Of Books And Filmmaking

Recently, I found myself locked in a minor debate with my friend The Scarlet Pimpernel. The question of which was: Whether it is harder to write a good book or direct a good movie.

I will here try to set forth the points of our debate. I'm afraid you'll have to take my word on them, because I don't remember precisely everything that was said.

As you may have guessed due to the nature of previous posts by either of us, I am in favor of books, and TSP is in favor of films. Without further ado, the points for your decision.

My view is that it is more difficult to write a good book for various reasons. I might as well state the easiest reasons first. Everyone must have heard that phrase, 'a picture is worth a thousand words'. What this means is exactly what it says: it is far easier to explain an incident with one picture than it is to do so with many words. Which leads to the next. Simply because the previous statement is true, a filmmaker has a much easier job because as much as 75% of their work is with images which convey meaning to the viewer (landscapes, facial expressions, general body language, even physical description) even without the dialogue every film has. In contrast, the writer must provide the original 'thousand words' which one image replaces. The writer must work carefully to provide the reader with every element of a character and a setting, which at the same time must be enough to provide them with a precise image, and flow swiftly enough to retain their interest. For the third time, a filmmaker has the benefit of images, which explain themselves to the average person.

This is not to push films to the edges and dismiss them. I understand that making films is a time-consuming task which is extremely complicated. But the question is not whether making a film is harder than writing a book. It is whether directing a film is harder than writing. Granted, though I have hoped to for years, I have never had the chance to direct a film, and so I do not fully understand all of what goes in to directing, but it is my view that the director, in comparison to his own crew (nearly all of whom are doing more strenuous work) is merely the one who decides, in accordance with his own views on the task, whether the job has been done well. Considering that, do not the actors, the camera crew, and even the costume artists have harder jobs than the director, for the simple reason that it is harder to do something well than to say that it has been done so? Alright, so perhaps directors are sometimes the ones who bring forward the plots they eventually direct. But directors do not write the story. Even that task is given to someone else. Neither do directors often promote their own work. That is nearly always done by someone else with deep pockets.

In response to the above statement, (this is generally true only of beginning writers) writers are their own promoters. Writers must promote themselves to agents and publishers, who generally do little more than distributing the work. Writers do not run full-page ads, or distribute three foot posters, to make their work known. In addition, solely with use of words, writers must be their own camera crew, set designers/directors, costume artists, and yes, directors. In a comparetively limited medium, writers must match everything a hundreds-strong production crew does to produce an admirable work.Yes, it is hard to make a good movie. But is it really harder to direct a good movie?

One point TSP brought up in his defense is the statement that directing is harder because the viewers see the film play out the way the director saw it when he approved it, whereas a writer's work is open to different interpretations. In response to that, I say 'Hold hard, my good man, an ambiguous book is not a good book. A writer's task is to convey precisely what is happening, why it is happening, what happened previously and why, what each character's reaction to the present incident is, and why they think as they do, and he must phrase all these statements in a way that allows you, the filmmaker, to provide the precise image that you see, which others eventually see on the screen. If a filmmaker sets out to convert a book, and does not translate the author's writing just as it sounds, than one or both of us is at fault. The point being that the images of well-written books are not really debateable. A strong description should mean the same to everyone; the readers actually should be seeing the book through the author's eyes. If they are able to do so, it means the images were well-written and so powerful.

A last minor point that I might mention is that a director always has the whole story before him already when the film is being worked out and has the benefit of prompt ordering of a revision to a mistaken scene, whereas writers generally find that they must write the whole story, and then check over all of it to see if 'another take' should be written. New takes in books often differ greatly from the original and modify the story that comes later, whereas directors' adjustments are often comparetively slight.

People think in pictures. Filmmakers build the picture. Writers must create the picture in your head out of nothing.

Alright, so I didn't actually do justice to TSP's opinion. And so I say to him, if you want to convince people, write your own post, just give my points at least as much consideration as I gave yours. Btw, due to his interest in the outcome of the question, TSP is respectfully expected not to use the comment box to rant against my statements. Again, that belongs on your own post.

And now the question to my other three followers: Which do you think is harder? Writing a good book or directing a good movie?


  1. I will say straight up that I've never directed anything, but just thinking about things this is my opinion.

    Books are harder to write.

    As a director, you have someone to write the scripts for you, people to act it out, people to film it. You make the decisions, yes, but you have lots of people supporting you and doing a lot of the work for you.

    As a writer however, you have to do everything yourself. You may have critique partners, a family who understands your need to write, but ultimately, all the work is yours, all those hours of typing or writing for months on end is your work. Then, there's always the chance that your hard work won't get you a contract. Writing is a tough world.

  2. This is interesting. Well it depends on the person. It would be much harder for me to write a book than direct a movie since I have directed a few of my movies (and acted, edited, sound effects, and just about everything there to do). But you have a lot more to do if you are a director like work with the actors, crew ect. And it depends if you are only talking about directing. Some directors also write the script, act, and produce, like Mel Gibson and Sylvester Stallone. And directors have strict budget and a dead line to make the movie. So I would say it is since some people have the ability to write and others to direct. It depends on the person, on whether it is harder to direct or write. Sorry I didn’t comment sooner, it didn’t appear on my Dashboard.

    About your comment on my blog: Do I need to read The Hobbit before I read LOTR? I would prefer to read LOTR first but is it necessary to read The Hobbit? I would appreciate any information about it. And Heir to the Empire is not like a comic book at all. Most critics have given it very high rating. And the reason I wouldn’t have given many books high scores is because I have yet to read a book in a genre I really like, like Sci-Fi or a good fantasy book. While “Gulliver's Travels” and “20000 Leagues Under the Sea” were decent books, the story didn’t stand out to me as anything particularly special.


    1. Ok, first, I see that you've got a point there and so there really isn't a debate on this. I might have thought of that; no offence meant but for comparison it seems to me that directors are people who work more efficiently when they are out doing stuff hands-on, whereas writers are purely mind thinkers (although most writers do do some reseach while writing)

      Second: No. In fact, if you don't, it deepens the history behind the story of LOTR. The Hobbit is a comedy book, mostly. It's written in a much lighter voice. The Hobbit occurs 60 yrs before LOTR, but you'll figure that out as sonn as you start on LOTR. The Hobbit is written for younger kids, but it's great fun all the same. It's not neccasarry, but it's a strong story on it's own. For good sci-fi books, check out Isaac Asimov, especially 'Foundation' , Foundation and Empire' and 'Second Foundation'

    2. btw, I might as well add that LOTR are slow books that move fast. Peter Jackson made several not-so-subtle changes to the story and characters, though I don't fault him for leaving parts out 'cause the film is 3-4 hrs long the way it is.

    3. Thanks for the information about LOTR. I have heard that there were some, some what major changes to the book, epsically in The Two Towers, but I guess I will figure that out after reading it. I will probably start after I finish the current book series I am in.


    4. Also thanks for recommending the 'Foundation' books. I might check them out.


  3. I tagged you at my blog.



  4. I have to agree that writing a book is a whole lot harder than having to direct a film.
    First off you need to outline the story, story-line, characters, places and other such stuff.
    If a director is directing a film he can have a look at the book and see that he could work with this and this and maybe change that thing there around but he would have the outline and plot whereas the writer had to write the plot down.

    I agree with your opinion, writing a book is harder than directing a movie.