Books and Movies

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Your favorite book now a major motion picture.

I have a love/hate relationship with the concept of turning books into movies. When one of my favorite books is slated to become a movie, I tend to be excited and antsy. I search the cast list for any resemblance to the people I love. I watch trailers looking for that moment that was personally pivotal to me in the book. I read articles to discern the director’s depth of understanding of his material. When Peter Jackson first announced plans to make Lord of the Rings, I obsessed to a degree that was beyond fan girl. Way beyond fan girl. Why? Because Lord of the Rings is my favorite, not-the-Bible book of all time. Favorite.

But this isn’t an article about Lord of the Rings. This is an observation about translating books into movies, and how movies have changed our writing. I want to explore this idea by comparing The Hobbit, Hunger Games, and Ender’s Game. I’ve read and enjoyed all three books and all three movies. I hope they make an interesting comparison study.

Tolkien penned The Hobbit long before fantasy-type books became movies every summer. I can’t imagine Tolkien IMDB-ing actors to see if Martin Freeman would make a good Bilbo. When Card wrote Ender’s Game having a book turned into a movie was more likely, but still a shot in the dark. Then we come to The Hunger Games. It was almost a guarantee that if the book had any success, it would be made into a movie. Suzanne Collins worked in the TV business, writing shows for children. I can’t imagine her writing The Hunger Games without a movie in the back of her mind. How do I know that? Because I do the same thing. I grew up with movies and I can’t help but think of them when I write.

We have one book with no thoughts for a movie, one with a little thought, and one heavily influenced.

And their movies? (Please remember this is just my opinion.)

The Hunger Games was a great movie that followed the book closely adjusting pacing as needed for a film. My husband, who isn’t a fiction reader, really loved it.

Ender’s Game followed the book closely, as far as I can remember, but with more concern for the book’s fans than movie goers. My husband found it boring and a bit confusing. I didn’t feel as into the movie as I was the book. It came across as choppy, and poorly paced. I should note that it’s been many years since I read the book.

THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEYThe Hobbit was so different from the book. In fact, I hated the movie when I first saw it. Right after watching it, my husband and I dove into the book and found the movie to be surprisingly accurate, all things considered. Of the three, this was the only one that my husband had read both the book and seen the movie.

I think it would have been impossible for Peter Jackson to follow the Hobbit as it was written. The barrel scene? Twelve dwarves floating down a river in closed barrels as river elves pushed them along: worked in the book, boring on the screen. In a book, the author can give the reader a brief sentence saying the town chief is gross and greedy. A reader has no problem accepting that a moving on. In a movie, you have to show it and establish it. It can’t be tacked on somewhere.

In fact, as I refreshed my view of the Hobbit, I became more pleased at what Peter Jackson preserved that he could have left out. There are writing tools you can manipulate in a book that you just can’t spring on people in a movie. The odd part is that even when I acknowledge the good things Peter Jackson did, I still don’t really like the Desolation of Smug taken in the broader context of all the movies. It’s pacing seems really off.

enders_game_2013_movie-wideIn Ender’s Game, I think they stuck so close to the book that that became more of a concern than making a good movie. If they focused on making a good movie, I think it would have been better. Instead, it felt confusing and emotionally unrelatable unless you’d read the book.

Hunger Games had no problem going from book to screen. The book just adds and develops the characters a bit more, but you get a good sense of the story and characters from the movie.

Has the silver screen changed how we write? Has it changed how we write scenes? Probably. I think this may be why the concept of Showing instead of Telling has gained such ground. If you read older work, they do an extensive amount of telling prior to showing. Older books also spend less time explaining battles, or fight scenes, if they even have them. Older works don’t seem as focused on character descriptions, partially, maybe, because they weren’t thinking about the actor who might be selected to play them.

The-Hunger-Games-Catching-Fire-soundtrack-608x608Is this bad? No, not necessarily. I enjoy a book with a lot of showing instead of telling. I enjoy books with masterful battle scenes. But, I also think it opens the door to a lot of bad writing. (This is not the only day and age with bad writing, but it does seem easier to find than it used to be.) I think writers can focus too much on character description instead of just character. I can’t stand a novel that gives me a character’s measurements as if that is going to help me picture him better in my mind. I want to get to know this person, not that he’s 6′ 4″. Some people write scenes totally based on what they’ve seen in movies. Maybe they should just be a screen writer, instead of a novelist. I’ve had to tell new writers that they can’t write slo-mo action scenes. It doesn’t work when you’re reading. Matrix styled fighting and good cop/bad cop only work if you’re a really great writer. The rest of us just need to do more research until we find something based in reality that we can use.

I’m a product of my time. I can’t stick my head in the sand and pretend I live in a different time…unless I’m writing a period piece…which I’m not. I always have a ‘cast’ file. It’s filled with pictures of actors that I have in mind for the characters. Some of the actors aren’t alive anymore because I’m looking for a match to my imagination, not hoping to submit it to Hollywood. I don’t anticipate my books every becoming movies, thought I’ve daydreamed about it. Generally it ends up with me shuddering cause I don’t really like Hollywood that much and don’t want to get caught up in that world in any way, shape, or form. Besides, they wouldn’t like me. I’m too conservative, too Christian. It wouldn’t happen.

All that to say, yes, movies affect how we write. We don’t live in bubbles. We probably all write as if we were watching a film and just reporting on what we were seeing. I even refer to different parts in my book as scenes, as if I was directing a film. But, writing is so much richer and deeper than a movie. Writing let’s you escape to a whole new world in a way movies never can. You get to be in a new place and in a new person. Through the journey, you often learn more about yourself than you ever could watching a movie. Movies are wonderful, but books are often better. Don’t stop writing. Enjoy the gifts of the silver screen, but don’t rely on them.

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Brothers, a Tale of Two Sons

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SPOILERS!!!!

I’m part of the video game generation….but I don’t personally play video games.  I’m not really that good at them.  I tend to die a lot, or get all jumpy, and forget which controls do what leading to mass frustration.  What I do is watch video games.  They’re my husband’s favorite form of recreation even though he really doesn’t have time to play them anymore, so he watches them.  It’s like sports.  When you’re a kid, you play football, baseball, soccer, and basketball.  When you get older, you watch others play.

Many of the video games that have come out in the last twenty years have had amazing stories, compelling characters, and beautiful artwork.  Yes.  Artwork.  I’m one of those people who believe video games are artistic and a form of art just like movies, photography, painting, writing, music, sculpting, etc.  Early on, the means to showcase the artistic side of gaming was less visible unless you knew the craft, but the stories were there.  (If you did know, it’s quiet impressive what could be done with 8bits.)  Games like Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy, Metal Gear, and the first Starcraft had gripping, moving stories that left you asking for more.  As technology advanced, the artistic side of video games became more obvious to the everyday layperson playing a game here and there.  I remember the first time I picked up a Warcraft 3 art book.  It blew me away.  It was beautiful, detailed, rich, and haunting.  Skyrim, a fully interactive world, has sweeping scenes of majesty, epic music, wooly mammoths, customizable characters, and an entire land you can walk collecting plants, animal hides, and meeting strange and interesting characters.

But what about the stories?  I’m here to tell you that not only are the stories filled with myth, twists, turns, and character development, some of them have even made me cry.  Yes.  Video games have brought tears to my eyes.  The top of the cry chart is Red Dead Redemption.  I pretty much bawled.  After that comes StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm, the beginning of The Last of Us, and now Brothers, a Tale of Two Sons. (Honorable mentions are Mass Effect 2 and Metal Gear anything.)

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Brothers, a Tale of Two Sons, is an epic, short, moving, fun video game designed by Starbreeze Studio with the help of 505 Games.  The story takes place in an agricultural setting against a fantasy backdrop with amazing visuals.  The mountains, valleys, rivers, trees, sky, giants, trolls, ogres, fish, birds, and everything else are impressive.  They’re beautiful, awe inspiring, and detailed.  There are benches placed here and there throughout the game so that your characters can sit and take in the view.  Every scene is sweeping.  Meaning, no matter where in the game you’re at, the view spreads out as far and wide as you can see.  But, all that’s just the backdrop for a game that tells a story through unique game mechanics.

This is a story about two brothers.  You play both of the boys at the same time.  Your left hand controls the older brother while your right hand controls the younger brother.  They start you off slow, giving you time to get used to the controls so you don’t have one brother standing still while the other runs off in a crazy direction.  Pretty soon, you have them working in unison on ever more complicated climbing puzzles and traps.  (None of it gets too complicated because that’s not the point of the game.)

The game opens with the younger brother visiting the grave of their mother.  The older brother interrupts him with horrible news.  Their father is dying.  The two boys rush their father to town where they’re told that the only way to heal him is with a drink from a magical tree.  Off they go on an adventure.  The designers perfectly capture everything a brother adventure should be.  The boys defeat bullies, big dogs, help friendly trolls, scale mountains, ride rushing rivers, free trapped birds, discover giants, fly, slip down tunnels, ride goats, explore an old battle field, and sail the sea.  All the while, you control one brother with your left hand and the other with your right.  None of your adventures are possible without the effort of both brothers together.  And here comes the tears.  (You probably already guessed it.)  One of the brothers dies.  He dies at the base of the tree they were searching for to heal their father after all their adventures.  Suddenly, your left hand is doing nothing.  Your right hand climbs the tree, gets the drink, and then buries your brother.  Your left hand does nothing.  Never before have I seen a game mechanic used to create so much emotion.

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But, it gets worse/better.  Now, you must make it home alone.  One of the creatures you aided on your adventure takes you almost all the way back.  He leaves you, the only brother, standing on a beach facing your biggest fear, and you’re alone.  (It’s a fear, until now, that your brother always helped you through.)  A ghost of your mother appears and encourages you, but even when you move your character forward, the game stops you….until you control him  with the controls of his brother.  (Bawling yet?)  Only when you use the left hand side of the controller is the remaining brother given the courage to face his fear, move past it, and save his father.

Even the guy we watched play the video game choked up.  It was just so perfectly done.

This is the kind of game where you lose yourself.  The beauty of the world sucks you in right away.  The story, filled with exactly the kind of adventure you’d want to have with your brother, encourages you to invest in it emotionally from the beginning.  To have to play one-handed, until courage is needed, is the perfect end to this game.

As a writer, I found the landscapes inspiring, the story moving, and the adventure a good refresher on what should be included in a Tweens or YA story.

Parental warning:  This game is fairly mild with no language or sex.  It is emotionally moving, slightly violent, but not in any sort of heavy-handed way.  It does get darker as they move along in the story, but if your kids have seen or read Lord of the Rings, the Hobbit, or Harry Potter they should be fine.