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The Great Divide

May 15, 2014

When a movie comes out based on a book I’ve read, I tend to watch it out of curiosity. How did they change the plot, were the characters portrayed differently, which subplots didn’t make the cut? What shouldn’t have been changed? It’s an accepted and necessary practice to alter a storyline to better suit the onscreen medium, for the meat of a novel can hardly fit into a two-hour window.

But why is it I have little desire to read a book if I’ve already seen its movie?

Case in point: Fight Club. One of my favorite films and author success stories of all time, yet I’ve never read the book nor had much desire to. After some deliberation I’ve concluded the reason (I’ve been giving myself) is I already know the story. I don’t want to invest the time reading a novel whose outcome is preordained.

While this is clearly BS, let’s look at it a little closer. Having seen the movie first I am accepting it as the original story because the experience touched me in a certain way. I don’t feel the book has anything more to offer, or perhaps I don’t want my experience of the movie to be altered by a different version. In either case I’m drawing a substantial line between the two stories: they exist separately of each other.

Now, the modern storytelling trend is based on the idea of convergence, specifically as related to media. Old and new technologies are being used simultaneously to access a broad range of content and experiences, making it necessary to spread a story across the digital realm in all its manifestations. Films, animations, video games, online fan fiction… in each site the story must build on itself so as to keep visitors engaged.

A notable movie to spread its story beyond the theater was The Matrix. A series of animations and several video games fill gaps between the first and subsequent movies – and continue the story beyond the end of episode three. The Wachowski duo have been accused of asking too much of their audience, but they may have simply been ahead of their time. Today fans of Harry Potter, for example, can visit websites and create their own characters in Hogwarts universes that interact with other wizard enthusiasts around the globe. They can write and e-publish their own fan fiction (not for profit, of course).

These fantasy worlds are surviving beyond their film release because the interactive nature of modern media allows their stories to grow through audience participation. Like the transition from the printed page to the screen, it’s accepted and necessary to alter the storylines to suit the medium. Who cares if details are askew in a young fan’s rendition of Hogwarts? What’s the harm in using your imagination?

Still, I wonder. How many kids are going to read the books if they’re exposed to the movies first? How many kids are going to miss the journey through the novel, that long ride that builds a character into an ally, a trusted confidant, a friend? How many kids are going to cry over a hero’s death (as seldom as it happens anymore) when they can turn around and resurrect him in a video game?

The written word deserves its place in our convergence culture. Whether e-published, accessed via an audiobook, or printed on old fashioned paper, written stories contain details no films or video games have yet to equal, and never may. They’re different forms of storytelling and should be accepted as such.

But if you’ve read this far you’re probably already converted.

Anyone have a copy of Fight Club I can read?

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