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Moving Picture Novels 1: What is a Moving Picture Novel?

July 6, 2012

I guess we all have a rough idea of what a novel is. The concise Oxford definition is simply: “A fictitious prose story of book length”, which gives us a place to start, at least.

Beyond that the definition you choose seems like quite a personal matter, and that thought suggests the first item on my list of “What I like about the Novel”.

Why not make your own list, as we consider whether our idea of a novel can be made, not in prose, but in Moving Picture form?

 

What I like about The Novel

 

1. It’s Personal.

I don’t mean it has to be a personal memoir, but most novelists give themselves away eventually. We soon learn what makes them tick, what moves them, what they’ve been and seen and know. Readers, of course, give themselves away with the novels they choose.

Also, reading a novel is something you usually do alone. In fact it’s a wonderful gift to the solitary. It’s nice to picture those notorious public viewings of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”, and some people do love reading groups, but one wouldn’t want to dress up to read a novel, or do the whole thing in one sitting (Excuse bathroom reference!). For hour after contented hour, it’s just you, the story and the writer telling it to you. Enjoy it and immerse yourself in it at your convenience!

The intimacy of novels is what teaches us that everyone we meet “has a novel in them”, and that’s why they do help us to meet and enjoy other people out in the real world.

I have to admit that I’m not looking forward to peering at a Moving Picture Novel on my phone or e reader, though I can see how this would appeal to younger eyes.

[I’ll have to leave such questions about Authorship as Can any “Auteur” truly survive the collaborative process? Can any Moving Picture team create a true novel? And How come more and more print novels seem to require a long list of Credits? (to name but a few) for another time!]

2. It’s Fictitious.

There’s a lot to be said about the superiority of Fiction over Truth. Surrendering to a tale gives us the opportunity to go anywhere, any time, experience any state, situation, emotion or train of thought, the more fantastical, the further away from our everyday experience the better, without having the awful burden of having to believe any of it. We can accept that we are playing an exciting but harmless game, we can learn and grow by deciding what we do believe. That’s how we end up discovering our own truth.

However, Moving Picture viewers do still complain about or mock anything “unbelievable” they can spot.

Compared to Novelistic fiction, Moving Picture fiction often seems clumsy. I’m not criticising actors (though acting styles do date surprisingly quickly) but praising the way a Book novel, even one with a vivid cover and illustrations, enters the brain so directly and gives you the choice of costume, scenery, actors (which can always include yourself), even “background music” if you want (I generally prefer to leave the TV on!).

This is not a request for Moving Picture makers or Games designers to keep on trying to “enhance the reality of the experience” with more attachments, silly helmets and such, or that corporate favourite, viral marketing technique.

Those clever movie tricks – flashbacks, subjective camera angles, “documentary” styles, flashy editing, alternative versions of the same incident etc – will have to work harder and better to get past the disbelief novel readers are so willing to suspend.

3. It’s Prose.

Good prose lends a reassuring air of honesty to the most implausible story, adds innumerable layers of meaning, and can get us excited about whatever the author chooses. Not many car chases or shoot ups or emotional climaxes can stimulate the mind so well as a neatly turned sentence.

They used to think the movies would kill prose, and they try, oh how they try. It was a great pleasure to learn how to “read” movies at college, but some “readings” still seem pretty outlandish, as critics try to persuade Motion Picture viewers to give that art the same respect that they give to prose naturally. They use language as off putting as that used to turn Sociology into a science, in pursuit of “seriousness” or a higher degree.

4. It’s Of Book Length.

Some Marvel Comics covers used to promise “Novel Length” stories. Indeed Watchmen is but one Graphic Novel that has earned that title. However, there are a lot of “baggy monsters” out there and it would be nice if moving picture makers could avoid telling the same stories over and over again.

A long work can seem more impressive just because of its being long, “of book length”, or even longer.

Perhaps all that’s on offer is another form of escapism, but you know what else is long? Life! Hopefully it is!

If a writer really keeps our attention, a lengthy work of merit develops our powers of concentration, teaches patience, and helps us understand that in some cases we must wait to see how things will turn out in the end, always hoping to arrive at the truth of the matter. Lasting pleasure can be even more than a series of the “memorable moments” so tenderly described by James Stewart in his Parkinson interview.

The length we enjoy from novels isn’t just a matter of how many pages. Consider how coming to the end of a single Henry James sentence and understanding it constitutes a victory!

5. It’s a Physical Object.

At least it usually is at the moment. An e reader takes up less room, but don’t forget it is spying on you! And I believe we all dream of rivalling the great libraries of the world with our own collections, book shelves full of the works (in our favourite editions!) that we enjoy showing off to visitors, lending to friends, possibly, and returning to when time permits.

We now have the luxury of filling our shelves with DVDs and Box sets of hours of cinema and television treats. I dare say many people still treasure their collections of all ten seasons of Friends, which is certainly a long enough Moving Picture story to claim Novel Length! If you have that in video, you’ll realise that format and packaging are big issues here.

We like to think of books as artefacts, but when a Moving Picture becomes an artefact it’s considered dead.

6. You get Notes and Addenda.

I will admit that, though you’re not always allowed to skip them or leave them for later, they do these things well on screen these days, both in the computer graphic form pioneered by the TV version of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, or in the subtle ways that great directors add to their own individual moving picture story telling styles. Good research always pays dividends, so I hear. You can learn a lot if you follow those speedy dialogues on CSI, House, Spooks (possibly) and you can add loads of layers with agile software or a red button. And these days it’s not hard for conscientious readers of all media to add their own footnotes. (Feel free to comment on this little article!)

Well, that’s my list; I hope you have your own (Remember, Moving Picture adaptations of Book novels don’t count!). There are already works that satisfy my idea of what a Moving Picture Novel can be, and I shall reveal some of my choices in the near future!

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