By December 5, 2008 2 Comments Read More →

A paragraph is worth more a thousand frames

I just read this article about movies that are better than the books.

I do have to argue, that while I think Stand By Me is a powerful film, the short story, “The Body,” upon which it is based is just as powerful. The story begins with a beautiful piece of writing by King that I had at one point memorized because it captured adolescence and emotion so well:

“The most important things are the hardest things to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them–word shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they’re brought out. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you’ve said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That’s the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a teller but for want of an understanding ear.”

The next line is where the film begins: “I was twelve going on thirteen when I first saw a dead human being.” But for me, the power of the story, and the heart of the film itself and the boys whose story it told, lies in that one paragraph. It’s a paragraph so perfect, so interior, that no film could truly capture the complexity of the emotion in its lines. For me, anyway.

Stephen King has now had countless novels and stories adapted for the screen. My father contends that King writing started to read like screenplays sometime after Firestarter. Perhaps he’s right, because I gave up after IT. Every week, practically every day, at the library where I work I help readers find and devour more King. They keep telling me that I must read “The Dark Tower” series as it encapsulates all of King’s work.

Maybe I will; but during my adolescence I read a blue streak of King, and nothing he wrote (much as I now admire and look forward to his essays in EW) holds a candle to that one paragraph at the beginning of “The Body.”

Sometimes films do improve upon the book, but in other cases the visual cannot replace the way the words ring in a reader’s head. They cannot replace the way the words on the page made a reader feel.

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About the Author:

Misha Stone is a readers' advisory librarian with The Seattle Public Library. Follow her on Twitter at @ahsimlibrarian.

2 Comments on "A paragraph is worth more a thousand frames"

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  1. linda.johns@spl.org' LindaJ says:

    Wow, I want to read “Stand By Me” now. Your dad’s comments about King’s writing being more like a screenplay is interesting, because I’m not sure that’s necessarily a bad thing. (But maybe your father doesn’t think it’s bad; he’s just an observant reader.) As I grow as a reader, I’ve been thinking about the power of what isn’t said (“music is the space between the notes” kind of thing) and the tremendous restraint that takes as a writer. You have to trust the reader, and I like to think of the writer, on his or her 13th revision, agonizing about what to leave in. And on another note: I think “Jaws” the book was better than “Jaws” the movie! Reading Jaws on the beach changed my salt water swimming behavior FOREVER; somehow, I don’t think watching Jaws in a theater or on TV would have instilled that kind of fear.

  2. linda.johns@spl.org' LindaJ says:

    P.S. Nice headline for this post!

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