Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Films Vs. Books - which is more terrifying?

Deborah White, author of Wickedness and Deceit has written us a spooktacular post that looks at which is more powerful at scaring us: films or the written word. Tell us what you think - which leaves you trembling n the dark? 

You’re at the cinema. You’re watching a scary film in the dark. There’s a sound track carefully crafted to ratchet up the tension. Pace, lighting and choice of location all serve to heighten the mood. Maybe it’s even filmed as if you’re the main character…you’re seeing the action through their eyes. Their jerky, gasping breath is YOUR breath. Their fear that at any moment something terrifying is about to appear out of the dark…is YOUR fear.

So when I saw the film of Susan Hill’s novel The Woman in Black I WAS for those few hours, the story’s protagonist…Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe). Fear had me holding my breath and even leaping out of my seat as Arthur Kipps and I unwisely spent the night at lonely, isolated Eel Marsh House! So powerful were the visual images that they are still crystal clear in my mind’s eye, months later.

Good grief, you say, how can the written word ever compete with that? Well, having been scared witless by the film, I was pretty sure the novel wouldn’t be nearly as frightening. And I confess I remember very few of the actual words. But I know that Susan Hill’s clever writing created an atmosphere so tense and chilling that I had to stop reading it late at night. Why? What seed of terror did Susan Hill’s words plant in my head? Why was I lying wide-awake in the dark, listening to every tiny sound; every crack and creak? Why were my eyes fixed on the bedroom door, expecting that at any moment the door would slowly yawn open and reveal something terrible? Why was I sure I could hear a voice whispering my name …feel a deathly chill on my skin? Is that what the written word does differently to film?

Daniel Radcliffe playing Athur Kipps
When you read the words, the story becomes wholly YOURS. You re-create the writer’s story in your own imagination…which is exactly what the writer expects you to do. Not like a film then, where the narrative path is laid out by a director who has very clear ideas about what he wants you to be feeling and seeing. Even better, you can read a book at your own pace and stop to think about what you’ve just read…examine the characters and their motivation…conjure them up in your mind’s eye (my Arthur Kipps looks nothing like Daniel Radcliffe!) You can appreciate the cadence and rhythm of the language and ask yourself why certain words and phrases have such power to fire the imagination. Film doesn’t allow you time for reflection. You’re catapulted helter skelter through the action.

Well that’s a relief then, because as the writer of Wickedness and Deceit…‘twistorical fiction with a touch of terror’, I’m pleased and relieved that my writing can do things that film can’t. Not that I’d say ‘no’ to a film adaptation with an actor of my choice obviously…so Johnny Depp…if you’re reading this…call me!

Deborah White's Wickedness is available to buy now and Deceit will be hitting shops January 2013... make sure you don't miss them... if you dare!

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