Medium-Shaped Stories, Part 3 – Books

For the past two weeks, I’ve been examining how stories are told in different mediums; games and film specifically. I’ve saved my favourite for last–books.

Most times, I will choose to read as opposed to playing a game, or watching a movie or TV show. I read when I want to do more than consume a vision someone else has created. When I want to see the world through another’s thoughts and words. When I want to experience storytelling in its purest form.

Books, compared to other mediums, can delve into a person and have them tell the story themselves. I can tell it through someone who sees the world very differently from us, or by a stream-of-consciousness, for example. Film can’t delve as deeply into a person’s thought processes.

Or I can talk to the reader directly. This is much harder to pull off, but it can be done well and can be interleaved with other points of view throughout a novel. In a way, this makes the reader the actor, and is close to the way stories are told in games. Ostensibly, you are the one who to whom the events are happening; you are the main character in the story. Yet in a book, it’s always the author in control of the pacing and the journey the character takes.

I can pull out the camera a bit, yet still stay in a person’s head. I can give you that character’s innermost feelings and thoughts they would never say out loud, yet provide a more objective view of what the person is doing. And it’s not limited to a single person, but can span a whole cast of characters. It’s a great, flexible point of view that’s unique to books.

But what I love most about the storytelling in books is the capacity for invention and imagination. Because games and film are visual mediums, the scope of the story is always limited to what can be produced. It’s true that with the amazing sophistication of CG these days, the limits are always being pushed further and further. However, there is nothing like the mind’s eye for imagining quaint country towns, large industrial cities, or the vastness of an invading horde. What we see visually is a single person’s translation; an author doesn’t need to go into full details about everything. Instead, they can provide impressions and snippets of detail to sketch out what’s in their mind, so readers can create the scenes themselves. They allow both the author and the reader co-creatorship of the world and the characters–the author guiding the reader, filling in the rest as they go.

This is why books are a unique, valuable medium for storytelling. It’s why film and games can never replace it. They were around long before the other mediums came along, and I expect they’ll be around as long as we use words to communicate–even after the other mediums have passed away.

Leanne Yong is an aspiring author who is working on her second young adult novel. Check out her blog at Clouded Memories for more information and a journal chronicling her latest foray into novel writing.

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