact—scenarios from the book, and new ones as the heroes find themselves in further predicaments and need my help.

I googled the first question in my title and came up with numerous articles, all with explanations that made sense. Here are a few:

As the movie director, you watch the story play out before your eyes in the way that you can best relate to it. The characters may resemble, physically and psychologically, people you know, and may even help you to understand others better.

The movie is three hours long, with no chance to replay your favorite parts (if you’re in a movie theatre), but you can savour the book at your own pace.

You can HOLD the book. I like to keep glancing back at the cover picture, or the picture of the author I’m appreciating more and more.

Straightforward enough. But that took me to a deeper question—how can we keep our stories playing in our readers’ minds?

We’ve all started to read a book, then put it down because we’ve lost interest. And we’ve stayed up too late reading other books.

Even with the caveat that what’s fascinating to me (Biblical fiction, Christian suspense) may be boring to you (What? You like sports stories?), we acknowledge that skilled writers in every genre know how to keep interest high.

So how do we—like Rivers and other skilled authors—learn to keep our readers’ interest? The answers seem almost too simple, but they work very well.

  1. Read successful authors in your genre. Read their work silently and out loud. Immerse yourself in it. Unknown to them, Stan, Jan, and Mike Berenstain were my mentors when I began to write picture books for children. They also mentored the artist for my first two books.
  2. Study the craft via free or paid resources and courses.
  3. Pay close attention to what the beta readers of your stories tell you. Their opinions may not be based on a university degree in literature, but their opinions will be based on what your readers like.
  4. Consider joining a community of writers. When I was writing magazine articles, our library was hosting a weekly meeting for writers that provided useful feedback. The online Authors Community offers a free Starter membership that will give you friendly access to other writers as well as editors, illustrators, and other professionals.

It’s a big world out there, with millions of potential readers. Will our stories be read?

Margaret Welwood loved teaching English as a Second Language, writing magazine articles, and editing a business magazine and adult non-fiction books (one an Amazon #1 best seller, the other a Writer’s Digest award winner). However, with the arrival of grandchildren and their welcome request—“Grandma, can you tell me a story?”—she began writing and editing picture books for children. This is now her favorite genre.

Please visit eBookChristian to learn about Margaret’s picture books for children (both print and digital), and her Authors Community (AC) vendor page for her editing services.

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8 thoughts on “Why is the book better than the movie?”

  1. I have seen exactly two movies that were better than the books they came from. One was Harry Potter V, the book made me ill to read but the movie was an improvement. The other was Mary Poppins; I thought the book reeked. Adding Bert as a main character saved it. Dick Van Dyck is still wonderful, even supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.
    The reason books are better for me is that books have to be pared down mercilessly to make into movies. A book contains far more story than a movie can contain. I tried to pare my book Faerie King into a script once and it was still four hours long! I gave up.

    1. Some movies that were better than the book:
      2001: A Space Odyssey (but I had to buy and read the book after seeing the movie to figure out the ending)
      Of Mice and Men (have seen all 3 movie versions but the first one was best)
      Mutiny on the Bounty (the one with Marlon Brando, Trevor Howard, and Richard Harris). The book was better than the other 2 versions of the movie.

      Some books that were better than the movie:
      One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
      The Grapes of Wrath
      Hombre
      1984
      All of Stephen King’s books. For whatever reason, they do not translate well to the big screen (or little screen either).

      1. Even with Paul Newman in the lead,the movie Cool Hand Luke was not a great as the book. I think it is because our imaginations are so powerful that when we read a really good book that teases our senses well, we get totally involved in the book. Movies do not play to our senses of taste, smell, touch such as a great description in a book can. Just sayin’

  2. Another issue is the length of the script vs the novel. Novels can typically be about 300-400 pages. A script, by way of the format, is usually expected to wrap up around 120 pages, give or take but 100-110 is preferred.

    Per script format, one page equals about one minute of screen time so, by that scale, so very much has to be scaled down or altogether removed from the story in order to get it to fit into the format.

    Therefore, a movie will feel more rushed or consolidated, thinned out if you will. Just the nature of the beast.

  3. I think a book IS better than the movie extracted from it because:

    1. You get to imagine and there’s no right or wrong (remember when LORD of the RINGS came out? There were lots of disappointed Tolkien fans.)

    2. You get to savour it.

    3. You get to know the people far better in a book than in a movie, and just as relationships in real life make life worthwhile, so does the discovery of the psyche of book characters make reading and experiencing the story worthwhile.

    4. Finally, and here’s my confession: I get to peek at the ending whenever I want (Yup, I admit it — I usually look at the resolution about a third of the way through my read).

    Great thought-provoking post, Margaret. Thank you.

  4. One of the movies that I thought was a definite improvement on the book was ‘Talk about the Boy’. I felt the film was more succinct. I read the book after I saw the movie and wasn’t particularly impressed.

    The other movies that I thought did more than justice to the books were couple of Jane Austen books, including BBC Pride and Prejudice – my favourite book – and Lady Susan. The latter is a book completely composed of letters. I found the dialogue of the movie riveting and the characters so much more real than the letters had the capacity to portray. In Pride and Prejudice there is a lot of prose that can be left out without damaging the rest. And I felt the movie made the story just that much more dynamic.

    1. I totally agree about Pride and Prejudice.The TV miniseries was 6 hours long and did a magnificent job with the story–but nobody is going to sit in a theater for 6 hours just so a movie can do a book justice.

      Not sure I agree about Lady Susan, though. I completely enjoyed the letters and the way the characters were developed through their own voices. I thought it was pure genius 🙂 However, the actors’ portrayals were very good and the dialogue was dynamic in the movie.

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