Well, I still seem to be in the mood for writing about books at the moment. So, as a counterbalance to the slight luddism of yesterday’s article, I thought that I’d look at some of the things that books can learn from DVDs. And, yes, I’m aware that watching DVDs is probably also bordering on luddism these days but, well, they’re still my favourite video format.
So, what can books learn from DVDs?
1) Special Features: Although we seem to be moving towards a world where DVDs are more ‘bare bones’ than they used to be (eg: thanks to Blu-ray discs getting all of the special features), the whole idea of “special features” was popularised by the DVD format. It was one of the things that originally set DVDs apart from VHS tapes 10-20 years ago.
Books could learn a lot from this. Although some modern novels do include additional stuff at the end, it usually just consists of either a list of reading group questions, an author bio and/or a small preview of the author’s next novel. By DVD standards, this would probably be considered ‘bare bones’. Sometimes, books will also contain a brief foreword or a list of acknowledgements too. But, this still doesn’t compare to the average DVD from the heyday of the format.
When I was a teenager who read a lot of grisly splatterpunk fiction, one of the most innovative things that I found was a page on Shaun Hutson‘s offical website which included things like extra short stories, a grossly disturbing “deleted scene” from one of his horror novels (which it is implied was possibly censored by the publishers) and an alternate ending to one of his other novels. I’m not going to link directly to Hutson’s official site here but, if you aren’t easily shocked, then the things I’ve mentioned can be found in the “exclusives” menu at the top of the home page.
But, the question I have to ask is why isn’t this sort of thing commonplace in actual books? Almost every published book usually ends up getting edited at some point or another. Most authors probably produce multiple drafts and versions of their stories, and probably end up adding, changing or removing stuff in the process. Would it really be that difficult to include a “deleted scenes” segment in most novels, showing off the best scenes that didn’t make it to the final edit?
2) Chapter titles and contents pages: Yes, books have had chapters for much longer than DVDs have even existed. But, if there’s one thing that is often missing from new books that have been published within the last couple of decades, it’s the good old fashioned “contents” page. A page which tells you how long each chapter is and which easily allows you to remember which chapters key events of the story took place in. It’s quicker to jump to a specific chapter on a DVD than it is to do the same in a modern novel.
Of course, there are practical reasons for this. Ever since Dan Brown popularised ultra-short chapters during the early 2000s, contents pages for some modern novels would probably be at least 3-4 pages long. Likewise, the decline in interesting chapter names (as opposed to just “chapter 1”, “chapter 2” etc…) has probably also lessened the popularity of contents pages in novels.
Yes, I appreciate that in some genres – like the thriller genre – short chapters can improve the pacing and that generic chapter titles are “unobtrusive”. But, in a lot of books, the lack of a contents page and/or proper chapter titles just comes across as lazy.
I mean, one of the cool things about TV shows on DVD is that the episode titles will often give tantalising hints about what to expect in each episode. A contents page filled with intriguing chapter titles can also do the same thing. It’s something that can make readers more interested in the story ahead. So, why isn’t it used more often?
3) Cover art: One of the cool things about physical media formats is that they include cover art. As well as being a source of entertainment, they’re also ornamental objects too. Not only that, the cover art also serves as a form of advertising – enticing people to look closer. These days, DVDs often have far more interesting cover art than novels do.
For example, here’s a side-by-side comparison of the covers of the 2011 Harper Voyager (UK) paperback edition of “A Feast For Crows” by George R.R.Martin and the cover art to the 2015 UK edition of the “Game Of Thrones” season 4 DVD boxset (which loosely correlates with some of the events of “A Feast For Crows”, if memory serves correctly):
The DVD cover on the right has a dramatic image of a screeching three-eyed raven made out of swords. The book cover on the left has… a goblet.
Likewise, although it’s a little hard to read in the scanned image, the DVD cover also has a melodramatic subtitle about death. The book cover, on the other hand, has a much more mild-mannered quote from Time Magazine. Even though both covers are fairly minimalist, the DVD cover is the more attention-grabbing of the two.
Yes, DVDs are a visual medium and it is easier for cover designers to make dramatic-looking covers by manipulating stills from the film or TV show in question. But, the DVD cover I showed you earlier isn’t directly taken from any scene from the TV show. It was designed by an artist and/or graphic designer, just like a book cover.
So, yes, there’s really no reason or excuse for books from large publishers (who can afford experienced professional artists and/or designers) not having the kind of attention-grabbing, dramatic cover art that is commonplace on DVDs.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂