Friday, July 20, 2012

Books Are Not Movies

copyright 2012, Pat Bertram

Many writers see their novels as movies, picking a cast to portray their characters, visualizing scenes as they would play on the screen. But books are not movies. A movie set can be seen in an instant and does not detract from the action, while a long passage in a book describing that same scene postpones the action, making today’s readers impatient. (Action in a novel, as I am sure you know, is any forward motion that fosters change in the characters: dialogue, physical interactions, even a simple touch of the hand.)

Nor is a book a movie script. Some novelists are so enamored with envisioning their book as a movie that they omit descriptions altogether. They tell their story mostly by dialogue, which leaves readers untethered, “like water, willy-nilly flowing.”

If two characters are having an argument, for example, it is necessary for readers to know where it is taking place. An argument in a pub is different from an argument in a bedroom, but they don’t need a long description of the bar or the bedroom to get involved with the characters; a few significant details will anchor the scene in their minds. A detailed set is necessary for a movie’s verisimilitude, but those same details negate a novel’s illusion of being true. Do you stop in the middle of an argument to note the contents of the room? If you do, you lose not only your focus, but the argument as well.

Even a short descriptive passage can negate the illusion if the object or setting described has no significance to the story. A lamp may be placed on a side table in a movie set for no reason other than the set designer liked the way it looked, but if an author spends many words describing that same lamp, there has to be a reason. Perhaps it is a source of contention between characters. Or perhaps one character will bash another over the head with it.

So, if you visualize your novel as a movie, don’t describe everything you see. Describe only what is important, (what is important to the characters or to the story, not what is important to you as a writer) and then . . . ACTION!

Pat Bertram


Pat Bertram is a native of Colorado. When the traditional publishers stopped publishing her favorite type of book — character and story driven novels that can’t easily be slotted into a genre — she decided to write her own. Second Wind Publishing liked her style and published four of Bertram’s novels: Light Bringer, Daughter Am I, More Deaths Than One, and A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and one non-fiction book, Grief: the Great Yearning.

1 comment:

Pat Bertram said...

Thank you for having me as a guest on your blog. I'm always delighted to be here.