…and my characters should have their reasons.
It is really quite difficult to like a character, or even respect them, if they have no real reason for their actions. We may laugh at the cliche of an actor asking what their motivation is, but without it, things become pretty pointless, pretty quickly.
I recently started reading a book (it doesn’t really matter which one). Within two chapters I was incredibly frustrated with the protagonist. Mostly because they had wandered randomly through rooms and observed really strange things but hadn’t reacted to anything and had just made the decision to leave the building – though why they were there in the first place had yet to be established. The whole time, as a reader, I was wanting the protagonist to turn and figure out why something was in a certain place or doing something. I wanted to know why they were there, why they were so indifferent to the bizarre surroundings. I wanted to know what was going on inside their head so that I could figure out whether they were just really composed on the outside but freaking out on the inside.
Needless to say, I didn’t get much further into the story. I made the decision that whether or not the author ever explained what the protagonist was doing and why, I wasn’t going to continue reading it.
This is kind of an extreme case and there is every possibility that within the next chapter all may have been explained.
More commonly we find villains who are bad because, well, the protagonist needed someone in their way.
We find sidekicks who help because… They’re a sidekick. That’s their job.
We have hench men who hench but have no apparent personality or individual drive for anything and as a consequence fade into obscurity.
And the unforgivable – heroes who are good because they are.
How imporant do you think character motivation is? Better yet – have you got an example of a protagonist who drove you crazy because they seemed to have no motivation?
So last week I shared my thoughts on why books are better than movies. The post was mostly in response to people who ask me why I bother to read since you can just wait for the movie watch the story faster and with less effort. I had ten very good reasons and in the comments left there were probably another ten mentioned. That said, I love movies as well. Not enough that I would ever give up books, but enough that I realise that some stories are better told on the screen than on the pages.
And that is really the whole point. Juliet Boyd did a follow up to my post asking why we would expect books to make good movies and she raises some excellent points. With that said I would like to jump into my ten reasons why movies are better than books (sometimes).
1. Visually movies are more appealing. To many people a page of text is daunting and dull and they are automatically locked out from accessing the story. Stories are more accessible to a larger number of people in movie form than as books.
2. Leif Motifs – you know the music that plays as one particular character comes on screen. It tells us the bad guy is coming or that the hero is entering the fray and whether we like it or not it gives us a slight emotional charge that just isn’t there when you read it in a book. If you want the perfect example of this, watch Star Wars. Luke Skywalker comes on screen, cue either the wistful music or the hero music. Darth Vadar appears and we have the strong military beat. Han Solo and we get a sense of whimsy and so on.
3. Time is of the essence – I read a lot and I read fast but if I were to spend my entire weekend doing nothing but reading I’d be pushing to finish three novels (admittedly I read fantasy and they tend to be huge but still). If I spend the entire weekend watching movies (unless I’m watching Lord of the Rings or something equally epic) I can probably knock over about twelve movies. Movies skip out a lot of detail that appears in books, plus they don’t need to describe scenes to you, they just flash a picture and move on. They are quicker in conveying the story.
4. Special Effects – Now it has been pointed out that our imagination has no limitations and special effects do so things that sound really good in books sometimes look quite ridiculous in movies. However, my imagination is limited by my sense of reality and so when a book has a car crash I see a little ding and a bit of broken glass, where as a movie will usually just blow the car up in a spectacular show of carnage. Logically I know the car probably wouldn’t blow up but watching it on the screen I can go with it. Reading about it, I will usually tone it down.
5. The social aspect – You can go to the movies with your friends (and if you don’t mind the evil glares you can talk while watching). More importantly, you can watch a movie at home with everyone gathered in the one room chatting and eating and it is a very social experience. I don’t know about you, but when I read, I read. I’ve had people steal the book out of my hands, throw water at me and clap their hands over my eyes to get my attention while I’m reading. It isn’t a social event.
6. Okay I waited until number six for this one and that was very restrained of me. Orlando Bloom, Johnny Depp, Antonio Banderes, etc, etc, etc. Don’t tell me you’ve never chosen a movie just because you thought the main actor was cute. Technically this is part of the visual appeal but I felt it needed to be separate.
7. Action sequences – yes you can read action sequences but I find them quite dull. Particularly sword fights. Please do not describe everything single thrust and parry to me if you expect me to still be reading by the time the battle is over. However, in movies… they define the show don’t tell theory. It is a lot more exciting to watch a sword fight than to read a blow by blow commentary on a sword fight.
8. Previews – I hope I’m not the only person who does this, but I love previews. Half the fun of going to the movies, or renting a movie, is to watch previews and to find out about other movies. Sometimes books have other books by the same author or publisher listed, but they aren’t quite as exciting as movies. I was wondering if now with ebooks and readers whether they could start putting book trailers with books and that would be almost the same but maybe they can’t. I don’t know.
9. Jaws. Read the book. Watch the movie. Toss the book. That is kind of cruel given it is beautifully written but the love triangle is dull and all of the character development takes away from the thrills. The movie focused entirely on the suspense and the thrill and nailed it. The book, for once, was too cluttered. Sorry to anyone who loved reading the book.
10. I kind of ran out at nine so ten is going to frozen coke which I always drink at the movies. I don’t drink it when reading because the condensation leaves water marks on the pages of the book. If you can think of a tenth, be sure to add it.
Tell me your reasons why movies are better.
Okay if you are a reader, you already know the answer to this one. Why is it that when they turn a book into a movie, the book is almost always (there are a couple of exceptions) better? Here are my ten reasons:
- In books it is easier to see what is going on in the characters heads. This actually makes character action and motivation make more sense. Instead of just running through the dark and then for some reason veering toward the deserted and creepy building we can sometimes hear their thoughts and the character can explain and justify their logic.
- There are no shiny, beautiful people on the screen distracting you from how the characters should look. Even ugly characters, when transferred to the screen, are usually played by some beautiful person who has had a bit of dirt scrubbed on their face to make them look dowdy. It doesn’t really work and it takes away from the character.
- Plots make more sense in book form because the point of the book is to tell a story, not be visually spectacular. I will Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire as an example here. This book had quite a lot of action in it already and yet when the movie was released huge chunks of the story were removed and replaced with even more action. The entire dragon chase sequence around the school, ending with Harry crashing into the roof did not exist in the book. It didn’t add a single thing to the story and because of this lengthy sequence the movie dragged on and still didn’t make any sense because key pieces of information were never revealed.
- Books are completely portable. I know people keep trying to tell us they aren’t and that we need to read on computers and all manner of other things, but compared to carting a television around, books are extremely portable. And yes, we can watch movies on laptops and phones and portable DVD players but when the picture is that small, I have to wonder what the point is.
- Books don’t need batteries or a power source to run. You open them, you read them.
- Reading books takes longer than watching a movie. Some people would argue that it isn’t an advantage to be time consuming but in terms of the cost to enjoyment ratio I would very much like my enjoyment to go for more than an hour or two.
- There are never bad special effects in books because you create the images in your own head and they come out flawlessly.
- The characters are never destroyed by bad acting (though bad writing is another story).
- The soundtrack is whatever you want it to be and you aren’t being constantly forewarned of any actual tension by a spike in the music so you can genuinely be surprised by the next plot twist.
- Curl up on the couch with a DVD case in your hand and see how relaxed it makes you feel.
Yes, you may now all proceed to tell me how incredible movies are and how much better this or that movie was than the book.