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I have enjoyed writing prose for years and have a few short stories penned. I would like to build up to a novel but believe I have identified a potential weakness in my storytelling.

My style is grounded in visual language, and always has been. I grew up with a lot of film and TV, and have a good knowledge of filmography being a bit of a film nerd when I was younger. As such, even reading from a young age, I always imagined the scenes taking place on film and pictured how I would film them, angles, framing, reaction shots etc. I've always read like this. Because of this, I tend to write in a style that accommodates the way I read and the pacing of cinema almost like a screenplay in prose.

I'm worried that I may be cornering myself and limiting myself to the full power of prose, but I am mostly self taught and outside of High School English have not studied writing in any way.

So my question, what are some of the forms and styles I can use in my writing that are not possible to do with film and TV?

How can I ensure I'm not limiting my potential by writing almost exclusively 'for TV'?

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    This isn't a duplicate, but a question of mine is related to yours. writing.stackexchange.com/questions/42405/… – Cyn says make Monica whole Jul 1 '19 at 14:33
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    Welcome to Writing.SE Smeato. Please check out our tour and help center. – Cyn says make Monica whole Jul 1 '19 at 14:35
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    When George RR Martin embarked on writing "A Song of Ice and Fire"/"Game of Thrones" he thought he'd be writing what TV and movies can not do. Well, now we can only argue if TV can do that well. – Alexander Jul 1 '19 at 16:31
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    "And he played a song so sad, that it would make angels weep" => now turn that sentence into a movie. No matter which song you pick, everybody will be expecting something different, and the movie will not live up to anyones imagination. – Lot Jul 2 '19 at 12:07
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    @DavidRicherby keep you entertained in the aftermath of an EMP – A C Jul 2 '19 at 20:47

14 Answers 14

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The main difference is the ability to be published.

To break into TV, you need to live somewhere that produces a lot of TV shows (in the United States, you'd move to Los Angeles and try to hang out with others in "the industry"). I'm not sure how else you break in, but it's not easy.

You can self-publish 100 novels with the same ease (and money) it takes to make one 30 minute TV pilot. More eyeballs too. Perhaps there are paths to film/TV writing available to you (by networking or luck) that I don't know about. The reality for most people is that you're a lot more likely to get published with prose, and even that's not easy to do.

But you asked about "forms and styles I can use in my writing that are not possible to do with film and TV."

Forms & Styles

My current project was in my head as a movie for 10 years. I imagined scenes and camera angles and all the rest. I don't have the skillset to write a screenplay (the technical stuff isn't hard to learn, I just don't know it yet) but I could have gotten it down easily enough and reformatted it later.

When I decided to change course and write it as a novel, it was an interesting transition. At first I decided to create it as a heavily illustrated book. Not a graphic novel, but something leaning in that direction. I don't draw but I did choose an artist (who I still think would be perfect) who has agreed to work on it when I'm ready.

My first few chapters were good enough but relied heavily on the illustrations for descriptions (I have those illustrations in my head and described them briefly). For example, Chapter One (after a prologue) happens with an extended family around a dinner table. My prose only barely showed the reader what the characters looked like, how the table was set, what the room looked like, etc. Some of that stuff was window dressing (but a well-dressed window is a joy to look at) but other details are important to the story.

As I continued to write, I stopped relying on the pictures and started narrating.

Description: A screenplay shows you the characters and the setting, sometimes in glorious detail, but it's a barrage. With prose, you can set the scene sparsely or lavishly. The reader can imagine to cover any gaps.

You also can direct the reader's eye. Of course you can do this in a screenplay too. It's called a closeup. Prose gives you more subtlety. You lay out the important parts without necessarily pointing a big sign at them screaming "foreshadowing!"

Character thoughts: There are many forms of narration in a novel. Some allow you to get inside anyone's head, some only one person's head or a small handful. Some don't do it at all.

When I started writing this novel, I had every intention of limiting my narration to what could be filmed. I only included the slightest of thoughts, and then just things that a good actor could convey without words. As I went further, I changed that. And the novel got stronger.

It's not necessary to include thoughts, but most novels do, at least for the main character (or a narrator who is involved in the action). You can easily overdo it but, done right, it brings a depth to the characterization that is hard (and sometimes impossible) to capture in film.

When people talk about the difference between reading the book and seeing the movie and how the book is (usually) better, it's because the book gives you more than a movie can. Length is a huge factor, but also how the characters feel.

Length: Novels can have sequels and TV shows can go on for decades (some soap operas have). But the reality is that you can pack in a lot more information in prose than will fit in a script. When novels get adapted to movies, large portions of plot get cut, subplots are often removed, and some characters are merged with others or just gone.

Nuance: You lose character complexity and other nuances that a novel can give you. If you're transitioning to thinking about your work as filmable to just printed, imagine the world this opens up for fleshing out secondary characters, showing more stops on a journey, or simply taking your time with a story.

Time-depiction: Film uses actors and they are the age that they are. You can use makeup to age an adult and you can go backwards some, but often you need new actors to use in flashbacks or subplots about characters at other ages. Some TV shows do hire actors to show the characters as children or young adults, for example, but they tend to merge ages to limit this.

The TV show Any Day Now has parallel storylines with an adult cast and with them all as children. Orange Is the New Black mostly sets stories in the present day but shows individual characters before they got to prison. Some use the same actors and others use younger adult actors, teens, or small children.

Child actors also age, so if there's a delay in filming, you might end up with a much taller actor (suddenly with breasts or facial hair) because you waited 9 extra months for funding, but the time jump is supposed to be a single summer. It's even worse if you have to skip a season (as many shows do these days) and have the perfect young actors who are going to age out.

Time Jumps: In prose you can skip ahead 5 years without even blinking. The show Jane the Virgin did this between 2 seasons, but they had to recast the children. The adults didn't age visibly because...Hollywood. Pretty Little Liars also jumped ahead, but in that case it was a relief because we no longer had actors in their 20's playing girls in high school. Now the same actors were playing characters closer to their real ages.

In prose you can also go back and forth through multiple timelines with ease. If you want an entire chapter set 20 years ago, no problem.

Settings: You don't have to consider how expensive changing sets is or how you don't have the budget to film on location. Just write it.

Background information: Does the reader need some information to make sense of the story? Your narrator can just tell the reader. You don't want to infodump, but sometimes it's just easier to write a line or two of background. In film, a character has to know the information and tell another character (which might not be what you want for the plot) or somehow tell the audience (reading a diary out loud, inventing a throwaway character like a therapist, etc). For something super important, that's okay. But sometimes you just want a line or two every few pages.

I've left out a few, but hopefully this is enough to get you started.

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    Very good answer, backed up with experience! And it mentions the practical problems of needing other people to get anything done, and even then having restrictions on the budged and sets and actors. – Lichtbringer Jul 2 '19 at 1:04
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You've already gotten quite a few good answers, but there's one important point that I didn't see in any of them:

You can omit visual and aural details.

If you don't want to tell the age of the protagonist, or the hair colour, or the type of clothes, or if you don't want to tell it yet, then you can. In film and TV that's not possible; the protagonist is right in front of your eyes, complete with apparent age, hair colour, clothing, everything.

Another example: In Orwell's 1984, Winston Smith is tortured with a machine that is described by the torturer as machine that can apply a defined quantity of hurt (I don't remember the exact wording, and I read it in German translation anyway, but that's roughly what was said). There's IIRC no further description of that machine, and that's a good thing. In the movie, they didn't have the luxury of not showing the machine, and that mysterious machine turned into a rather mundane torture instrument.

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    Well, Twilight Zone did play with this sort of thing, as in the episode "Eye of the Beholder," but yes, it's much harder to do on TV than it is in prose. – Lauren-Clear-Monica-Ipsum Jul 1 '19 at 19:50
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    Watch 'The Martian' movie and then read the book - while the movie is excellent, the book is just something else entirely, and the reason why is obvious when you read it. – Moo Jul 2 '19 at 6:12
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    This is a major point for mysteries or anything involving secret identities. – curiousdannii Jul 2 '19 at 8:28
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    To expand on this slightly, you can also omit visual details selectively, when they don't matter. Example: Zaphod Beeblebrox in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Sure, he has two heads and three arms - but for much of the time that is irrelevant, and ignored in the narrative. You can't do that in a visual medium - somebody has to fill in all the trivia about how a two headed three armed person functions whenever the character is on screen. – alephzero Jul 2 '19 at 12:29
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    An often used example is a text-line, where the speaker is only revealed afterwards. On TV you know who it is as soon as you hear the voice - in a book you will have to read on. – Falco Jul 2 '19 at 13:31
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I think in recent years the gap between what is "possible" in a prose vs. film (both cinema and TV) has narrowed significantly - historically the limitations and expense of things like CGI and practical effects made some of the more exotic genres such as Sci-Fi and Fantasy difficult to translate onto film. This is realistically no longer the case in 2019 - assuming budget can be found of course!

That doesn't mean there aren't still potential advantages to prose though - and you're probably already taking advantage of them without even realizing it!

Length

While audiences are more accepting of longer films then they used to be (remember all the fuss over Titanic at 195 mins? Avengers: Endgame is only 15 minutes shorter!) getting a reasonable-length novel into even three hours screen time is difficult without making cuts. TV used to be even more affected - the need to make relatively self-contained stories in ~45 mins of run time severely hampered the complexity and length of stories you could tell, binge-watching and the streaming services have changed that significantly now. But even so the episodic splits need taking account of and mean the story can suffer.

Inner thoughts and feelings

Being in a character's POV (either first or third person limited) can give you a great deal more scope for showing their internal state. On screen you are limited to how the character presents, unless you do narration devices whereas in prose you can show what they are thinking/feeling and how they are acting essentially simultaneously. You can be much more engaging with physical sensations as well in much the same way. Which leads me to..

POV options

First person, Third person, Third person-limited, Multiple POVS - these give you multiple ways to tell the story and engage with character(s).

Passage of time

While CGI and practical effects have again reduced this in a book you can naturally show the entire life cycle of a character. Complete with growing up, aging etc far easier. You can reverse this as well or even halt it. David Boreanez played a "never-aging" immortal for ~7 years on TV. And one who was supposed to be visually young in age. They pulled it off - pretty well actually. But how long could you do that for before the suspension of disbelief gets absurd? Sure you can digitally de-age people reasonably well these days (see Samuel L. Jackson in Captain Marvel) but at a certain point it's going to start becoming an issue.

Anyone can die

Want to shock-kill your biggest character? No problem - no worries about contracts or anything like that. Game of Thrones was notable in TV in that people in the main cast were almost as vulnerable to the plot as a redshirt. In most TV series you know that the majority of the time the main cast is going to make it out of peril because, well they are the main cast - they are in the opening credits and everything.

Much less "censorship"

Censorship feels like too strong a word - but movies and TV have a much tougher time getting more "adult" content such as violence and swearing in then books do. They have regulatory bodies and age ratings to worry about. Game of Thrones was considered extremely edgy for TV (even for HBO) - and it's not even that full-on by book standards (can you imagine anyone trying to get an uncut version of Scott Lynch's Gentleman Bastards series on to TV?)

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    A good example of the problematic passage of time would be the Peter Jackson Hobbit films - no amount of makeup could actually make Orlando Bloom in his mid thirties look the same age (technically younger) as when he was in his early twenties. The required suspension of disbelief was not quite absurd but definitley heading in that direction. – Michael Borgwardt Jul 1 '19 at 22:15
  • The part about POV options isn't really valid. These options are available both in a novel and in a movie. Perhaps third-person limited is a bit harder to do in a movie, but the other one's a most definitely doable. – A. Kvåle Jul 1 '19 at 23:23
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    @A.Kvåle But it does cause some problems. As a recent example, see the Hunger Games books and movies. The books are 100% from Katniss' POV. This means that in the films, not only are any scenes where she is not present to witness were added, you're also missing out on what's going on inside her head. In the books it's clear she has to hide her emotions for appearance, but in the films, it's an accurate portrayal, but the lack of insight into her thoughts makes the performance seem wooden and robotic. – Darrel Hoffman Jul 2 '19 at 14:38
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    Good point. The lack of insight into characters' heads is something movies lack, unless they use narration (which is not liked by everyone). – A. Kvåle Jul 2 '19 at 14:51
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I think the main advantage is interior life. You can use narration or thoughts to give us what one character is (or several are) thinking. That's hard to do visually without a cabbagehead character or "As you know"ing, which I hate.

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  • This may be part of the more passive/external feel of video, though encouragement of visual imagination in text may also increase emotional engagement. Images and sound can have a more immediate, visceral impact, while text may have more "mental involvement" possibly encouraging a deeper engagement. Reading text also seems to be a more private activity; this may affect the reception (and so the presenter's activity) in addition to the other differences between text and video. – Paul A. Clayton Jul 2 '19 at 15:18
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Your problem is not unusual --we all grow up on a diet of visual media these days, and it affects the way we think and write. As someone who has wrestled with some of the same issues, here are some notable differences:

  • Length - This is one of the most crucial differences. An average length novel has room in it for a lot more material than an average length movie. It just simply takes longer to dramatize events than to describe them --plus the fact that people routinely take weeks or months (even years) to work through a book.

  • Telling, not showing - "Show, don't tell" is the great foundational dictum of visual media, but it's not always applicable to books. Telling, done correctly, is a valuable tool in the toolbox of a novelist.

  • Internal perspective - This is the big one for me, and I suspect for you as well. A movie is almost inevitably observed from outside the characters, who we see in third person perspective. A novel is always internal, even if written in the third person, because it has the presence of the narrator. For that reason, the descriptions can't just be dry catalogs of visual details, they must carry information about attitude, mood, and other internal states along with them.

  • Voice - Along the same lines as the above, every book has the narrator's voice --which, whether it is poetic or prosaic, needs to have a ongoing richness to it that is present in movies only in the dialog.

  • Unfettered imagination - Everything in a movie must be staged. In a book, anything you imagine can go on the page. This also means you can jump from scene to scene --flashbacks, flash-forwards, daydreams, allusions --in a way that would be both expensive and annoying in a movie.

It's worth noting that screenwriting is a perfectly valid form of writing, and that there's a demand for good screenwriters right now in this age of endless streaming content. So if that's what suits your talents, you might consider learning that format and making that your writing focus instead.

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    Good point specifically about the narrator's voice. Quite a few book-to-film adaptions try do that with voiceovers, especially when it's notable in the original. It usually grates. See Good Omens for an IMO particularly bad example. – Michael Borgwardt Jul 1 '19 at 22:18
  • It may take longer to dramatize events, but in prose, you can (if you wish) have the reader take some time on a description that in a movie would be seen at a glance. Conversely, you can provide details that can’t be seen in a movie (character’s thoughts, personality, relationships) as easily. – WGroleau Jul 2 '19 at 6:07
  • The movie equivalent of narrative voice is probably some combination of music, lighting and editing. Those things set the tone of the movie without changing the plot. – KWeiss Jul 2 '19 at 9:23
  • One of the more interesting realizations some friends and I had discussing The Force Awakens, which we basically couldn’t decide if we liked or not, is that it suffered from trying too hard to show rather than tell, and would have been improved with a fair bit more telling. +1 for that idea. – KRyan Jul 2 '19 at 13:59
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    The shower scene in the movie Psycho is often cited as skillful unfettering of imagination. The expectation of realistic presentation can make unreliable narrator techniques more difficult but also potentially more powerful (A Beautiful Mind?). – Paul A. Clayton Jul 2 '19 at 15:36
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The Sensory Supernatural

Fundamentally, something TV and film cannot do is control the viewer’s response to sensory experience.

This generally comes up in fantasy or fantasy tangential genres that involve emotional or psychological effects of visual or auditory phenomenona. Stuff like:

  • Songs that lull the listener to sleep
  • Inhumanly beautiful beings
  • Entities that rend the mind to look at
  • Geometry that isn’t visually comprehensible
  • A plain wooden goblet that fills the faithful with strength

It’s why you could never do a really good adaptation of, say, the Dresden Files. There’s no way to make the Fae look as good as they’re supposed to.

Add scent and touch as things that film and TV can’t touch. In writing, you can describe anything having effects on characters that can’t be sold in a visual medium.

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    Another example was a character with a completely forgettable face - no one would even notice his presence if he didn't speak up, when everyone suddenly realized he was standing there the whole time. You can't produce this effect on TV, only tiptoe around it... – Falco Jul 2 '19 at 13:28
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A big advantage that I've seen used (and am currently trying to use myself) is that your audience can't actually see your characters.

Now I know what you're thinking--"Isn't this a limiting factor?" It may be, but it also means that if you have two main characters who trade off on POV for different chapters, you can have them both run into the same secondary character at different times without your reader noticing. Maybe this secondary character is also in vastly different situations and showing vastly different sides of their character so even though you drop some subtle hints that they're the same person, it'll still be a big reveal that they were the same all along.

On the flip side, not actually being able to see the characters can allow your readers to put their own faces on them and make them their own, thereby forming a stronger connection to them.

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Sensory detail

A movie or TV show is limited to visual and auditory cues. A book, on the other hand, is capable of describing the whole suite of human sensory experience.

You can described the smell of popcorn in the circus air, or the warmth of a downy blanket on a cold night, or the pins-and-needles prickling of moving a limb that's gone to sleep. A movie can try and evoke these details through sounds and pictures, but the sensory experience will never be as well-rounded as a well described book can be.

Supplementary Structure

A movie starts at the beginning, and continues linearly until the end. Superficially a book does the same thing, but an author has tools that a movie director has not. Specifically, chapters. (TV shows can be considered to have chapters too, but their form is much more limited than book chapters due to timing constraints)

Chapters give a book structure that the reader can see ahead of time. Movies have scenes, but chapters are a much more versatile tool. You can have multiple chapters in a single scene, using the chapter breaks to indicate changes in tone. You can have multiple scenes in the same chapter, using the chapter to connect the scenes thematically. You can title chapters, setting the mood, providing foreshadowing, and thematic connections.

You can add date and time location. Admittedly, movies sometimes do so as well, but because film is not a format meant to be read they need to be extremely short, and tend to lack character. In contrast, one of the books I read recently (That Ain't Witchcraft by Seanan McGuire) had locations tags such as

In a lake, injured, sinking, because that’s a great way to spend an afternoon

Which is not something that will fit well on a movie screen in the middle of a dramatic moment.

Chapters can also have epigraphs - phrases and quotes placed at the beginning of the chapter that can pretty much anything from setting the tone of the chapter to adding extra worldbuilding details. Ender's Game even included a second, hidden story that was impossible to tell from the perspective of the main character.

Books can also use footnotes to add details and stories in a non-linear fashion.

Additionally, books can be paused and flipped through at the reader's leisure. This might seem unimportant, but it can be a very useful tool. In A Night of Blacker Darkness by Dan Wells, there is a brilliant scene often referred to as the "facts discussion", because all of the details being discussed are summarized in a series of "facts", which are then referred to by number. It becomes very difficult to follow if you don't have the ability to look back a page and remind yourself what any given fact is referring to.

Similarly, complicated and tricky prophecies are a staple of fantasy, but when the meaning of the prophecy hinges on its exact wording it becomes much more accessible when the reader can turn back to page 137 and reread exactly what the prophecy said.

When a movie wants to repeat a scene, this time with new information, they have to show that scene again. A book only has to provide the critical information, since a reader can go back and reread the full scene at their leisure.

(One note about this, by the way - while the ability for a reader to access the parts of the book they've already read non-linearly is powerful, the popularity of audiobooks, which are greatly hindered in this regard, means that it should be used only with great consideration.)

You can do tricks with the medium itself

The book Ella Minnow Pea, by Mark Dunn, is an epistolary (that is, told through letters written by the characters) novel, which tells the story of a small island where the authorities start to ban the use of specific letters of the alphabet. Which then are no longer used in the messages which are telling the story.

It is a book that could not possibly every be made into a movie, because so much of what it is depends on the written medium.

Similarly, the Thursday Next novels by Jaspar Fforde abuse the written form for glorious effect. Characters communicate using "footnoterphones" which send messages in the footnotes, there's a mispeling vyrus whch doos efec te txt ov te noovol, and a specific event is described as such:

The trip back downriver was uneventful and over in only twelve words.

(For more examples, I cautiously link to the TvTropes page for Painting the Medium/Literature

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One big advantage that may or may not be mentioned here is pacing. With a movie or TV show, due to the time limitations, not only do you have less freedom with content, but you also are limited by the ability to express the pace of the story.

With a book, every reader reads at a different pace, but you can use that to your advantage. It allows you to write as complex and vivid structure as you want to express a similar span of time. Not only that, but a reader will read all the details you put down, while in a movie or show there are many that will go unnoticed.

However, in cases where there are many details you want to express to the reader about something, a graphic may be helpful for visualization purposes.

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A reader gets to imagine things a viewer is forced to see. I did not like the first part of The Lord of the Rings on film - my mental images were so much better. I skipped the rest.

As an author you can trigger your reader's imagination in ways that aren't available to a filmmaker.

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    Conversely, Tolkien's writing was so difficult on first read that I had to put the book down and watch the films first so I could understand WTF was going on. Once I knew the story, then I could follow the prose. (Admittedly that was only the first read-through.) – Lauren-Clear-Monica-Ipsum Jul 2 '19 at 9:42
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    @LaurenIpsum that's how I manage Charles Dickens! – Cyn says make Monica whole Jul 2 '19 at 15:10
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Tricks with the written words themselves

Other answers gave many useful things you can tell with books, that would be harder or impossible with other media. Internal states, not showing something, different senses, multiple points of view, passage of time, "special effects" that would be visually beyond today's technology, or even simply beautiful prose... However, you can also mess with the presentation itself in interesting ways.

You can use different typefaces, to show speech differences in subtle ways that don't really have an equivalent in non-written media. The most obvious example is A CHARACTER SPEAKING IN BOLD ALL CAPS, as used for Death with great effect in the Discworld series.

Another humorous effect in the Discworld series, there are occasionally instruments so sharp they literally cut the words in half on the page.

Much more unsettling, the book John Dies At The End does something very clever with chat logs that would be impossible to do in a non-written medium. This book is in fact a good example of many things described by other answers, and comparing it to is (otherwise well-made) film adaptation. If you are interested in weird/horror or fantastic/science-fiction in general, I highly recommend it, both as a good read and an example of what can be done with the medium.

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For the consumer it's a lot easier to skip back and reread a passage, skip a 10 page long monologue that's largely irrelevant to the story line (I'm looking at you, John Norman), and bookmark interesting places for future reference when reading a book than when watching a movie (even more so with television, where there is no way at all to pause and rewind, fast forward, etc.).

You also, as a reader, without the copious visual cues, can far more let your mind wander and imagine yourself a part of the world in which the story is set than you can with visual media (at least in my experience, ymmv). It leaves a lot more room for imagination on the part of the reader. I'm not getting the gender, sex, age, hair colour, where appropriate even species of the characters forced on me unless the author chooses to do so (and hopefully he won't do so without very good reason that's relevant to the story), allowing the reader to generate in his or her mind a world that's understandable, comfortable, familiar, and place him or her self in that world as a direct observer or even participant. You just can't do that with movies or television shows, and it makes (imo) those media less immersive than books.

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Writing / Reading builds imagination.

When you see a film or a TV serial, you are confined to the directors vision of how the plot should be, how the hero/heroine looks like .... how events unfold.

But when you read a novel, you are free to visualize how a person looks like. You are not confined to a visual POV.

Reading / Writing a novel also builds a lot of patience and research.

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There are already a lot of good answers here and my answer will overlap some of them, but I think it's an interesting question so I want to answer anyway. :-)

One: Time. I'm not sure how long it takes to read a typical novel, but I now I've spent entire days reading some books. A movie has to fit into one modest length. 2 hours is a long movie. So a novel can take the time to go into depth that a movie just can't.

Indeed, often when I see a movie, I can tell that it was based on a book even if I didn't know that up front. You can see that they had to cram things in. I recall one movie I saw where the heros are captured by the villains and thrown into a dungeon. Then suddenly there's another prisoner with them with no explanation of who she is or where she came from. A little later the characters escape and she is killed during the escape. She served no useful purpose to the story. And I thought to myself, I bet this story was based on a book, in which this character had some important role, and they had to drop that all out for the movie and ended up with her simply appearing and disappearing for no apparent reason. (I checked and found the movie was indeed based on a book, though I never read it to check on the details.)

Or to take an example where the movie-makers had fun with it, there was a kids' movie I saw with my daughter about a girl rock band that had a scene where a character shows up for no apparent reason. Someone asks her, "What are you doing here?", and she replies, "I had to be here. I was in the comic book." Then you never see her again.

Two: Philosophizing. In a novel, a character or the narrator can go into a discussion about his views on life, the universe, and everything. If, say, the hero's wife dies, the book can discuss his sorrow, how much he misses her, his quandary over what he will do with his life now, etc. That's very tough in a movie. You could have the hero give a speech, but sometimes these thoughts aren't the sort of thing you'd say to others. You could have him talk to himself, but that can make him look crazy. You can have him sit in a room staring at a wall with a voice-over, but that quickly gets tedious in a movie.

Three: Background exposition. If there's background information you need to give, in a novel you can just give it with narration. In a movie, somebody has to say it. This often results in implausible "as you know" dialog where characters tell each other things that the characters obviously know, and the only reason for them to say it is to inform the audience. Like in an historical novel, you could easily include a few sentences of narration saying something like, "In 1810, Britain and France were at war. Britain had the more powerful navy, but France had the greater strength on land. Britain relied on allies to supply most of the ground troops ..." etc. In a movie, sure, you could have one character turn to another and say, "The year is now 1810, and Britain and France are at war. Britain has the more powerful navy ..." etc. But who would really say that? Screenwriters often try to come up with some pretext for characters to explain this sort of background to each other. Like the hero will show up in a classroom teaching current events to a group of children. Why the hero quit his job as an international spy to become a school teacher, and then apparently a day or two later went back to being a spy, is left completely unexplained. Or a character will be introduced who is completely ignorant of everything going on so that everyone has to explain everything to him. Sometimes good writers manage to make these explanations plausible, but often not.

Four: You can reveal what you want to reveal and hide what you want to hide. For example, in the novel "Second Foundation", at the end we learn that two characters that the reader had assumed were different people all along were really the same person. (To avoid spoilers, I won't say who.) That's easy to do in a novel: Just never give descriptions of them that are detailed enough that a reader would realize they are the same person. That's tough to do in a movie. You could have one of them always wearing a mask or something, but unless there's some very good pretext for it, the viewer is going to wonder why we never see this guy's face. He's obviously trying to hide his identify, so who is he really?

There was a Twilight Zone episode -- sorry, I forget the title -- where the premise was that in this future society, the people were all what we would call hideously deformed, and what we call beauty they considered ugly. The story was about a beautiful woman that they were trying to operate on to make her ugly like the rest of them. But to make the story work, the viewer had to not know that she was really the beautiful one and everyone else the ugly ones until the end of the story. So through the whole story we never see anyone's face. Okay, not a problem when the doctors are operating on her -- they're wearing surgical masks. But everywhere else, everyone's face was always in shadow, or they were standing behind something, etc. As a viewer I thought it was very obvious that they were hiding everyone's faces, and so it wasn't hard to guess the "surprise" ending. But in a written story that would have been easy.

Five: Imagination. In a novel, you can easily write that the starship looked like thus-and-so, or that the building was 10,000 feet tall, or that the heros were being attacked by an army of elves. The reader can then picture this in his mind. In a movie, you have to actually show it. As the technology of special effects are improving, this is becoming less of an issue. I'm sure we've all seen older movies where the special effects were lame.

But even with high tech special effects, sometimes the reader's imagination is better than special effects because the reader can picture something that "fits the bill" for him. Like in a book you can say, "Sally was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen", and the reader will picture his ideal of a beautiful woman. In a movie, you have to show an actual woman, and different viewers will have different tastes and so any given woman is unlikely to be EVERY man's ideal.

Or in a novel, you can say, "He replied with a torrent of profanity." In a movie we have to hear the actual words. But different readers/viewers have different tolerances for profanity. To one person, "gosh darn it!" is beyond the limits of acceptable public speech. To another person it is laughing mild. At the other extreme, language that would lean one person to say, "yup, that's the sort of thing I'd say in that situation", might cause another to leave the theater in disgust. But in a novel you can be vague and let the reader fill in what he thinks is appropriate in his own mind.

Of course movies have advantages over novels, too. But that's another subject.

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