Novels and films. The similarities between the two are obvious. They both present stories and introduce characters. They take us to worlds created by the writer that are fascinating and new. Novels and films generally have a beginning, middle and end. And often, one is not enough. Sequels and book series, like Harry Potter in both instances, have become a boon for both industries.

But what about the differences? The distinguishable difference between novels and films is that novels are long.

Much longer.

The Difference Between Novels and Films: Length

A typical film will last between 90 mins and 120mins. A feature film can vary wildly in terms of running time. The BFI and American Film Institute regard a “feature” as a film with a length exceeding 40 minutes.

On the other hand, a book can feasibly be a few pages long to infinity. War and Peace, anyone?

This means that the novelist can really build worlds. They can build multi-narratives. Writers can embed multiple complex characters and story arcs. Whereas film requires brevity and precision.

Filmmakers have around 90 minutes to engage with the audience. While 90 minutes in a time where attention deficits are drastically reducing by the year, may seem like a long time.
It’s really not. Audiences require a certain amount of time to engage with a film’s world and the characters that populate it.

The Difference Between Novels and Films: Style

Following on from length, novel writers can afford to use a more nuanced style of writing. A nuanced style offers many more interpretations and potential viewpoints. Whereas in film, there is an inclination for clarity. This is mainly because of the difference between mediums themselves.

Let’s imagine you get confused while reading a book.

Well, you can put the book down and come back to it later. Books are typically designed so that you read the story in parts. While a film can be watched in parts (to many purists’ chagrin) a film is typically designed to be watched at once.

This means that if you confuse a viewer, you’ve most probably lost them.

We live in a world of infinity and viewers will choose to watch other things with no remorse.

The Difference Between Novels and Films: Cultural Influence

Films hold more cultural power than books. This is due to their ephemerality and visual nature. Film, is arguably the most dominant mode of entertainment today. It certainly garners the highest amount of revenue and profit. But film also manifests the ability to influence contemporary culture through its dominance.

Advertising, social media and even human social dynamics have been directly influenced by film. It is important to note, that when I talk about film in this instance, I refer to Hollywood Cinema.

Books have no doubt influenced our culture too but their influence predates the current era of technology that we live in.

The Difference Between Novels and Films: Adaptations

The synergy between books and films is presented commonly through adaptations.

Books routinely offer Hollywood producers new avenues to explore within storytelling. While many detractors bemoan the lack of new storytelling IPs, Hollywood’s standpoint is understandable.

Some of these detractors are the original novelists themselves. A great example of this is arguably the most successful American novelist of all time – Steven King. His novel The Shining was adapted into a film by Stanley Kubrick. However, King completely disowned the film and begrudged Kubrick’s version.

While King hated the film version, The Shining is now considered one of the best horror films of all time.

This instance highlights how the sensibilities of a novelist and a filmmaker don’t have to match. Film and literature are two completely different mediums. And two proponents of both may not agree when the two worlds collide.

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Writer and Screenwriter

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