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Has Film Changed How we Write Fantasy?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by mirrorrorrim, Nov 27, 2011.

  1. mirrorrorrim

    mirrorrorrim Minstrel

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    A couple months ago, I was talking to a group of co-workers about The Lord of the Rings. One of them had just finished listening to the books on CD, and she made the point of how much better she thought the movies were. I was surprised to find that most everyone in the group agreed with her. Many had started reading the books, but just handn't been able to bring themselves to finish them. These people praised Peter Jackson for taking out all of the boring, superflous elements of Tolkien's story, while keeping the powerful core.

    I remained silent during the exchange, but in my mind I strongly disagreed with them on the relative value of the two stories. I love The Lord of the Rings movies. I saw all three several times in theaters, and many more times since they've been released on DVD and Blu Ray. I feel Peter Jackson created as good an adaptation as I could imagine. But for all that, there are so many wonderful facets of the book that he necessarily had to leave out–Fatty Bolger, Glorfindel, Tom Bombadil and Goldberry, the Scouring of the Shire, all the songs, and so many other things that, small and large, made Middle Earth such a vibrant, living world. It surprised me that no one else in my group felt the same.

    Since then, I've often pondered on that conversation. With all Peter Jackson cut out, the core of the story is still present. Does that mean all the rest really is unnecessary? With Tolkien, it's my instant reaction to say no, but looking at it objectively, that's probably largely due to the fact that I knew and loved his writing for so long before the films were released. When I read other classics, such as Les Miserables, I can't help but feel that tens and even hundreds of pages are completely irrelevent to the story, and that the book would probably be better if they were cut out. I'm pretty sure most modern editors would agree, and unless Tolkien were self-published, I don't doubt that large sections of his novels would have died on the cutting-room floor. In fact, once his works all become public domain in 2050 or so, I won't be at all surprised if we see an abridged version, much like we have with many of the older classics.

    In a movie, the director has between one and four hours to tell the audience his story. It doesn't matter if he shot six hours or six hundred hours of film–he can only keep as much as will fit within that accepted window. Because of this, not a single shot is wasted, and every scene fits as an important component of the director's overall vision. If something doesn't serve a purpose, no matter how nice or creative or nostalgic it might be, then it just isn't included. As audiences, that's what we've come to expect.

    Has this also translated itself into the way we read books? Is that why my co-workers so preferred the films to the books? And if it is, then what does that mean for fantasy writing? How have we as writers needed to alter our work in order to satisfy a world that has been raised on films for more than two generations? How, if at all, do we need to alter it further? And are there other aspects of films, besides those mentioned, that have changed what people expect when they read a book?

    Honestly, I'm a little worried, as one who loves Tolkien's style, that I might write something that follows his pacing too closely, and that is unpalatable to the modern reader.

    Thanks in advance for your responses.
     
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  2. Movies are not books. Simple as that. While I do praise the LOTR movies for following the books fairly closely, for a movie, the simple truth is they aren't the same. I just finished reading Starship Troopers, which I hadn't read in a decade or two, and as I read it I kept coming back to the simple question...where did the movie come from? Talk about two different stories.

    Tolkien wrote his stories for people of another age, one without a cable channel for everything, sometimes two. How do you expect someone to know what a swamp looks like if they have never seen one? Or tall mountains? Tolkien, and many other older stories, had to provide far more visuals than we do today. Why should I spend several paragraphs describing a computer? You know what a computer is, what it does, all I need to do is make clear any differences from what you know to what isn't the same.

    If movies provided a tenth the story depth a book does, I might actually find myself watching more movies and reading less books. They don't. The difference is time commitment, a big point to me. I can waste a couple hours of my life and watch a movie, I'll use the horrid rendition of harry potter and the order of the pheonix, which ranks up with my all time worst movies ever. Hours of my life I can't get back. Now, if the book had been as horrible as the movie (which it wasn't) then that would have been several days of reading time plus the other reading time from the prior four that I would have been cheated out of.

    Ok, I haven't watched a hp movie since that one, see no reason too, but most movies I watch I have very low expectations of. But the same can't be said of a book, it has to have a depth a movie will not have, can't have. We might not have as much detail as before, but we will still get good stories that have depth and power. Name of the Wind and Wise Man's Fear are two I'd put up as recent novels that have writing so good I'd set them beside Tolkien and find them just as good.

    Where we go wrong is the copy cat syndrome. It happens in books, music, movies, and anything else that is successful. How many kids in wizard school were being tossed out after Harry Potter became a success? Or new vampire novels when twilight took off? I have a few hundred books on my bookshelf that never needed to follow in the wake of another writer, some great, some just enjoyable.

    As much as I don't care for the kindle...or any other device chained to a store, it has gotten more people reading...and to me, that is an excellent thing. So while the movies will still be there, I'd not worry too much about them. How many movies based on books have even come close to really representing the book? How many deviate so badly you have to wonder if the movie producer/script writer even read the original book.
     
  3. Shadoe

    Shadoe Sage

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    I love books and I love movies. I can't rate one higher than the other because they're different ways of telling a story. It's easy to recognize that what works in a book can't exactly work the same in a movie and the same holds true the other way.

    What works in a book changes. The classics that we look back on are very different in their content from books that are written now. They did contain lots of what we now would call excess fat. At the time, that excess fat was entirely necessary to tell the story. Now, though, we have a visual medium that lets us see what then needed to be described in detail. Also, it helps to understand that at one time, books weren't there just to tell a story, they were there to give an experience to the reader. The more words they had the better - and longer - the experience. Now we have lots of experiences in our lives. We don't need longer books to keep us occupied, we just want the story.

    So yes, movies have changed our needs in books in that we need less description and more getting to the meat of the story. And no, it's not just movies that have done it to us. We've all become more worldly, more experienced.

    We should also understand that there are lots of people who simply don't like to read. They would much rather watch a movie and get the gist of the story than read the book and have to wade through so many pages over the course of weeks in order to get the story.
     
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  4. Elder the Dwarf

    Elder the Dwarf Maester

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    Really? I didn't mind the fifth movie, even if you had to deal with Umbridge the whole damn time... the sixth movie is another matter entirely. By far the worst of the movies.

    As for the actual question, I worry about the same thing, as I like more descriptive writing. However, I don't think it is impossible to publish a book like that, although it would be much easier if you had a name beforehand. Publishers would probably be much more lenient with a author that already had a following.
     
  5. Let's see, the guy playing Dumbledore should have read the books to figure out how his character should have been acting. The real breaking point is when the half rate Umbridge blows a hole in the room of requirement...you know, the one Harry spent half of book six trying to figure out how to get into? And the battle was a major let down, as was most of the other action. Just bad.

    Still, after reading the reviews of the latest remake of connan, I think I'll just keep on reading and writing and not worry about what the movies are doing. Honestly, the movie writers are so out of good ideas it's almost pathetic. How many remakes have they tossed out in the past few years? While some were pretty good, it doesn't imply they have many new good ideas coming out of the movie writing arena. Good novels I can still find a lot of, good movies are not so plentiful.
     
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  6. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    The funny thing about Conan is that there is good source material on which a movie could be based. Howard's ideas are out there, and available for the filmmaker. But they nevertheless chose to come up with some half-baked story line of their own and go with that instead.
     
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  7. Leuco

    Leuco Troubadour

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    Fantasy (and fiction in general) has changed greatly since the days of Tolkien. Readers are not as patient as they used to be. It used to be common practice to describe a scene in great, tedious detail, but you can't really do that with today's audience. The canon of writing has been transformed to reflect the fickle, easily distracted, modern reader. Books are competing now with video games, movies, TV, and facebook. That is why more and more authors are starting novels with gimmicks: starting at the end with the climax or with some really cheesy lines like, "It was a terrible day the first time I died." There's this tired pattern in writing now. You find it in all of the more popular fictional works.

    Personally, I find this pattern rather frustrating because it's become so common place. It's like we're begging readers to keep reading. I've read many how-to writing books where they encourage authors to minimize their details. An example would be if you are describing a field, it's OK to just call it a field, because most readers will automatically visualize a generic field (or perhaps something specific and personal) in their mind. There's no sense trying to use prose to describe the setting. Readers can infer and use their own imagination to fill in the blanks and then move on to the next scene.

    Now, as for movies and their role in the new "abridged" form of writing, I think writers really are emulating film. After all, when someone reads, they do form their own moving pictures in their mind. It's only natural for authors to make it easier for the reader to imagine things like a movie. I suppose that's why most popular works today are written at a fifth grade reading level.

    Anyway, that's just my late night opinion. Thanks for posting an interesting thread. :)
     
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  8. In 1954, when The Fellowship of the Ring was published, movies had existed for more than fifty years, TV was invading homes the world over, and there'd been this invention called photography for the better part of a century, wherein pictures of places like swamps and mountains could be found in things called books, often kept in large buildings called libraries. I don't think the cultural public was quite as image-impoverished as you seem to think. :)
     
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  9. Remakes are the result of mainstream movie production being in the hands of giant risk-averse multinational conglomerates; it has nothing to do with the writers. Writers write what sells, and what the studios are buying are sequels, remakes, and adaptations.

    Despite that, there are plenty of fresh, original movies that come out each year, they just usually don't come from the big Hollywood studios.
     
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  10. Shadoe

    Shadoe Sage

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    Movies had existed, yes, but people didn't go to movies every day of their lives, as they do now, in the form of television. Television itself was still in its infancy and the concept of 24-hour variety programming hadn't been invented. Most people didn't even have a television. For those who did, it was still a very limited medium. There was still a large segment of the population who never went to movies. Books were still more accessible for most people. People still didn't travel unless it was really, really important, so seeing those places was still outside of most people's experience.
     
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  11. JCFarnham

    JCFarnham Auror

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    The simple fact is that (some) people reading a novel expect to get the same kind of satisfaction in the same way as they would for watching a film. Seems like they expect everything to be as direct as a visual medium is. And indeed, Films have changed the way authors write. I'd even say that some stories read like they should be on film (I've even read of some books being praised for how cinematic they are! That just seems odd to me).

    Largely, the population is lazy, so if they can even be bothered to read a book, they want it to be easy, with everything told up front and as little filling in the blanks as possible ... I also think this might be why you get a lot more description of characters as "beautiful", or "ample" than you used to. Traditionally if a character was beautiful, it would first have to matter to the story, THEN it would be described, if at all, and properly mind you, not by rely on boring words like "pretty", or whatever.

    I have a small anecdote on the introduction and proliferation of television. Both my parents (born '53 and '60) can remember their "first television". That shows you just how long it took for the medium to catch on in some areas. In the time Tolkien was writing, we have to remember he was working to a tradition, he was writing to some extent like writers in the 50 years prior to him, like how now days (more so than him) we write to the traditions of writers passed. He would have seemed fairly old upon publication anyway, no matter how ground breaking he was. We also have to remember how damn long it took for him to get anything published. People just didn't want to know!

    Anyway, that's getting a touch off topic now, so..

    Yes. Visual Media have changed the way we write. Especially fantasy what with a great tradition of fantasy video gaming and so on.
     
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  12. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Tolkein was a phenomenal writer, but there's elements of his work which are a little dated. People used to read novels, in part, to learn, and with the myriads of competing media and the broadening of the reading market, that's no longer really true. So the areas in which Tolkein takes time to educate his readers, or even areas where Tolkein crafts his story hoping to educate his readers, feel clunky and superfluous, boring, even tiring to a modern reader. If people want to learn, they go to the computer, they don't pick up a novel.

    Novels have also moved away from description somewhat in response to TV and Film, much as paintings started to become impressionist in response to the photograph. We can see clear details on the screen, and we read now more to invoke our imaginations than anything else. Mileage may vary, but in general authors no longer spend three and a half pages telling you what a single character or a room might look like.

    Lastly, there's elements to some stories, Tolkein's in particular, to which film is just a better medium. The Battle of Helm's Deep comes to mind. Tolkein used a number of scene jumps and dialogue to tell us how the battle was progressing. Jackson let us watch it straight through.
     
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  13. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Interesting. Yes, with impressionism we see a move away from trying to compete with what the camera can do, and instead to do something the camera cannot.

    With a lot of modern writing, I feel like the approach is to try to emulate, to some extent, the cinematic experience. Other works go in a different direction and would be hard to approximate on film. Which approach do you prefer?
     
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  14. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    In paintings, I hate Impressionism and prefer the Thomas Kinkade approach (somebody will criticize me for saying so, so be it). I think he creates something that is grander and greater and more fantastical than the photograph. By comparison, I think Impressionism feels in many ways lesser than the photograph, if that makes sense.

    In the same way, I prefer descriptions that feel more powerful than a visual image, and often the way to do that is with the language that you use. You can activate a description by using a lot of verbs and verb-like adjectives.

    Instead of,

    "A dusty lampshade sat on the lamp, and a red hue lit up the room."

    I might try,

    "A red lampshade, dressed in dust, sat atop the lamp, captured most of its light and released only a glow to brighten up the room."

    That's a bad example because it has nothing to do with the characters or story. But the faintest detail can feel like an active element of the mood, even by itself. That's what I prefer. Use the detail to a greater effect than you can do in the movies.

    ((edit))

    I don't usually edit after someone else has posted, but this is really an awful, awful example. I'm not even sure it exemplifies the point. I want to use a better one, and the only one I can think of off hand as a common reference is from my own writing (which I hate referring to). I posted an entry in the Trigger challenge, about a guy badly dressed as a vampire on Halloween, with ketchup smeared on his neck as blood. Later in the story he's trying to impress a girl, and he pathetically rubs off the ketchup, and "His blood felt dry." It has the double meaning of referring to the ketchup and to his own nerves. In a movie that scene moment would just be awkward, but the way it's written I think you can "feel" it, if that makes any sense.

    That's the sort of detail I prefer to see in writing. The way something is written can make even something mundane more meaningful than the visual elements alone.
     
    Last edited: Nov 28, 2011
  15. One thing you don't get with a movie you do with a book...internal thoughts and feelings. Some movies have tossed in mental thoughts, but they don't work as well in a movie as they do a book. So, while we might not get the same level of description as there used to be, the way a character feels is only felt through the words of a novel.
     
  16. Erica

    Erica Minstrel

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    I'm not a good person to ask here. I'm the kind of person who will be vaguely disappointed if the latest novel by a favorite author is much less than 500 pages. I tend to get hooked into stories by characters and the world itself, so short, tightly plotted stories always leave me feeling like someone offered me a light snack when I was hungry for a four course meal.

    Now LoTR is still the trilogy that nearly other fantasy work (high fantasy at least) is compared to in some way. It is the classic. That doesn't mean everyone loves it or that modern writers should try to emulate it. Many things about the story are dated. No sex or even sexual tension (they added some hot scenes between Aragorn and Arwen in the movie, but in the book you got the impression that those two did no more than walk in the woods together and end their dates with a handshake), no strong language (and I'm sure orcs at least swore back then) and no female characters to speak of except for Eowyn and the two elves, and those were all very minor and somewhat stereotyped. But he did an amazing job of creating interesting reluctant heroes in the hobbits, a well drawn world and culture and a fascinating story.

    For my part, I liked all the side stories in LOTR and was disappointed that they didn't put Bombadil etc in the movie, even if I knew why they cut that stuff out. And with the HP movies, I kind of wondered if people who only saw the movies and didn't read the books were wondering why we were supposed to be so sad about Dobby dying. After all, in the movies, they cut out everything about the house elves after HP II even to the point of re-writing the story so that other characters did things Dobby was supposed to have done. I'm not sure why they decided to cut all that out, as it seems like they wouldn't have lengthened the movies by much if anything. I liked that whole subplot in the book, and actually wished that JK Rowling had put in more about the reasons for their enslavement/masochism in spite of being so powerfully magical. But maybe I'm strange.

    Seems like most of the novels in the genre are still fairly long and involved (even YA novels like Harry Potter and Eragon have a lot of pages and side plots), but then, it might be a selection effect on my part here. My eyes may not be 'seeing' shorter books crammed between the thick ones on the bookstore shelves.
     
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  17. mirrorrorrim

    mirrorrorrim Minstrel

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    I never really thought of it that way, but I think I'm the same way. I tend to fall in love with the characters of my favorite books, and I always want to know more about them. I think the parts I enjoy most are those times when the characters are simply living their lives, either before, after, or during an interlude to their big adventure. In such periods, I feel that I really grow to know the characters, and it makes me care so much more for them when they are facing mortal perils.

    For example, in L. E. Modesitt's The Order of Recluse, my favorite part was a section in the middle where the main character became an apprentice furniture-maker. In Terry Goodkind's The Sword of Truth, I loved that a long duration of book six focused on the main character becoming a normal artisan in a city; for me, this became the highlight of the series.

    I feel that my own writing reflects this preference. My characters are everything; plot points primarily exist to help my characters grow, develop, and change. Seldom will I write an event into the story simply for its own sake.

    In movies, you seldom get peaceful moments like that. Or if you do, such scenes usually make up the entire film, and you don't get much of an actual story arc. I think the fact that books can have both is one of their greatest strengths.

    This leads me to a related question I'd like to add to those already present in my first post (several of you have touched on it already):

    What, if any, advantages do books have over films? Are there things that books can do that films never can, or at least cannot do as well? As films grow more and more dominant, should we as writers try to emphasize these as much as possible in an attempt to stay relevant? Or will that just alienate casual readers even more?
     
    Last edited: Nov 29, 2011
  18. 1. Internal thoughts/monologues - Showing a character's inner thoughts and mental struggles is very difficult to do in film.

    2. Digressions - It's acceptable (even in this day and age) to digress for paragraphs or chapters about something that is related, just for the sake of background/flavor. It sort of depends on the genre, but you really can't do this at all in movies, not without almost everyone thinking that it's out of place, distracts from the story flow, etc.

    When considering this question, one thing to keep in mind is that the way books and films are consumed is very different -- I don't mean reading vs. watching, but rather that when you read a book, with very few exceptions you read it in several chunks over a period of days or weeks. (The only time I can recall not doing this was with Deathly Hallows, which I read non-stop for about 10 hours, taking only a 20-minute break to drive over to my parents' for dinner. The meal did not interrupt the reading.)

    Films, by contrast, are usually absorbed all at once (at least, they are in a movie theater). There's no pausing or interrupting. As a result, the flow has to be perfect if it's going to be good, because people get into a rhythm. With a book, at least, I can enjoy it just as much if I read it slowly over weeks, but if a film (at least one I haven't seen before) got interrupted multiple times while I'm watching it, I'll end up wanting to stab someone.
     
  19. ascanius

    ascanius Inkling

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    First let me explain that these are my opinions that I have contemplated extensively. I do not intend to insult anyone, or start an argument about modern society. Again these are my opinions and I don't intent to insult anyone so please don't take any of this personally.

    Reading this post makes me very sad but the truth is evident. If you want my opinion people are stupid, selfish, lazy bent on instant gratification and adoration of their peers with little actual thought or reason behind anything. That is just my opinion but a topic better left alone here. Honestly I think movies and in particular TV are changing writing, everything in this modern age. I don't think movies are necessarily to blame, well some movies at least, but TV is. Think about it. TV shows are designed to be short to the point so that anyone from any background can turn on the TV and know exactly what is going on with little if any investment. Even shows that are supposed to be informative have to follow this rule meaning the viewer gains empty knowledge. TV and movies are meant to be mindless entertainment where the viewers don't have to think, common reality TV. That is what the majority of writers are competing with, less detail, less of everything leaving only a shallow story that caters to a specific groups needs. The vast majority of information that we see every day is empty.

    One thing that a book can do that a movie will never be capable of is detail, a sense of immersion into a world beyond our own. Movies can try but you are still watching something that you have no actual investment in, though there are the occasional few. Dark Night was the only movie I have ever watched that I felt any emotion besides being entertained, ok and the notebook. I separate movies and books into two different realms, I never compare or use my standards for a book that I use for a movie. And I never have the expectation that I have for a book that I would for a movie.

    As a someone who writes in my spare time for my own sake I won't write to appease to the selfish whims of people who are dominated by TV and movies for their entertainment and knowledge I don't think anyone else should either.

    On a side note I don't think fantasy fiction is the only thing to suffer in wake of modern media. I play piano and find the vast majority of music boring and repetitive. visual art is already lost beyond hope now. Basically people have allowed mediocrity to become great.
     
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  20. Elder the Dwarf

    Elder the Dwarf Maester

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    Ascanius, I respectfully disagree when you say that movies can't be emotional. Go watch Radio. If you don't cry during that movie, you probably need something checked mentally. There are several movies I have cried during, and many more that have had a profound emotional effect on me. I'm not saying that books don't do this as well, but movies are definitely emotional. When you watch Lord of the Rings, do you not get excited during a battle, scared in Shelob's cave, and sad when Boromir dies? How could you not?

    To answer mirrorrorrim (damn that's hard to spell) yes, there are several advantages to books. Benjamin answered the question well. There are more, though I won't be able to think of them all.

    One thing I personally think is an advantage is length. Novels are able to have so much more detail, more sideplots, more characterization, and more attachment. If I like a movie, there is almost a one hundred percent chance that I will want it to be longer. With a novel I am the same way. I am always disappointed the story has ended, not angry that the story took a week to finish.

    As mentioned above, novels are able to immerse you as movies can't (at least usually).

    Novels have more of an ability and/or tendency to provide different experiences based on the knowledge, reasoning, and life of the reader. One reader may read a book with completely differing views on specific parts, and both might still love it. Also, the beauty of novels is in the details, both those included and those left out.
     
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