I personally enjoy cinematic books because they’re usually fast-paced and full of strong visual details. I think of the Percy Jackson books as a good example of this type of book; they’re quick, action-packed, and lend themselves well to the screen.
It makes sense that cinematic techniques have become more popular in novels considering how comfortable readers are with the types of quick cuts and multiple story lines that you’d find on TV and in movies. But is it possible for a novel to be too cinematic? Based on a book I just finished reading the other day, I would say yes.
This anonymous novel pretty much felt like a novelization of a movie. Scenes that were dialogue-heavy almost read like a script. The story was engaging and I certainly zipped through it, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was written to be a movie rather than a novel.
Using cinematic techniques means you can throw readers into the action and jump around from scene to scene, giving just enough detail to place readers in the action. But the danger of this kind of approach is that it can keep readers from investing in the characters. If you scene-jump too much and focus too heavily on special-effects action and high-tension dialogue, you lose depth. (At least in a movie, we get that depth from the actors’ facial expressions and character details.)
I also felt a little narratively manipulated in this anonymous novel. It seemed like the author was pointing a finger at the important parts of the story by cutting to a half-page scene and then another one and another one, all to set up what was coming next. Instead of being allowed to experience the story, I was being told it.
So I guess my advice about cinematic novels is this. By all means, use those techniques, but make sure that you’re not sacrificing character investment and that you’re not hitting your readers over the head.
We have to remember that novels aren’t movies; they can do things that movies can’t do. I think it’s great to see the two blend, but when a book starts reading like a movie script (unless you’ve chosen to tell the story in script format, which is totally different) then it might be time to step back a bit and focus more on it’s novel-ness.
What are your experiences with cinematic novels?