Why are books often better than the film? Character driven stories adapted to the screen rarely capture the languid, interconnected weaving of words. The point of view depicted in books and films have become more important to me, affecting my patience and enjoyment of them. For example, I struggle to sit through an epic film or read a book of epic proportion. Omniscient point of view is grand in style, but I’m swimming among the characters in the riptide. Once I could appreciate Victorian tangents and Dostoevskian explanations and wrap my mind around the subplots and forgive the overuse of flashbacks. But now I grow disillusioned. Even authors I hold in high esteem like John Irving frustrate me. He describes the life story of every character that wanders on to the page. Yes, I adore his craftsmanship and his ability to create bizarre, unique characters and a setting that’s tangible, but I will put the book down if the plot is shelved for the sake of description. I hear the words a great friend and teacher who once said about description, “Yes, but, where’s the story? Get back to the story!” For me, the key to a great book or film is a balanced mixture of plot and complex characters who are inspiring, flawed, and heroic.
I’ve been trying to get through A Son of the Circus by John Irving. Where is the plot? Irving’s characters experience events and realize life’s truths. A Prayer for Owen Meany is such a book containing the themes of friendship and love. It’s a beautiful story and my favorite. Cider House Rules is a great book, too. Although John Irving won Best Adapted Screenplay in 1999, Irving’s movie was not nearly as satisfying as his novel. What did you think of the book and film that catapulted Irving’s career, The World According to Garp? Check out his books and life HERE E.L. Doctorow
Doctorow is another great author whose POV disengages me. Let’s talk about Ragtime. As a historical fiction classic, he chooses to add real celebrities from circa 1910 and place them among fictional characters. Doctorow uses third person omniscient point of view and the plot moves around each chapter from one story to the next, and I find the leaping around, typical in epic tales, annoying. Another criticism I have is his fragmented sentence structure and little deviation with character’s attitudes or personality. I had high expectations for this novel; it has been tagged as the definitive voice of Americana at the beginning of the 20th Century. It is daring to include famous people into a fictional novel. Harry Houdini, Henry Ford, and Emma Goldman, are strikingly different personalities; yet, it’s the voice of Doctorow as narrator we hear. I crave to be in their heads and listen to them speak. This is an important concept to me in writing.
It’s ironic to me that omniscient point of view is wide open and encapsulates several characters, yet begets a lack of intimacy. An over-use of description from an omnicient narrator can dissuade me to finish a novel. Irving and Doctorow are highly esteemed writers and my criticisms are irrelevant in the big scheme of things. For the record, I’d be thrilled to meet these masters and discuss the pros and cons to omniscient point of view. Still, Ruth at Ruth’s Flixchatter raised a question in a recent post–Don’t you hate it when everyone loves a film and it leaves you cold?–you can add books to that discussion, too. What about you? Which authors are critically acclaimed yet their style leaves you cold? Any book adaptations you feel transferred to the screen well? I’m wondering if the rapidity of time because of our technological marvels haven’t weakened my ability to concentrate for long periods of time.