Why The Book Was Way Better Than The Movie

I’m taking a break from editing Frostwalker today. Instead, I thought I’d share some thinking that hit me in the shower, of all places. I do a lot of good thinking in the shower…

How many times have we been talking with friends when the subject turns to a recent movie? Inevitably, someone (maybe you) has to say it: “The book was way better.” It’s said so often that it has become a cliché. Now, I love both books and movies – I think most of us do. When you’re watching a movie, you’re usually not thinking about the book being so much better. Why is it that, after the experience, a book feels like it was better?

The truth is that books connect with us in a completely different way. We’re comparing apples to oranges in a sense. Both apples and oranges are fruit, both are delicious, but eating one is a wildly different experience from the other. So it is with movies and books. Both are story-telling media, both are highly entertaining, but the experiences are very different.

Let’s look at two (somewhat) similar stories from my own experience. For a movie, there’s the first Spider-Man movie, with Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst. It’s been a few years, but I’ve seen it several times. It’s great – I love that movie!

For a book, Stephen King’s Wizard And Glass, from the Dark Tower series, is a good comparison. Both are ostensibly fantastical action stories, both have strong heroes we cheer for, and both have strong romantic subplots. Both are stories that I love. I’ve only read Wizard And Glass once or twice, and it’s been a few years – longer than it’s been since the last time I saw Spider-Man, at least.

Now, I don’t have the greatest memory. I’m economical that way. I can read a book or see a movie and, a year later, enjoy it again like I’d never seen it before. Cheaper than buying something new, right? But, both of these stories left their mark on me, as the best stories do. What do I remember from them now, years later?

From Spider-Man, the only thing that clearly stuck with me was the upside-down kiss. Spidey is hanging, inverted, from a fire escape and Mary Jane Watson kisses him. It’s raining and her shirt is soaked, to great effect. Hey, I’m a guy, I’m hard-wired to notice nipples. It’s what we do. Aside from that, not a lot remains in the old memory banks.

What do I recall from Wizard And Glass? In detail, not much, to be honest. But I remember the glint in Roland’s eye as he went to work with his guns. I remember the heart-wrenching pain of his loss. I remember his rage. I remember it because I felt it.

Did I feel Peter Parker’s anguish of unrequited love? Sure, I did – at least, on a fleeting, surface level. But it wasn’t the same. What I felt for Spidey was sympathy. I felt sympathy for Roland also, but I felt his love, and loss, with Susan Delgado as well.

When we engage in these stories, when we hand over the reins to a writer and let them take us on a jaunt, we’re just observers. We’re along for the ride, but not in control. That’s fine, of course. We want them to take control and tell us a story and we let ‘em do it. But, when we watch a movie, we’re riding on the shoulder of these characters we love – when we read a book, we’re riding in their hearts.

And that is why the book was way better than the movie.

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16 responses to “Why The Book Was Way Better Than The Movie

    • In general, I’m the same way. I seem to recall there being one movie that I liked better than the book, but I don’t remember what it was.

      Then there’s the Lord Of The Rings, which is in a class by itself. I know it’s heresy, but I have never liked Tolkien. Never. The movies are amazing, but the books are horrible in my personal opinion. Great stories, poorly done. But, that’s just my personal take. Lots of people love Tolkien’s writing!

  1. I think a lot of the reasons that we feel the books are better is because books make us use our own imaginations. We see the characters, feel the action, set the scene in our own minds. Sometimes changing details to better fit what we like or how we interpret the scene. In a movie, the director, writer or actor does that work for us. We sit back and enjoy what someone else sees as their vision.

    Both are entertaining, both are exciting and both make us happy. I think books just become more interactive and therefore we feel more invested in them. I love both and enjoy both.

    • Yeah, there’s certainly that aspect to it. I love movies, and they CAN move you. But with a book, you’ve got a certain amount of yourself invested in it because you (the reader) have to provide the stage and all the set dressing. 🙂

  2. Personally when a book is made into a movie the reason I feel the book was better is because they can never put everything that was in a book onto the big screen. Not to mention that sometimes they butcher and change things that just make me cringe. But I hear you on all the other stuff too– on feeling the emotion and being inside the character’s head.

    Except for me, when watching a movie, I seem to have a knack for feeling what the character feels. Watching a movie is a roller coaster in emotions for me. It’s probably why I’m one of the only people I know that actually feels sorry for the bad guys even though I know they have to go down. I’m weird like that.

    • You know, that’s a big part of it. Movies made from books often have to cut so much. It can sometimes be done wisely, trimming it down to just the heart of the story, but a lot of times it ends up so changed around that it isn’t the same story at all. That’s why I generally try to think of movies based on books as being something separate from the “world” of the book.

      A good example is the Dresden Files TV series. It was a good show, but only ran one season or so. However, as much as I liked it, it had very little in common with the books. So, it was fun to watch, but it wasn’t REALLY The Dresdent Files in my mind. Just something similar, or “based on” the books.

      As for your ability to empathise with the characters in movies, that’s a good sign! That level of empathy means you have the ability to really put yourself in the place of others, fictional or otherwise. As a writer, that is a really strong ability. If you’re able to get that emotionally invested in movie and TV characters, then you can probably write characters that are very believable and that your readers will really care about! I look forward to reading about them! 🙂

  3. I think you got it right when you said “when we read a book, we’re riding in their hearts.” (By the way, Wizard and Glass is one of my all-time favorite novels.) I cry every time I read Wizard and Glass. I know what’s going to happen, because I’ve read it several times, but as I read Kind’s words, I feel what Roland is feeling and it reawakens those emotions in me. I’ve seen some movies and TV shows that accomplish this well, but books have always been the best medium if a writer wants to emotionally mess with their reader. That aspect rarely translates to screen, especially in more psychological novels. (Can you imagine, for instance, feeling the same way Seth feels in King’s The Regulators while Tak has his mind if you watched it? That novel is mostly psychological, as opposed to visual; you spend a lot of time in Seth-Tak’s head.)

    • Good example!

      Like you said, if you want to play with the emotions of your audience, the written word is probably the more powerful choice. Maybe that’s one reason why horror and romance are such popular genres…

  4. I think it’s because Hollywood is a bit lazy; the proof is how they’re remaking everything. They do churn out some good movies once in while, but only about once a year.

    • I can’t disagree with that. A lot of times Hollyweird seems like it’s just one big “get rich quick scheme”… But, even the best of movies usually fall short of the same story in written format.

    • I haven’t read/seen that one myself, but that does happen from time to time. I may have mentioned elsewhere how I felt about The Lord Of The Rings. I just simply CANNOT read Tolkien. Can’t stand his writing. Love the stories, but I can’t read it. However, the movies were fantastic!

  5. Great Article! But I don’t think for me it’s how I feel with each of them. like for example I read the books befoe watching the movie Twilight. There is so much enjoying scenes that they missed from the book that I was disappointed. Also I ahve to admit I’m not saying I can do better but some actors/actresses fail to bring their charcter ‘alive’. Though I doa dmit it was kinda hard but I’ve always felt that they are better because the films just can’t keep up…unless you’ve got someone like Johnny Depp starring in it..well that’s a whole different story! 😉

    • True, the casting has a lot to do with how well a movie can “do justice” to the book!

      As for missing scenes, I realize that some cutting in generally unavoidable in the translation to movie, but often the screenwriters make unfortunate choices in what gets cut and what makes it into the movie.

      Thanks for commenting! 😀

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