Novels Aren’t Movies

I encounter a lot of novelists and fiction editors who use movies as examples of various storytelling techniques they want to discuss. I understand this impulse: it is easier to assume that everyone has seen The Matrix or can easily find the two hours to sit through it than it is to assume that everyone has read The Martian or can easily find the six or seven hours needed to read it.

But I sometimes get the feeling that these people consider novels to be a kind of inferior movie, for producers on very small budgets. This is unfortunate because novels can do things movies can’t, and I don’t just mean creating extensive world-building that would be very expensive to build as a movie set. I mean using language rather than images to create a world and to populate it.

I try to avoid using movies as examples of storytelling techniques because movies aren’t novels and novels aren’t movies. Movies are dramatic art. Novels are narrative art. These are two different things.

Do they have some similarities? Of course. But we do a disservice to novelists when we focus on describing how movies tell stories. The storytelling techniques novelists use are vastly different from the ones moviemakers use.

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