A writing and film analogy.

A few years ago, back when my husband and I were more or less in the “courtship” phase of our relationship, we got into an interesting conversation about the book-to-film transition that’s always stuck with me. You see, my Partner in Crime is a bit of a movie buff. Not just a movie buff–he loves everything about film. He loves to shoot film, he loves to act, and he loves to review the movies he watches. He pays attention to things in movies like I pay attention to things in books, so it was an interesting comparison.

He also (thank god) usually dislikes the movies based on books, but not always from a literary standpoint (unless he loved the book before it became a movie). His problem with movies based on books was that usually the movies were severely lacking in plot depth, character development, and cohesive storylines.

And the reason? Because books are usually way too effing long for movies, and a lot of the information is lost in translation.

That got us onto another conversation, this time about short stories compared to books. You see, one of the other great things about my Partner in Crime is that he’s an avid Ray Bradbury fan, especially of Bradbury’s short stories. Today, it seems that short stories have lost popularity in the publishing space (unless, of course, they’re short stories by previously established authors), but back when Bradbury was writing, short stories were everything.

Essentially, short stories focus on one plot line, one message, and a handful of characters for a shorter period of time than a novel. A novel, on the other hand, ties together several minor plot lines to accomplish a major plotline, typically has a larger cast of characters, and can encompass several different meanings and messages.

To wrap up this long and increasingly-tedious story, this conversation between my to-be-husband and myself opened my eyes to what I think is a great analogy for writing and film. I mean, it could be the sleep deprivation talking, but seriously, I think I got it:

Short stories are to movies what novels are to TV series.

Think about it for a minute.

A short story and a movie are both designed to fit into a shorter space of time, essentially to be consumed in one sitting. You get the overarching story and message pretty concisely in that time period, all the while growing attached to a cast of characters in a brief period of time. There is the one major plot that you follow, and that plot is entirely established in the time you spend reading or watching the story.

Meanwhile, books are literally cut up into “episodes” for us. Realistically, in a good book, each and every single chapter will have its own mini plot-arc, and those plot arcs tied together throughout the course of the novel, until they cumulate to the final climax and the end of the book. That’s pretty much exactly how television series work. Each episode has its own basic storyline, and those storylines together help build the story for the series as a whole. Additionally, books and TV shows are designed to be consumed over longer periods of time (though there are those of us who binge and make it through an entire season or novel in fewer than twenty-four hours).

Though I can’t honestly say I’ve watched a whole lot of shows based on novels, I think I’d enjoy them a lot more than I enjoy the movies based off novels. From what I’ve heard of Game of Thrones, the show does a remarkably good job of keeping in-line with what the books were doing. I know many other novels were successfully moved to television, such as True Blood, which was based off of the Sookie Stackhouse books (I hated the books and I’m sick of the vampire thing so I haven’t actually watched this one, but I know it was pretty popular), as well as Gossip Girl (another one I haven’t read or really watched).

I’m starting to think that maybe, if we really want to see our favorite stories turned to film, this is the way to go. I mean, I could be wrong. Maybe I’d hate it just as much as I tend to hate the movies, but you never know…


Categories: Writing


  1. This is actually how I started figuring out how to write, as shameful as I’m sure that sounds. I had a pretty poor grasp of where chapters were supposed to end or how they needed to be structured, until I started thinking of each chapter as an episode of a series. I know it’s a backwards way of figuring that out (some shows even dub their episodes “chapters,” so I should have caught on sooner), but it helped. Episodes are chapters, and books in a series are seasons of a show. A standalone book is a miniseries.

    I am corrupted, I know. I grew up on movies and TV, and books are a paper version of those things in my brain.

    Jared Johnson

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