Movies vs Novels: Why They Are Often So Different


How many times have you gone to the cinema to watch a movie made from your favorite book or series, only to wind up disappointed because the film ends up being wildly different from the source material? For every success story like “Lord of the Rings” or “Harry Potter”, there are failures like “Eragon” and “A Wrinkle in Time”. Some of the greatest novels fail to make equally amazing movies, much as we might wish otherwise. There are a lot of reasons why some books don’t survive the translation from the page to screen, so let’s dive right in, beginning with the most important one…
Movies are Exponentially Shorter than Novels
The longest-running movies typically don’t exceed a 3-hour run time. On average, a movie is 90 to 120 minutes.
Compare that to a novel. Even the speediest reader will need 3-6 hours to complete an 80,000-word novel. For the average person, a novel can take up to 25 hours to finish reading.
Movies are a fraction of the length of any book. A massive percentage of novels is occupied by description, background details, and explanations of the character’s thoughts, feelings, and reactions. In movies, those things are all presented and acted out, without the need for words. Action sequences that take five minutes on a screen can take 15 or more pages in a novel.
With a shorter running time, movies have to fit everything they can into far less “real estate”. The movie has to be tightly-paced, with any “fluff” sliced away, until only the core important aspects of the movie remain. Compare that to a novel, where characters can devote entire chapters doing things that solidify character description and motivation, but don’t propel the plot forward significantly.
In the translation from novel to screen, subplots often end up getting cut away, until only the things the screenwriter or director consider truly important remain.

Read the entire article in the March 2021 issue of InD'Tale magazine.

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