Wednesday, August 04, 2010
Writing Wednesday: Lost in translation - show v/s tell in movies and books
So I saw Valentine's Day and Love and Other Disasters. Good flicks, but for the second one, I just couldn't get into it. Why? Because that story is about an American intern at British Vogue and her posse of friends, especially her gay roommate. A lot happens, you see it all, but the movie did not cut it for me because it seemed like a story better suited for the book medium rather than the screen. I wanted to 'be' those characters, be in the their POV and heads. Not just see them doing things.
Is there a difference between screen and book? Basically, both are stories, right? To tell a story you relate what you see - like you're watching a movie and it's a blow-by-blow visual of what's happening on the screen. That's your story, innit? You as the writer would be able to convey everyhting, right?
Wrong! You're supposed to write, not relate!
That's where it seems a lot of writers go wrong - they write a story with the same viewspan and attention span as watching TV or a movie. It's like they're saying, you watch a movie, get it? Start, middle, end, you show what's taking place in the story. There you go - story written!
Sure you go. You've written a story with start, middle, end and it even holds the line! But wait a second too - you're giving me the movie version, not the book one!
I'll take an example. Twilight movie v/s Twilight book. Each has start, middle, end, the same story, same people, same setting, same plot, same whatever. Where's the difference then?
This is what's different - I watch the movie while I read the book. Not making sense? Okay - the book gives you an addtional layer to the movie version, because you are not seeing the characters but you are the characters!
That's why you cannot 'watch' a book, you need to read it. Reading means you open a total different world for the reader, one where it's almost a virtual reality simulation without the gadgets because the reader uses his brain as the simulator and your words as the connection.
Still not making much sense? Okay, let's try another approach. How many times have we as writers heard this line - show, don't tell! It's almost become a mantra that switches on automatically when we get to the keyboard. But how much are you really showing?
Bear in mind the virtual reality simulation again. You need to show something to your writer. Say, for example, your heroine is angry after a tiff with her lover. So, in show and don't tell mode, you go - Megan fumed inside, and as she went out, banged the door behind her.
Made your point, innit? She's so angry she bangs the door. You showed! Actually, no. Sorry to burst your bubble, but you didn't show me this. You gave me a visual, which is basically what one would watch in a movie. But in the movie, you'd see the expression on the actress playing Megan's face. You'd see her bunch her fists maybe, bite her lip extra hard, stomp her heel. Where have you shown this in the above line?
Also, is this door-banging in character with her? What makes her bang the door? Exasperation that her man is taking her for granted/has brushed her off again? Is it completely unrelated, as in this tiff with him not understanding that he needs to pick his socks off the floor, is it simply the drop that made the vase overflow? Is she maybe feeling irritated by everything and nothing because it's a hormonal time for her?
All of this you would give your reader to connect with if you showed not just her movements but what's in her head too.
And this is the difference between watching movies and reading books. You watch a character on the screen, whereas you relate from the character's POV in the book. You become her, you experience what she is feeling, it's a virtual reality simulation for you!
You can call this Deep POV; you can call this being in her shoes; you can call this TMI, but this showing part is definitely lacking in books nowadays. If we wanted to watch a movie, we'd watch a movie. Where's the thrill in reading, in being taken to that other world with all your senses involved (not just eyes and ears), that reading is supposed to give a reader?
Remember that this connection lies in your hand, you the writer. It has to flow from your pen, to be able to whisk your reader away. Otherwise, why bother to read your work when he/she can watch a movie?
I'd love to hear your take on this question. Feel free to discuss!
From Mauritius with love,