As a writer I'm not only looking up to great books, but I take many inspirations from movies as well.

I wonder though if there are any techniques that don't translate well between those mediums. Are there plot twists, that astonish a film viewer, but are a cliche for a reader? Maybe something in character development, that is well suited only for 1,5h dynamic story?

3 Answers 3


Music doesn't work too well.

Try writing a scene to a song. It doesn't work that well. I've tried a few, but without both sound and sight set, it's kinda hard to do.

Movies can set both images and the music, and get everything just perfectly timed for amazing scenes. Text, however, can't set the images, and since everyone has a different reading speed, it's hard to sync correctly. Even if you can 'set' the music by asking them to start playing a certain video, their reading speed is still a variable you cannot control. Trying to intersperse lyrics with the narrative works okay-unless you want to use an instrumental piece. Then it gets really hard.


Interesting question.

In a text, it is difficult to mention things subtly, whereas in a movie, you can show things without giving away their meaning.

For example, if there is an axe hanging on the wall in the movie, someone may or may not be beaten to death with it later. In the book, on the other hand, the reader would expect something to happen to it if it were explicitly mentioned. And if it wasn't mentioned, one would think: Where did this axe suddenly come from? It would appear unbelievable and weird...

In the same way, a description is usually accompanied by a valuation - especially in the first-person perspective: She's very pretty. You know right away that he thinks she's pretty. Whereas in the film you see that she is pretty, but you don't know yet whether he really likes her or not. (But this can also be a disadvantage of the film. In one of my written stories, the protagonist always describes a woman as particularly beautiful and elegant. Later you notice that other characters don't share his opinionat all, which implies that he got a crush on her. To show this in a film, however, would be difficult, I think).


I heard Frank Cotterell Boyce speak about writing 'Millions'. He wrote a script. The producer asked him to write a novel to help sell the film. He did so but discovered that what worked on film didn't work in a novel. I would strongly recommend you read the book and compare it to the film.

Other authors are not so simple. For example, if you read 'For Whom the Bell Tolls' by Ernest Hemingway it reads like a film -- I saw the images in my mind. Also, the dialogue was incredibly realistic and evocative.

John Steinbeck writes in a way that is easily translated into a stage or radio play. Again, the dialogue works. However, this would not necessarily translate simply into film.

Graham Greene said that a short story made a film, rather than a novel.

I know I am not giving you specific techniques. Study what has been done to great novelists to make them into great writers of film.

  • 3
    I'm always surprised that the go-to film adaptation format for novels is movies rather than TV series.
    – wordsworth
    May 20, 2021 at 16:38

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