Stories that are More

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss

Movie Katniss: 100% better than Book Katniss

a drawing of a monster robot sculpture

Erik’s Donna Russell: 100% better than my description of Donna Russell

When is a story More than itself?  This question intrigues me.  CAN a story be More than itself?  I think so.  A story is always More when someone reads it, since the author and the reader are collaborating to make meaning, but I find it very intriguing to experience a story through more than one medium.  That’s a whole new kind of More.

In early January, I went to see CATCHING FIRE, the second installment of the HUNGER GAMES trilogy. Let it be known: I do NOT like these books.  Too bleak, too sad, too much negativity (I’ve never been a fan of dystopia, though). But, I have to grudgingly admit, I like the movies. A lot. Because the movies make the story More.

I don’t like Book Katniss. She’s cold and harsh (understandably so), and really mean to Peeta. But I like Movie Katniss–she grows and changes, and she can see what she’s doing to Peeta. When you add sensory dimensions (people, emotions, sights, sounds) to the images on the page, you increase the empathy factor about a thousandfold, and the fact that the HUNGER GAMES movies are wildly visual makes things even better. Dare I say I’m glad Suzanne Collins wrote the books, just so the movies could be made?  As an author, I cringe at that statement.  But at the same time, if someone ever made a movie about Gabe or Morgan, the story (in my opinion) could become More, because of the sights/sounds that the filmmaker would add to what already exists.

(This is not to say that movies *always* make books More.  Very often, movies of books are sucky, and reduce the impact of the story (making a story Less, I’d say)).

ORIGINAL FAKE, the novel I wrote last year, is an illustrated YA novel, and the illustrations make the story More. To me, that was the coolest part of working with my illustrator, Erik Johnson.  I’d write a scene or a character description, and Erik would draw what he saw, with his own ideas about the story and his thoughts about what readers did (and didn’t) need in a drawing.   It’s the wildest thing ever, to literally see your story.  I love it immensely.  And, in my opinion, the story is now More.  It’s also not just mine anymore—it’s Erik’s story, too.

Two others stories-made-More that I love: the films for both FIGHT CLUB and ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST.  Both are excellent books, but the films add layers of meaning that enhance the books.  What about for you?  What are your experiences of stories that are More?  Maybe films, maybe graphic novels, maybe TV?  Please share with us.

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7 Responses to Stories that are More

  1. That’s a very interesting question, Kirsten, “what stories are More in other adaptations?” At first I shied away from this thought, but the more it rattled around in my brain, the more examples came to me.

    A caveat, though – I find myself hard pressed to NOT separate the mind from the senses. Many, many of the examples of More that came to me were ones wherein the experienced was heightened because of the involvement of the senses: period pieces where the movie experience of costumes, setting, environment, heightened appreciation of the story due to a fulfillment of the visual of the world in which the story took place (virtually every good period piece!); or even more simplistically yet vitally – almost every children’s picture book I ever read to my kids: unless the illustrations grabbed me, I most likely would not share the book with my children (lest you worry, though, we had a HUGE picture book library; not sure that means I was “discerning” or not very judgmental!).

    On the flip side, I am very hard pressed to think of cases where, if you remove the visual or aural or sensorial nature of the Other from the Original, the interpretation of the Original in the Other is not lacking: case in point – I loved the look of Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. He made Tolkien’s books vibrate for me. But in no way would I call his movies superior or More than the original, for while he did a wonderful job (in my opinion) for a movie and the look is astonishing (and in some cases he did add “More” to characters – such as the somewhat comical take on the friendship between Gimli and Legolas, for better or worse, depending on your viewpoint), he did not come close to capturing the totality of the story/stories created by Professor Tolkien, in breadth or depth. That is a fairly obvious example, but it follows in almost every instance of which I can conjure in my experience.

    There are some examples I did come up with, though, such as “Jurassic Park”, which is a great Michael Critchton novel, but an even more harrowing movie – words can indeed impart threat, but not as much as the visual of the dinosaurs on screen. “Trainspotting” was another one, where adding the physical dimension to the text was amazing, even if certain literary elements did get dropped. But that’s not exactly what you were asking, I fear.

    I understand what you were saying with your comments on “Catching Fire”, but I really can only think of one time where I felt like the Original was enhanced by the Other, and that was the 1984 movie “Birdy”, which was an adaptation of the William Wharton novel of the same name. I found the movie was able to express so much more to me as a reader/viewer than the book alone; that the visual interpretation of Matthew Modine as the title character made the text far more accessible. On the flip side, sometimes incredibly personal performances are too much for me; I sometimes need the privacy of my own mind to keep the horrors of the text from becoming too real.

    Not sure if that speaks to your question in a satisfactory manner, or if I simply got caught up in a case of the rambles, but thought I would share where your question took me this morning!

    • kirstincm says:

      Sharon, thank you! I think you hit on so many angles to the More question, and I appreciate your opinions. One of the things I didn’t address is imagination–which you did–sometimes our minds make things so much More, no other adaptation could do the story justice. Your paragraph about Tolkien and Peter Jackson is a great example.

      For me, I think I was just surprised by my appreciation for CATCHING FIRE, the film, considering how much I disliked the series. It might be Jennifer Lawrence. It might be the production designer. But something registers as More to me. TRAINSPOTTING is another example I like–thanks for that.

  2. Donovan Jackman says:

    Yes, stories can be more, in the way a tree can more than a tree when it adds to a forest, or a home, or an anchor for a riverbank. Books to movies are like poems to songs, the new form can enhance or detract depending on the art and the artist(s).

  3. Becky Gilbertson says:

    I do think books can become More when the movie is done correctly. Let me clarify what I mean when I say “correctly; Katness as you say, becomes more dynamic and human through the actor’s portrayal and interpretation. We have another perspective on which to fill in any blanks we may not have thought of while reading the books.
    On the flip side, I feel the book-to-movie can be done wrong. Divergent has been successful as a book, and I have really enjoyed them, however, from what I have seen of the movie ( just previews and pictures) I am already apprehensive about if I will get More. The cast of Hunger Games seems to fit into the idea I already had and just fills out my interpretation, giving me more. But, the cast of Divergent doesn’t fit the idea I had already constructed from the book and I am doubtful if I will be able to use their performances to get More to fill in the blanks. Of course, the movie isn’t even out yet, so it’s tough to make a judgment.
    For me, it’s similar to going to a book club. You are able to hear and see how the books affected other people and use their experiences to round out the book and give us the gift of More. You are seeing the book through so many more eyes, experiences, and interpretations it can be amazing. Thanks for asking a thought provoking question!

    • kirstincm says:

      I like the idea of book clubs providing experiences of More, too! Great point. And you hit on another angle of this post: what happens when things are More for some folks and Less for others? Time will tell with DIVERGENT, I’m sure. Thank you for chiming in!

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