As you might know, the full-length trailer for the first installment of the popular Hunger Games trilogy was just released. Here’s a link, if you like:
The thing is, these movies are going to be tremendous, almost without a doubt. Of course, a huge part of why these movies will be so stupendous is due to Jennifer Lawrence playing the part of Katniss and the rest of the cast being so very nicely chosen.
Seriously. Elizabeth Banks? Incredible. Josh Hutcherson? Excellent. Woody Harrelson, Lenny Kravitz, Donald Sutherland.. all very nice.
Plus, the company making the films, Lionsgate, has done pretty well for itself in the past and has hired Gary Ross to direct the films, or at least the first one. He’s an accomplished writer (Seabiscuit, Tale of Desperaux, Pleasantville) and a good director as well.
That’s all great, but the reason the movies have such a great chance of hitting multiple home runs is because the books are so cinematic. That’s really the heart of why they’ve been so successful. I also think that the issue of being cinematic is something that writers ought to think about when they are on the 2nd or 3rd revision of their books.
Some books just lend themselves perfectly to being made into movies. Ender’s Game? That’s a hard one because so much that goes on is in his head. Lord of the Rings? Easy: characters, action, exotic places, conflict. The Magic of Recluce? Tough one, most of the first half is in Lerris’ head. The Wheel of Time? Also tough because it is so incredibly sprawling. Harry Potter? Very cinematic. You have a core group of characters who go through multiple conflicts, but you don’t need to change perspective all the time and there’s one major conflict running the entire show.
The Hunger Games has a major conflict running the show: Katniss’ attempts to win the games while bringing down the cruel regime. We don’t change perspective, we don’t have to juggle a bunch of sub-plots, we are in interesting locales, and the characters seem more or less real. Or at least we can identify with them. There is a lot of action; there are lots of twists.
You can very easily picture the scenes and timeline. It translates well to the screen.
I think authors might want to try to write cinematically, because when you do this, it helps you focus on your story. You might ask yourself more often, “Exactly what story is it that I’m trying to tell?” This can help you cut what needs cutting and make a story that clicks along in a way that keeps your reader engaged.
When you write cinematically, you put effort into making your settings vivid. You think, “What about this place or time is going to stick with my reader and help her/him really picture this important scene?” You remember the senses.
When you write cinematically, you think, “What will heighten the drama here? What will push my character closer to the breaking point?”
All of these things make a book more interesting and exciting. So unless Lionsgate just drops the ball royally, the very cinematic Hunger Games trilogy is going to translate very well to the screen and will do phenomenal business.
Obviously I don’t have a writers point of view, not being a writer myself, but as a reader I would rather have fewer books written with an eye to cinematic qualities. If I want to see a movie I can go watch a movie. It is true that a book written after the cinematic fashion can be a very compelling and fun read, I loved Brandon Sanderson’s recent Alloy of Law, but when you have to stop and reread a page in a book because the language and or plotting was too complex and flowery to take in at normal reading speed (Dickens), THAT is what I am looking for in a book. Complexity in plotting and elements is the single greatest advantage of the written word in the battle with its visual counterpart, in my humble opinion….
That said I can see that my above point might be irrelevant to the aid that can be derived from trying to think of your story in this way. Perhaps you speak not of the final product but merely the path you take to get there. Focusing on the cinematic elements of your writing may not mean cinematic outcome, is that the case?
You make a very important point regarding the actual prose of a book or other reading passage. And I think that prose should absolutely, positively, be honed, crafted, and polished until its complexity, beauty, tone, and pitch are perfect for the story being told.
You are right on in that I think that writers need to establish story first. Using the idea of writing cinematically to help you get to and stay with your story, create a vivid world and characters, and ultimately tell a complete story is my main point. I would hope that, once the story is well told, further revisions would be made to polish prose.
That said, complexity and beauty of prose is of course subjective. The Book Thief, by Zusak, had at times very figurative and elevated prose, but that was very appropriate, as the narrator was Death. The Hunger Games doesn’t focus on beauty of prose so much as keeping the prose out of the way of the story.
OK, I can see that. I get irritated because wonderful prose has fallen slightly out of style, but it’s still in existence. Thanks for the reply.
I enjoy beautiful prose too. One of the reasons McKillip’s RIDDLEMASTER OF HED series is such a wonderful series is that her prose is flawless.
These were going to be tremendous? I thought you said you didn’t like them!