Books and Movies — Three Reasons Why I Prefer Books

transformation - horror booksI read The Hobbit for the first time when I was a child. Tolkien‘s book immediately captured me, and made me fall in love with the fantasy genre. Some years ago I decided to reread it and gladly discovered that I still enjoyed it as thoroughly as I did on my first read. Indeed, great books and great wines are the same, they both age with grace.

Of lately I’ve watched the third episode of Peter Jackson’s adaptation–The Battle of the Five Armies. Even though Jackson’s work is quite different from the novel, I enjoyed it as well. In particular, I found the special effects simply terrific. For sure the first scene, in which Smaug is playing havoc over Lake-town, is a treat from the visual and aural point of view.

Indeed, over the last few years computer graphic has made possible the creation of settings and special effects that were unthinkable even only a handful of years ago. This notwithstanding, I believe that movies aren’t at all the most immersive fictional experience one can enjoy. As a matter of fact, I believe that books can be much more immersive than movies. And I think this is the case at least for three reasons.

Flexible indeterminacy

For sure, at first sight the descriptive power of movies seems unbeatable. The best among them can offer moviegoers astounding sound effects, compelling musics, ultra defined and dynamic pictures, and first-class acting, all packaged into a tight and well structured narrative work.

Alien, Terminator, The Silence of the Lambs. These are all great examples of first rate movies–and I love them all. However, all this descriptive abundance, seems to refrain the moviegoers from taking an active role while watching a movie. In fact, on the whole they let the story unfold. They enjoy the ride, so to speak.

Instead, with books, readers have to recreate the story within their heads, and this leads to a deeper level of involvement. Besides, according to research, this work readers are required to carry out can dramatically improve their creative muscles.

In addition, words possess a sort of flexible indeterminacy that allows them a unique way to accommodate contradictions. For example, the portrait of Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, another classic I read with great pleasure, is based on contradictions.

1) Dark skinned and gypsy,   2) yet a gentleman

However, thanks to the flexible indeterminacy  of words, we readers manage to put together a mental image that not only does work, but also bestows on the character a mysterious aura. Conversely, images do not offer the same opportunity, at least not so effortlessly. What they show is necessarily an entity whose characteristics are inescapable. I mean, in a picture a man is either dark haired or not. You cannot suggest he comes across, let’s say, as fair haired.

First Person Narrator

Another strength of books is how effectively they can make use of a first person narrator. Instead, even though this technique can be easily implemented, it is sparingly used in movies, and only for short passages.

A pair of books that come to my mind as perfectly exemplifying this literary technique are Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes and The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

Indeed, if we compare Daniel Keyes‘ book with the movie adaptation by Ralph Nelson it is immediately apparent that in the latter we are completely deprived of the first person narrative, a characteristic of Flowers for Algernon that gives the book a terrific pull and that the film is notably lacking.

One-Man Band

Books are mostly the result of the efforts of a single individual, and thanks to the advent of digital self-publishing they can be distributed at virtually no cost. Movies instead require the concerted effort of hundreds of people and cost a lot of money. As a result, it is much more likely to come across a refreshingly new and really daring book than a movie. After all, writers have ‘only’ to invest their time to write whatever they want to. Film makers and producers instead have to mediate the opinions of many different people, besides they constantly run the risk of losing millions of dollars if their movie turns out to be a flop. They are therefore far less fearless and willing to experiment.

Indeed, as old as they are, thanks to the digital revolution books have probably never been in a better shape. And never before readers have had access to them so readily either.

Picture by mengelnkemper

Creative Writing — Story, Plot, and Vocabulary

stained glass - creative writingWhen it comes to creative writing any theory is, to say the least, tricky. In fact, as soon as someone comes up with a definition, whatever that may be, we can be sure that a writer is bound to come along and write a story that proves that theory wrong.

From story to plot

However, this doesn’t mean we cannot draw any interesting conclusions about storytelling. For example, paraphrasing E.M. Forster, while a story is a narrative of events exclusively arranged in their time-sequence, a plot is also a narrative of events, but one in which the emphasis is falling on causality instead.

The king died and then the queen died  is a story.  The king died, and then the queen died of grief is a plot. The time sequence is preserved, but the sense of causality overshadows it.

This might seem a subtle distinction, yet it is essential to storytelling.

In a certain way, it’s like looking at the picture below on the left.  We can present it, without any comment or explication. Or we can present it as A new day, The dying of the light, Contrasts, and so on.

As a matter of fact, each title gives the readers a different reference frame and so, to a certain extent, can drive their reactions. Can lead them to think about why the writer has chosen certain words and not others. And this even without having to recur to any external time sequence. Continue reading

Applied Inspiration — How to Ferry a Dream into Reality

sunset - inspiration for writersIn a previous post I wrote about inspiration. In short, I argued that inspiration is essential to kick-start the creative process and so come up with a really novel idea — a core around which we can build a fully formed project.

Obviously, inspiration has an important role also in the everyday process of writing, but it isn’t at all as essential.  In fact, if we sit down at our desks and start writing, within minutes ideas are bound to flower into our mind. Besides, what we write while struggling for inspiration is virtually indistinguishable from what we write on the days we feel instead blessed by the muse.

That’s good news, sure. But even if we don’t need to wait for inspiration to glue our ass to the chair and start writing, isn’t there something really essential to the creative process? Continue reading

How to Make More Effective Resolutions

gorilla selfie - effective resolutionsSure, we all have made many of them – especially New Year’s resolutions. And we all have forgotten about them by the end of the first week into the new year. Indeed, to me, New Year’s resolutions seem more like a ritual. We all have to make at least one, otherwise we don’t feel comfortable with ourselves. Besides, in this way, we have something to turn to when it comes to small talk.

A waste of time?

In any case, the sad truth seems to be that New Year’s resolutions don’t work. And in fact according to research 88% of the people fail to keep them. However it has to be said also that often we fail to keep our resolutions because we make them without paying the necessary attention. In particular, to make effective resolutions we need at least three elements: selectivity, motivation, and definition.


Some years ago I came across this passage by Peter Drucker:

“The great mystery isn’t that people do things badly but that they occasionally do a few things well. The only thing that is universal is incompetence. Strength is always specific! Nobody ever commented, for example, that the great violinist Jascha Heifetz probably couldn’t play the trumpet very well.”

I think it’s illuminating. In fact, if we really want to improve some aspect of our life we’d better keep the number of our resolutions to a bare minimum. Only in this way we’ll be able to devote all our energies to the goals we really value. Continue reading

How reading can sculpt our mind

gargoyle - reading like writersLately I was reading an article about reading habits and cognition. In this article the researchers claimed that reading literary fiction can boost our cognitive performance a lot more than popular fiction can. They said that, “just as in real life, the worlds of literary fiction are replete with complicated individuals whose inner lives are rarely easily discerned but warrant exploration.”

A literary continuum.

In a quite caustic tone Ezra Pound wrote that “The secret of popular writing is never to put more on a given page than the common reader can lap off it with no strain whatsoever on his habitually slack attention.”

For sure, popular fiction is often formulaic and presents somewhat stereotyped characters. On one hand this makes for a very easy read, but on the other hand it adds next to nothing to our baggage of experience as readers. However, I must also say that out of sheer boredom, on more than one occasion I had to put down a so-called literary work.

As a result, I believe that literary and popular works aren’t completely distinct entities. Rather, they fall on a continuum. A continuum that over the last few years has seen a proliferation of new genres, and an evolution too. In fact, among the mountains of new novels that are published every day, I believe there is a sizable section of popular works that aren’t easily classifiable. For example, works that have gripping stories, sure, but whose characters are quite troubled and multifaceted. Works that make us think. Continue reading