Why are books better than movies?


I’VE HEARD it before.

I’ve said it myself.

The book is better than the movie.


And I know why.

In a movie, you see the character.

You hear his words.

You watch his eyes.

You read his body language?

What’s going on his mind?

You have no idea.

In books, you know the main character.

More importantly, you know what he is thinking.

And by reading his thoughts – his inner dialogue – you feel what he is feeling.

Is it anger?

Is it love?

Is it fear?

Is it disappointment?

Is it hope?

Is it a deep and foreboding dread?

Look at the screen?

What did the character’s eyes tell you?

Not much.

You see they’re blue.

And that’s all there is.

Books, on the other hand, let you crawl deep into a character’s psyche.

Here is an example from my Conspiracy of Lies.

Let me set the scene.

A brisk wind was blowing dust out of the desert. It burned his throat like the stale smoke from the fat man’s cigar. The wind in the dried brush sounded like the coarse rattle of a snake.

The heat bore down and into his shoulder blades as if it had been a poker pulled straight from the flames in a blacksmith’s furnace.

The fat man wore an insolent smile.

He had one pistol in a shoulder holster that crossed his heart. A smaller one hung heavily in the pocket of his deep navy blue trousers.

Ambrose Lincoln is watching.

He is thinking:

Lincoln suspected that a third was hidden elsewhere, maybe in his belt.

The fat man was a walking armory.

But could he reach any of his weapons in time if he were in trouble?

Lincoln suspected he could.

Otherwise, the fat man would have died long ago.

The highway was empty.

No wonder the café was empty.

Nobody came much to Eureka anymore.

Even fewer ever left.

Arlene would not be making the journey out of town.

But Arlene had lied to him.

Or had she?

Maybe the fat man was lying.

Maybe it was all a lie.

I’ve often said that writers need to let readers see the story through their yes, or, more importantly, through the eyes of the characters.

Inner dialogue makes it possible.

How can we be in love when the character is simply walking across the dance floor, surrounded by women?

Who has caught his eye?

Who has stolen his hear?

We know his thoughts when he speaks to us with his inner dialogue, and we know it all.

We’re on the dance floor with him.

We see the girl he sees.

Our hearts flutter when his does.

It’s love.

No doubt about it.

How can we know fear when the character is simply sitting in a parked car with night falling on the dark side of a dark city?

Why is he waiting?

Who is he waiting for?

Is he waiting to kill someone?

Is he afraid he will be killed?

When we know his thoughts, when he speaks to us with his inner dialogue, we know it all.

We’re sitting in the dark car waiting with him.

We are as afraid as he is.

He has a .45 caliber pistol in his lap.

We left ours at home.

We should have read his mind before we left.

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  • You nailed that one, Caleb. I connect emotionally with characters in books. Not to say I don’t in movies, too, but it’s a different type of connection. And how often does an actor ever really match the idea we have in our head of a character? I’ve seen a few movies that came very close (or in a few cases were even better than the book) but that’s more a rarity than the norm.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      For example, Mae, I think Gregory Peck was invented to play Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird. But most of the time I am more attached to the actor in the book that an author creates inside my head.

      • Great example. And I do agree about the character the author creates. I have two characters I am extremely fond of that I can’t imagine any actor portraying, simply because they’ll never come close to matching the image in my head.

        You always have such interesting posts!

  • Darlene Jones

    I like books better because I can create my own image of the characters.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      For me, the men all look like Gregory Peck and the women all look like Lauren Bacall. I guess I come from the wrong era.

  • Christina Carson

    You are funny too. I love it.

  • Your comments, as usual Caleb were spot on. When you read a book you immerse yourself into it and the characters, you feel everything they do, if it’s written well and this book was exceptional in bringing the reader inside to join the action. It reminded me of the old movies from the 40’s so your description of the characters was spot on too. The was a strong sense of noir to the book which at times I found a little surreal. I wasn’t sure if in some parts Ambrose was imagining what he was going through of if it was part of a recovered memory. I liked the idea of him being an amnesiac and you handled the concept far better than Simon Toyne did with Solomon Creed.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Jan: I think you nailed it perfectly. A book bring a read inside the story. In a movie, the story is always on the other side of the screen.

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