Wednesday, October 21, 2015

On the Death of Imagination, or When’s the Movie Version Coming Out?

My wife, wonderful woman that she is, is a marvelous promoter of my recently-released novel. She’s always telling people “My husband just published his first book!” and handing out bookmarks to all and sundry. She works in a high-school library and has spread the word there as well, to the point where the librarians are talking about my book to the students.

One of the more interesting reactions has been from students asking “Are they going to make it into a movie?”

I guess it’s a natural assumption on their part.The new generation of readers is very visual, I do think TRAITOR KNIGHT would actually film quite well. I wrote it in a rather cinematic fashion, visualizing many of the scenes and allowing them to play out on the drive-in theatre screen in my head as I both wrote and edited the manuscript. And you see often quizzes out there on social media relevant to this—things like “Who would you pick to play the MC in your novel if it was made into a film?” I’ve done ‘em; likely you have too, at some point.

Of course it’s fun dreaming about a film being made out of my novel (it would star Will Smith, no less). But I have to confess I’m just not sure I like the idea of my book being made over into a movie. Because with a film treatment, a book loses some of its inherent wonder. The visual takes over, and imagination is left stagnating in the alley.

I purposefully didn’t go into a lot of detail on either character descriptions or the overall scene descriptions. I do describe both to some extent, but not in such minute detail that there’s no room for interpretation. My vision of Kilbourne and the people who live there will be drastically different from yours if you read the book. And I think that’s the way it should be. Everyone should be allowed their own notion of what a character looks like. To let their imagination take over, coloring the scene and populating it with the characters.

A movie sweeps that imaginary construct into the dustbin and imposes its own interpretation of setting and character. Actors become the embodiment of their characters. There is no room for doubt. "THIS is what the character looks like, take it from us" --signed, the movie's producers and directors.

And yet—they so often get it wrong. A prime example of getting it horribly wrong? Tom Cruise as Lee Child’s wonderful creation, Jack Reacher. Mr. Cruise may be a wonderful actor and a handsome devil to boot, but I’ve read the entire Reacher canon, and I couldn’t have watched that film for a hundred dollars—except perhaps to hiss surreptitiously whenever Tom Cruise appeared. He was just so wrong for the part that it physically hurt my head to even contemplate it.

Now, I’ll grant you the picture in my mind of what Jack Reacher looks like is probably nothing like what another fan’s idea of him is. But that’s the beauty of books over film—they allow that spark of self-determination and creativity to blossom in the reader’s mind. And so, when Hollywood comes knocking on my door waving a contract and fistfuls of cash, I’ll have to think long and hard. Unless Will Smith is available…


Malcolm Campbell said...

The imagination can run wild thinking about what the movie version of ones book might look like.


Keith Willis said...

Ain't that the truth.