Hollywood loves readers: The (sometimes) mutually beneficial relationship between books & movies

This is an essay by Chris Ciolli.

Books and movies need not compete for our attention and affection. They are two very different mediums, and they have, as explained in an earlier post on this site by Williesha Morris, different needs and goals and use different tools to do the same thing—share a story with the world. In fact, although many readers and writers may loathe to admit it, movies and the books that inspire them enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship in which one feeds off and grows from the other. Less than convinced? Let me explain.

Good and Bad Movie Versions of Books Create New Readers

When it comes to readers, Hollywood often gets a bad rap. But why? Because even with a blockbuster budget a la Lord of the Rings, or Harry Potter, directors, producers, makeup artists and actors galore cannot measure up to many book-lovers’ imaginations. Too often, the characters, the setting, the plot, are not how we experienced them in the middle of the night, huddled under the covers with a flashlight, no special effects required.

But that’s okay.  What matters most is a writer’s story reaching more people. Because when a movie waters down or modifies a tale drastically, readers complain to their friends and family about it. Moviegoers who enjoyed the film, but have heard more times than they can count about how the books are superior, or the screenplay was so different sometimes become curious enough to crack open the book and the writer gains a new reader.

And on those rare occasions when the movie version is sublime, perfect, and adored by all the book fans, they drag their non-reader friends to the premiere, and goad them into buying or borrowing the book, and again, the writer gets new readers. For me, one instance of this is The Perks of Being a Wallflower–amazing execution, beautiful in print and on the big screen—and don’t get me started on the soundtrack—the book talks about music a lot, and wow.

Movie Versions of Books Alert Readers

Films are good press for books. It may seem shameful to readers and writers, but new movies receive far more attention and word of mouth than most freshly published tomes. Savvy readers know that many movies are based on books, so if a movie being advertised looks intriguing, with a little research they can stumble into something even more intriguing to read.

Hollywood’s in-your-face advertising put books like The Silver Linings Playbook, The Cloud Atlas and The Life of Pi on my reading list, and I’ve not even seen the last two movies. The striking print and television ads piqued my interest, and now I plan to read the books and watch the movies.

In fact, a lot of books I’ve really enjoyed have come to my attention when the blockbusters based on them were produced and promoted. Slick ads produced for box office hits nudged me into reading the Harry Potter books, the Hunger Games, Beautiful Creatures, and the Immortal Instruments, just to name a few recent offenders—all fun, entertaining reads, well-worth a cozy afternoon spent turning pages and sipping coffee. The movies aren’t too bad, either, once you let go of the idea that they must exactly resemble the book world you and the author created in your mind.

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Chris Ciolli is a Barcelona-based writer and translator. She’s an unabashed book worm and a bit of a coffee addict. She’s accepting new writing and translation clients. Look her up at ChrisCiolli.com.

Writing About Writing: Five Noteworthy Stories and Poems

writing about writing

This is an essay by Erika Dreifus.

A funny thing happened as I immersed myself in the study and practice of writing: I found myself appreciating stories and poems about writing—works in which central characters are writers or central themes or actions involve aspects of craft, process, or business of writing—more and more. I say that this is “a funny thing” because the more I hear from other writers, the more it seems that I’m in a decided minority in my enjoyment of these works.

Take the perspective articulated by Roxane Gay, a noted writer and editor whose views on writing and publishing are always worth thinking about:

“This may well become an annual announcement but writers, you must, for the love of all that is holy, stop writing stories where the main characters are writers. I understand the appeal. You are, perhaps, writing what you know. You’re writers so you’re creating stories around the experience of being a writer. In recent memory we have read stories about writers hoping to be published, excited to have been published, writers who have entered contests and won contests. You have written stories about happy writers and miserable writers and lonely writers and desperate writers. Sometimes your writers have sex and it is awkward. Very often they drink, smoke, or use illegal substances. Some of these stories about writers have been satirical (but not) like when you pretend to be kidding but really you’re serious.”

Trust me, many others share this view. Evidently, a contingent of readers (and editors) don’t necessarily want to see more stories written by eager emerging auteurs about this particular obsession. But perhaps the cohort can concede that some truly wonderful literary creations already exist for us to read and think about. Especially if we’re writers, or writers-in-training, some of these stories and poems may inspire us. Some may amuse us. Some may actually make us (more than) a bit uncomfortable. Some may make us think more carefully about what it really means to be a writer in the first place.

Here are five brief works—three short stories and two poems—that are among my favorites when it comes to “writing about writing.” All of them are available to read online.

  • “Electric Wizard,”by Elizabeth Stuckey-French. Published in The Atlantic in 1998, “Electric Wizard” presents us with a poetry teacher in the aftermath of the suicide of one of her young workshop students—and the parents of that student who seek to know what he had been writing for the class.
  • “How to Become a Writer Or, Have You Earned this Cliche?” by Lorrie Moore. Included in Moore’s first short-story collection, Self-Help (as “How to Become a Writer”), this story is oft-anthologized and cited.
  • “How to Tell a Story,” by Margo Rabb. Originally published in Zoetrope in 1999, this story introduces us to a narrator, Anna, who is a third-semester student “in the Master of Fine Arts program at Southwestern University.”
  • “Workshop,” by Billy Collins, is a poem that continues to throw light (of a sort) onto that very strange animal—the writing workshop.
  • “Digging,” by Seamus Heaney (who passed away in 2013), also comes from the world of poetry. But it takes a much more solemn approach to the work of writing—and to the place of writing in the larger world.

What do you think about fiction and poetry “about” writers and/or writing? Any favorites (whether available online or not) that you might recommend?

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Erika Dreifus (Ed.M., M.F.A., Ph.D.) lives in New York City, where she writes poetry and prose and reads as much as she possibly can. Follow her on Twitter @erikadreifus.

Three Things Game of Thrones Can Teach Non-Fiction Writers

game of thrones reading writing

This is an essay by Rhonda Kronyk.

The list of categories we can choose reading material from is endless. Yet, as busy people, we often choose to read in the genre we write in and forget that all writers can learn from reading outside their genre.

I admit that I’ve been guilty of letting my non-fiction reading slide this year as I work on my freelance writing and editing business. I miss reading novels, but never seem to make the time to fit them into my schedule.

That is until my son introduced me to the Game of Thrones television series. I rarely read fantasy fiction, and I never watch it on TV. But I am enthralled by Game of Thrones. So much so that I bought all of the novels.

It didn’t take me long to realize that writers can adapt George RR Martin’s techniques for non-fiction writing.

Here’s how to do it.

1. Understand your characters.

All non-fiction writing has a human at its core. Whether you’re writing a technical manual, a scientific treatise, a book of history, or a self-help article, everything is written by and for humans. The sooner you understand that, the better your writing will be.

However, for some genres this is even more important. Biographies, case studies, and memoir come immediately to mind.

Martin’s characters reflect humanity. They are incredibly complex, almost always contradictory, and are motivated by a range of rationales.

The people you discuss in your writing are the same. That means you need to hone your interview skills in order to access this complexity.

What aren’t they saying? How do past actions contradict or support their current words? What are their motivations?

I’m not suggesting that you dig up dirt on the people you write about. But you need to remember that, like Martin’s characters, people are rarely easy. That means that you need to take the time to try to understand them. Martin was once asked how he writes such good female characters. His response is classic: “I’ve always considered women to be people.”

What does this mean for you? No matter how difficult the interview or your personal feelings about a subject, you are dealing with people. None of us are easy, so take that into account.

2. Setting matters.

Have you ever read a feature article about a place and walked away disappointed? When Martin writes about his kingdom, readers can form a mental picture of dark castles, rich, walled cities and a wall of ice separating the North from the Seven Kingdoms.

You need to learn to convey this same detail in your non-fiction writing. Don’t leave your reader unable to form a mental image of the nature reserve, museum, or cultural event you are writing about.

That means it isn’t enough to say the lake water is blue. Rather, say “the clouds cause the water to change from blue green to steel grey, while the wind creates patterns of ripples across the water.” Details help your reader to see what you see.

Can you imagine the ice wall in the northern kingdom described as a barrier to separate the wild lands from the Seven Kingdoms? That doesn’t provide much of a mental picture, does it? But Martin’s ice-wall is 700 feet tall, 300 miles long, and infused with magic. It has abandoned forts built along its length and dominates the surrounding geography. It is forbidding and frightening and necessary.

When you build this level of detail into your descriptions, you provide your reader with a richer experience and draw them deeper into your writing.

3. The plot has to make sense.

It doesn’t matter if your story starts at the middle or the end. By the time the reader finishes the whole article, they have to understand the chain of events.

It sounds simple, doesn’t it? But think about the plot turns that Game of Throne takes. I can generally guess the ending of a show before the halfway point. Yet, I am constantly amazed by the plot twists that evolve. Not only that, but the twists are realistic because they reflect the characters and setting that Martin has worked into his story.

But you aren’t writing fiction, so none of this matters right? Wrong. Real life takes just as many twists and turns as a novel. It’s just as full of unintended consequences. As a writer, you need to be able to follow the various threads, sort them into a semblance of order and cut the ones that will clutter and confuse the story.

You always need to keep the facts straight so your reader can get an understanding of the events that you are writing about – no matter how complicated they are.

I’m thrilled that I was introduced to the rich tapestry that is a George RR Martin novel. It has been an excellent reminder to rekindle my love of fiction.

So expand your reading, go back to the wonderful world of well-written novels and incorporate the techniques of good fiction writing into non-fiction writing.

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Rhonda Kronyk is the editor and co-author of Releasing the Words: Writers on Writing, an e-book helping writers take control of writer’s block. As a die-hard word-nerd, she explores everything word related including writing, editing, and reading.

Photo: Some rights reserved by Douglas Brown.