Friday, July 17, 2015

Choosing a Canvas: Books

We’ve all had a time when we went with high expectations to see a movie. As the opening scene appeared, however, we felt a twinge of disappointment, which repeated itself throughout the whole showing, and at the end, led us to say, “The book was better.” Of course, by the phenomenon of nostalgia this could be simply because we read the book first, but it could also be because the story really does work better in written form. If we allow ourselves to experience stories in many forms, giving ourselves a broad perspective, it becomes obvious that the right medium must be chosen to tell any story, whether it be a book, a movie, a video game, or a play. That is why I started this new series called Choosing a Canvas, in which I’ll pick a storytelling medium and discuss its unique features and drawbacks and what kind of stories are best told in its form. The topic of today is books.

When I pick up a book, it feels to me like I’m holding a treasure in my hands, its hundreds of pages containing an accumulation of someone else’s imagination, creative thoughts and ideas, emotional wellsprings, currents, and tides. Before I even lift the cover I feel it, as if the magic aura of the story has seeped out from between the pages and osmosed through the skin of my hands into my body. Though I sometimes have similar types of experiences when I hold other forms of story, such as movies or video games, none is nearly as significant as what comes from holding a book.

A book uses only words, which is both its greatest drawback and its greatest strength. Words cannot show you with sights or sounds what is happening like a movie does, but they can paint the picture in your imagination. Words are not restricted to these two perceptions, but can present touch, smells, thoughts, and even emotions, not only in the meanings of the words, the sentences and contexts they are found in, but also at a deeper level in the subtleties between the lines. The specific sounds chosen can set the stage, the mood molded by writer’s word the way a melody breathes, or rises, or roars like a raging typhoon whipping through your core. Words are the single major tool books can use, and the best books wield that tool with the power to shake the earth.

 A book is easy to take with you. Books have no sound, so even though it is easy to get lost in their worlds of imagination, a tiny part of your mind is able to remain aware of your surroundings so you can react appropriately to things happening around you. By using bookmarks, you can stop and start whenever you want, as well as keep track of the places of quotes you want to remember. Books last longer than movies, giving you time to take in each scene, and allowing for fleshed-out descriptions and explanations. You can read a book at your own pace, taking extra time to savor a scene that resonates with you, or to try to figure out if the part you are reading is foreshadowing something. You can also skim over the parts that bore you.

The stories that work best as books are stories that focus on the emotions, thoughts, and experiences of the main characters, as words can craft an empathetic bond between reader and character like nothing else can—not even music. Medieval fantasy works very well in the form of books, partly because books would have been the only medium available to record the stories in the time period which they take place, and partly because fantasy is usually built upon a system of magic, which is founded in an emotional-spiritual basis.

Cover art of Wizard's First Rule, by Terry Goodkind
I have found some of my favorite, most emotionally-touching, thought-inspiring stories in books, namely The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss, and Mistborn and The Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson. I also enjoy many of the Star Wars Legends books that take place after the movies. As a child, I read many 100-200 page books, including young adult versions of classics like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne and The Time Machine by H. G. Wells. I have also found gems like The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Books have given me so much pleasure, joy, and food for thought that I have made it a goal of my life to publish at least a few science fiction novels, built upon the knowledge I have gained training as a scientist. Though a picture may be worth a thousand words, a book is worth a thousand pictures.

Choosing a Canvas:
Video Games

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