Well, I’ve recently started watching season three of “Game Of Thrones” (and, yes, I’ll probably write a review of it at some point in the near future).
But, unlike with the first two seasons of this excellent TV show, I actually read all of the novel that this season was based on (“A Storm of Swords” by George R. R. Martin) before I watched season three.
This meant that I could compare these two things in a way that I hadn’t really been able to do before and, surprisingly, I preferred the books to the TV show. Anyway, this made me think about the differences between prose fiction and TV or film and why books are better.
I don’t know if I’m really saying anything particularly new or groundbreaking here, but it seemed like an interesting topic for today’s article. So, I thought that I’d give you six reasons why books are better than TV or film:
1) Length: One of the problems with TV and film is that you only have a fixed amount of time to tell a story. Whether it’s a two-hour film or a three to twenty hour long TV series, the amount of storytelling time available to the director is strictly limited. Not only that, everything that happens on the screen has to happen in real-time too.
Books don’t really have any of these limitations. Yes, there are probably some limits on the length of individual books, but there seems to be a trend towards more longer books being published these days (eg: a couple of decades ago, the average paperback novel was about 200-300 pages long, these days it’s probably more like 300-500). So, this is probably much less of an issue than it used to be.
Not only that, people can read books at their own pace, in a way that they can’t do when watching a film or a TV show. Plus, the only measure of how long a book takes to read is your own level of enthusiasm for it and/or your level of reading ability.
It’s also a lot easier for writers to control the rate that time progresses in their story in a way that film-makers just can’t do. For example, a writer can cover two years in the space of a single page or spend ten pages covering what happens in just one minute. However, in a film or TV show, if something takes five minutes to happen, then it will take five minutes to watch.
2) Depth: Books have a lot more depth than films or TV shows do. What do I mean by this? Well, with a film you’re limited to what you can show on the screen and what your audience can see and hear. That’s all.
There is no such limitation with prose fiction – you can describe what your characters are thinking, you can describe the settings in an almost microscopic of detail and you can even describe what your characters are feeling too.
In short, with films, we only get to see what the camera sees. In books, we get to experience whatever was going through the god-like imagination of the author when they were writing their story.
3) Censorship: This was probably the main reason why I read so much when I was a teenager. In the UK, mainland Europe and the US at least, there is thankfully next to no censorship of literature.
There are no patronising age limits on books and there is no cabal of moralistic old men and women perching over them and ordering parts of the story to be censored in order to achieve a particular rating. If you want to read a great classic of 20th century literature when you are a teenager (eg: “Naked Lunch” by William S. Burroughs or “Crash” by J. G. Ballard) you can just go into a shop and buy it or go into a library and borrow it, no questions asked. This is how it should be.
Whereas, if you want to see a great classic of 20th century film-making when you’re a teenager (eg: Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction”), you’ll probably either have to lie about your age convincingly, find someone else who can lend you a copy of it or find someone who will buy a copy on your behalf.
Books, thankfully, have none of these pointlessly patronising artificial barriers to entry.
So, what does this lack of censorship mean when it comes to storytelling? Well, it means that horror novels can be much gorier and scarier than horror movies, it means that erotic novels can be far more explicit than erotic films and it means that thriller novels can be way more action-packed than thriller movies.
Seriously, there’s always some silly article in the papers every once in a while about how teenagers aren’t reading enough books. Well, maybe if someone let them in on this little secret, then they might start reading a few more books…..
4) Budget: Although I have mixed feelings about his books (they’re very compelling, but they’re not that well-written on a technical level), Matthew Reilly has made an absolutely excellent point about why books are a lot better than films can ever be. I can’t remember the full quote, but he talks about how he can use the “unlimited budget of the imagination” when he is writing his books.
The problem with film and TV is that, in order to show anything on the screen – you actually have to make it first (either in real life or on a computer). This costs money – a lot of money. As such, things are often limited in films in order to save or conserve money.
This is a complete non-issue with books – all of the “special effects” in a novel are completely free, all of the large and detailed settings cost nothing to build and you can include as many characters as you like without worrying about having to pay their salaries.
I mean, you can even see this in things like mega-budget TV shows. I mean, although I love the “Game Of Thrones” TV show, one of the things I noticed after reading the books that this show is based on is just how… well… small and ordinary the settings looked when compared to the what I’d imagined that they looked like when I was reading the books.
5) Cancellation: Yes, books can go out of print and publishers can stop publishing fiction series but, because the costs of publishing a book (especially since the invention of e-books) are a lot lower than producing and distributing a TV series, fiction series are a lot less likely to be cancelled prematurely than TV shows are.
After all, in order for a TV show to keep running – it both has to please a capricious cabal of faceless executives at a production company and it has to draw in hundreds of thousands or even millions of new viewers every season. I mean, if the viewing figures for a TV show are falling, then it’s likely to be cancelled – even if millions of people are still watching it every week.
With books, this is much less of an issue. Yes, large publishers still want to sell lots of copies before allowing a series to continue. But their expectations are a lot more modest and realistic for the simple reason that it costs less to produce and distribute books than it does for TV shows.
As such, if you have a favourite fiction series, then it is a lot less likely to be cut short prematurely than your favourite TV series will…
6) Co-creation: This is probably the best reason why books are better than film or TV. I am, of course, talking about the fact that the audience is part of the storytelling process in a book. Yes, I’m serious!
When you read a book, every part of the story takes place in your own imagination. Sure, the writer may describe what a character or a setting looks like, but it’s completely up to you what you imagine everything to look like. If you want to imagine that all of the characters look like your favourite actors, then you can. If you want to imagine that the setting of, say, a fantasy novel looks spectacularly epic, then you can.
With films and TV, everything looks like what the director wants it to look like. That’s it. There’s no room for interpretation or imagination, we just get one version of everything and that’s it.
Pretty limiting, right?
Anyway, I hope that this has been interesting 🙂