The three major forms of storytelling are books, television shows and movies. Books are the odd man out because they require active participation. You can sit back and let the story wash over you with a TV set or cinema screen. Books, you have to engage your faculties a little more actively.
While television and cinema have gone through major changes over the years as they try to take advantage of advancing technology, books have stayed more or less the same over the last 500 years.
Meanwhile TV and film have been having a battle royale as they try to outdo each other, and the kinds of stories they tell have developed accordingly. Has the novel been left behind?
There are two approaches to winning over an ever busier populace. You can provide a product that fits modern lifestyles better (access online, on demand, digital formats and cloud access). Or you can make the product so irresistible, people will take time away from their other interests to experience it (3D, IMAX, star power and media hype).
TV and films have made use of both approaches, along with plenty of eye candy. But in the end the main selling point tends to come down to what you have to offer that no one else has. Television can offer in-depth storytelling over many weeks. Film can offer the big spectacle and intensified one-off experience.
So what can the novel do that the other two can’t?
If the same story was told in all three formats, the novel could take you much deeper into the minds of the characters. What movies have been trying to do with 3D (and failing) is to make you feel like you’re inside the story. With novels you can really do that. You can make the reader feel like they’re experiencing it along with the characters. Not just visually, but through all the other senses too.
Deep POV is something neither of the other two can do. Making the reader feel like they’re in the world of the story—total sensory immersion.
Of course this isn’t easy. It’s a simple thing to just describe the hell out of everything, but that would make for a laborious and tedious read. You have to have a story worth telling and elements worthy of the full immersion.
You also have the advantage of being able to change locations to anywhere in the world (and beyond). Or pull off the most amazing special effects without incurring George Lucas size costs. Both the real and the fantastical can be an all encompassing experience for the reader.
Not that you need go crazy, but often we forget the potential of the tiny words we put on the page, and the opportunity they give us to really blow people’s minds, both in terms of imagination and emotion.
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