Why write, when there is film?

Steve Harrison

Well-Known Member
Dec 9, 2014
Sydney, Australia
Since the basis and essence of history is inquiry (istoria, Gr.), I don't see many movies doing much actual history. They just have stories set in the past. That's fine, but it ain't history.
This reminded me of a terrific and very entertaining book by George MacDonald Fraser (of Flashman fame), The Hollywood History of the World, which argues that movie versions of history are not always as inaccurate as people think.


paranoid marvin

Run VT Erroll!
Mar 9, 2007
Sometimes the film is better than the book, but (far) more often the book is better than the film. It happens so often that after having read a book the film adaptation is a disappointment. Sometimes the book differs from the film in a positive way, sometimes not so much. This is often not to make the storyline better, but more because of the fact that it has to fit into a 2 hour slot. Sometimes the movie helps to fill in the gaps; LOTR and the Hobbit weren't great movie adaptations, but the depictions of the cities and important places of Middle-Earth were to my mind perfect. Minas Tirith, Rivendell, The Shire, Moria - all of these places were just as I had imagined them to be as described and illustrated in the books. But to see them on film was amazing.

In all honesty I would say that there is more likely to be a divergence of appearance in the watching of movies rather than the reading of novels. Whereas in the novels we often know the inner-most thoughts of many of the characters, in the movies we often have to guess at what they might be. Also the movie provides lots of images and audio along with a screenful of information all at the same time from which the viewer cannot possibly take it all in. It is often down to the viewer to choose what to focus on and to try to interpret this. Novels are much more linear with only one thing for the reader to concentrate on. This is not to say that movies are better than books (far from it) but I think there is a bigger divergence in opinion as to the interpretation of what was watched.

Which I think is why there are a number of movies that initially got a poor reception that went on to become cinema classics and gain a cult following. This seems to happen far less with novels.

Toby Frost

Well-Known Member
Jan 22, 2008
The most obvious answer for me would be that it's much cheaper to write a book than make a film, and you have to rely less on other people so there's less to go wrong (in theory).

I think film and novels are completely different things. A film delivers visuals and speed, while a novel can do depth and insight. Every year or two, someone arrives here with plans to write a novel, but only references films in connection to it. I always think "That's not going to work". I don't think you should write a novel solely because you can't make a film of your idea. There has to be more.

Films have also become much more risk-averse, as budgets have grown, and franchises with fairly predictable storylines have become the norm, which isn't very good for more imaginative writers. I recently realised that the things I've liked about the Marvel films have been the things that break the "rules" of the subgenre. A film like Captain America: The Winter Soldier can contain loads of interesting ideas - but sooner or later it has to default to the safe option of big special effects and magic people punching one another without anyone at serious risk of death, because fundamentally that's what the industry requires. A book doesn't have to do that and, provided that it's consistent, it can go to a lot of different places.

And then you get "imagination-heavy" books like Titus Groan or Dune, where part of the pleasure of reading is imagining the places depicted, and a film has to work very hard to show anything as good - and may then still disappoint in terms of the decisions that the designers make.