J. L. Willow

Author ~ Blogger ~ Storyteller


Chances are everyone’s walked into a conversation at some point that’s gone something along the lines of this: “The movie was better.” “How could you say that? Everyone knows the book is always better.” “I can’t believe they turned that into a television show — it sucks.” Opinions on different genres of storytelling have clashed for years and the fight only seems to grow more heated as time goes by. Every genre has their own accumulation of “fans”: movie fans, book fans, television-show fans, etc. Each of them has a preference as to what format is used to tell their stories. Usually, the argument boils down to paper versus screen: which is better for storytelling? Both have their advantages and disadvantages. And, when used properly, both can tell a memorable story that can span lifetimes.

There are generally a few main reasons bookworms choose bound pages over plastic DVD covers. Firstly, the stories are transportable. If a reader has to stop in the middle of a scene, it’s not a problem. They simply place a bookmark between the pages (or dog-ear a corner, if they’re one of those heathens) and move on with their day until they have the opportunity to continue embarking on their literary journey. Movies, on the other hands, are not so easily paused and transported. There are only certain locations that provide adequate accommodations for watching a motion picture, such as a theater or a living room. If a viewer wants to pause the film while in a theater, they’re out of luck. If a viewer is in their home, they have to use a remote, shut off the television, and then do whatever needs to be done. It simply isn’t possible to make a movie portable, a major problem for someone constantly on the move. That being said, new options have opened up to the average consumer as technology continues to improve. Today, some smartphones have the option to stream movies directly to the device, but this still is still flawed. The process is quite costly data-wise if the device is not connected to a wifi source. In addition, the small screen doesn’t allow the same viewing quality as a large-screen viewing does. For example, Oscar award-winning film The Revenant has extremely detailed shots, each filled with a multitude of actors and actresses. Without the full amount of pixels a television/screen offers, it would be nearly impossible to follow the characters and preserve the integrity of the plot. Even as movie-streaming companies attempt to improve their service, the only authentic way to experience a quality flick continues to be on the “big screen.”

A less tangible difference between books and films is that each person has the opportunity to experience a book differently, while movies don’t allow that imaginative freedom. A reader doesn’t get to hear how a character reads a line or how a scene looks — the author trusts them to visualize it on their own. This process ensures that no person will think of the scene or object the same as any other person. It parallels to a thought exercise commonly taught in psychology classes. The teacher would explain that if someone instructs a group of people to picture a car, all the imaginary cars would look different. If they get more specific and, for instance, state that it’s a red car, they would look more similar than the previous statement alone, but still not the same. No matter how specific the person providing the statements gets, the cars will never be exactly identical. The same is true with books, but not with movies. A famous saying goes along the lines of, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” and it’s quite true. The viewer of a movie is provided all the information necessary to follow the story. Books, on the other hand, rely on the mind of the reader to develop the characters and imagine their actions. There’s a special bond between the reader and author, as the reader relies on the author to provide them enough information to picture the scene, but not so much as to stunt the reader’s imagination. Some consumers prefer the creative opportunity that books offer. It allows a loose freedom on the reader’s part, allowing them to picture the story and its characters however they like. But not all prefer the open boundaries that reading offers.

For every person claiming the superiority of books, there’s another arguing the same of movies. Movies are the viewer’s eyes and ears, providing every piece of information that’s important to the plot and not leaving anything up to the imagination. Anything physical, that is. What perspective a movie doesn’t have is what goes on inside the characters’ minds. The viewer watches what the characters do and how they do it, but unless they’re openly talking about what they’re thinking, the audience has to draw their own conclusions from the characters’ actions. They have to focus on facial expressions as well as emotional and vocal cues to put the pieces together themselves. If the actor/actress is experienced, they’ll be able to display the character’s emotions with a simple glance. A perfect instance of this can be found in the recent hit film Baby Driver. The movie follows a boy nick-named Baby that works as a getaway driver for a group of criminals. At one point, he’s forced to go into a restaurant where a friend of his, Deborah, works. As he’s walking in, the camera shoots in slow-motion to give the audience a better look at Baby’s expression. It’s dark, angry and scared. The next shot is of Deborah, who’s watching Baby from the counter. As Baby walks to his seat, we watch as Deborah just stares at Baby, not greeting him or even walking over to where he was seated. Her face is confused and lined with fear. From both of their expressions, the audience understands that Baby was able to convey to Deborah that something was wrong and it wasn’t the right time to start a conversation. Movies that have scenes like this don’t have to explicitly state what’s happening in every scene, but instead allow the audience to put the pieces together on their own. Some viewers prefer this type of visual puzzle-solving that the cinema provides over the different type of freedom that reading holds.

Movie-goers also claim the superiority of film when it comes to children’s entertainment. It might sound strange, but it’s true that a well-done children’s movie can be enjoyed by all ages, while a well-written kid’s book cannot. Walt Disney Animation Studios is a perfect example of this. Because you don’t need any academic skills to watch a movie, people aged toddler to adult can enjoy a Disney movie. Even if the storyline is geared toward the younger generations, many times the production team includes mature themes and references. They understand that these additions will go over the kid’s heads, but they also recognize the opportunity to cater to another generation. In Finding Nemo, while Marlin and Dory are being chased by Bruce the shark, Bruce sticks his head through a door and shouts, “Here’s Bruce-y!” This is a reference to the famous line in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, where Jack Torrance famously yells, “Here’s Johnny!” There’s no way that children would understand the origin of that joke, but it’s a good opportunity for the adults in the theater to have a laugh. On the other hand, children’s books are unable to include these broader topics. A children’s book is written much differently than a book geared toward adults. Even if it does have a good story and good characters, it’s much more difficult to convey with the simplified vocabulary and story-telling that’s required for the age group. This isn’t a problem for kid’s movies. There’s a reason it’s not uncommon to see adults watching children’s movies, but quite uncommon for an adult to be found reading a kid’s book. Some books, such as the Harry Potter series, are able to find a happy medium between young and old generations, but for the most part, children’s books are unable to convey deeper themes and ideas.

This argument has yet to be resolved, and most likely never will. Even so, lovers of both books and movies can find a common ground. Both formats provide amazing stories to the public and have the power to touch the hearts of their viewers. Both are made up of countless subcultures that include a broad variety of people and ideas. And most importantly, both have the ability to connect people from all around the world. So, whether you’re a bookworm or a film buff, remember how we are all connected by the art of storytelling, and remember the power that good storytelling has to change the world.

Just something to think on for the day! Keep on working hard 🙂

— J. L. Willow


One thought on “Screen and Paper: The Contrasting Art of Storytelling

  1. jon287 says:

    Love the Shining reference- I do find joy in both mediums- although a really good book still edges out ahead for me


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