Book-based Movies vs Movie-based Books

Has anyone else noticed that there are a plethora of movies based on well written(or not) novels, while the number of well written books based on movies is disappointingly small?  Then again is there ANY new movie these days that isn’t based on a book or play, or heaven forbid, another movie?

I wouldn’t mind reading a book based on another form of media.  In fact, I’ve considered searching out the books based on the video game Assassin’s Creed, most people play that game for the story anyways.  What’s stopping me though, is that the very few books I’ve picked up that were based on movies, have either been mediocre or down right terrible.

I believe there are several main reasons that all contribute to these mediocre re-tellings.  And honestly, I think they could easily be overcome if a bit more hard work is applied.

First off, I don’t think companies spend enough time looking for an author. Perhaps they think any old writer will do, or they don’t want to shell out the money for an outstanding author, or maybe the writers they approach refuse the job because they aren’t inspired enough by the story.  You have to find someone who’s really passionate about the story.  It’s like the difference between Peter Jackson’s take on The Lord of the Rings, vs the terrible rendition of Eragon.  The same in writing, you need to feel the passion for the story from the author- something that goes way beyond hiring a decent writer.  A good writer doesn’t always make a good story.

Secondly, readers prefer novels because they have the ability to go more in depth into the story and the characters.  Movies have a lot of material to work with, and they don’t have to spend time describing the details of the world-because we see them visually.  That’s not at all the case in books though.  And somewhere along the line, lost in translation, is all that flavor and depth that books have.  Most books based on other media are flat and dull, the world/scenes just don’t jump off the page because they’re more focused on the plot than the world building.

Lastly, I think the book versions generally try to take the story too literally. (This excludes the series of Star Wars, Star Trek, and the like which expand on the original source.)  In movies dialogue is mostly re-written, plots are changed, and in some cases a character is left out/merged with another character.  What I notice about direct movie to book writing, is that they try to perfectly emulate the movie.  There’s hardly any deviation from the source material, and although that can be seen as dedication, it can really water down the representation of the source when switching mediums.  More time should be spent on figuring out how to create the story as a great novel, as opposed a screenplay without parentheses and brackets.

It takes a lot of work for a movie to come together to represent a book.  If only the same amount of time and work went into translating a movie into a book.   Although, thinking about it, maybe as writers it would be a great exercise to re-tell a story from a game/movie/tv series.   I think we could learn a lot about the craft and how we write by attempting to translate into writing a story we’ve visually taken in.

Why do you think there’s such a difference between translating the two mediums?  And what are some of the books you’ve read that are based on other media?  If any of them were good, please send me in their direction!


About Aly Hughes
Unprofessional, unedited, unpublished. Aly is out to make a name for herself by blogging, twittering, facebooking, and general internet-ing. Be warned: She may not know what she's talking about.

5 Responses to Book-based Movies vs Movie-based Books

  1. Luarien says:

    I think a big part of it is the dramatic organization of a book and a movie. The movie is really based on the play, itself an entirely different dramatic structure from the book or story. I can’t really think of anything terribly poignant to compare a book to, but a movie is like a rollercoaster; it’s supposed to take us up and down in a particular way, building up for this scene or that, so that the entire experience is, for lack of a better term, magical.

    Books, though, are a treatise on the story they’re telling. They’re not bound to emotional involvement in the same fashion. They’re intimate, direct, cerebral. They entertain in an entirely different fashion and speak to different parts of us than movies do. This is part of the reason that “action books” fall flat in a lot of ways, since it takes a writer with some serious talent for combat to be entertaining when most of the book is, well, combat. Like RA Salvatore, even though I can’t say much for his dramatic writing.

    There’s another aspect of characterization that I think is lost between mediums. In a movie there’s certain kinds of character development we’ll overlook due to its format. We don’t need to worry about his relationship with his mother or whether shooting that man hurt her self-image. In a book, though, these thoughts fester and boil and become the well from which character drama, internal drama, is drawn. In books these become the questions and answers that texture the plot and make it fascinating for us. Books, novels especially, can tell the whole story of a character, the whole feeling and the whole image, without sacrificing anything. We can really understand a character in a way that’s just impossible in movies. Most movie to book authors, I think, forget that dimension when they’re writing.

    • Aly Hughes says:

      You make some excellent points. I like what you said about action books, and I agree. I think it all boils down to characterization. When I’m reading a book as opposed to watching a movie, I don’t care as much about what is happening as I do about who it is happening to. While perhaps not all readers are like that, I have a feeling the majority are. And books where the majority is written as action, just can’t deliver that multi-dimensional aspect of characters that we’re looking for. Instead of reiterating your last paragraph, I’m just going to say you hit it spot on.

      Thanks you so much for your well written response!

      • Luarien says:

        My pleasure. I enjoy reading your pieces and, well, it’s a little bit of free publicity ;).

        Thanks for the compliments as well. Keep up the good, thought provoking work!

        • Aly Hughes says:

          bahaha! I’m compiling a blogroll to put on my side menu right now, and your site will definitely be on it. Then you’ll get to pick and choose which posts you actually want to comment on! 😉

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