Wednesday, June 01, 2016

How A Novel Is Like A Television Series

My husband prefers film to TV, but I would rather watch a television show. This is something we bicker about, mostly on Netflix nights when we're trying to decide what to watch. Sometimes, in a moment of snobbery, he insists that film is a higher art form than TV, with the rare exceptions - Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Wire. I think there are plenty of terrible movies out there, and plenty of good TV shows. For me, however, my preference for television isn't based on artistic value. It's based on the way I experience the story. 

When it comes to books, I prefer to sink my teeth into a novel. Television shows satisfy that same hunger. Movies, on the other hand, are like short stories. 

At first glance, this does not appear to make sense. Television seems, on the surface, more akin to short stories. They're both episodic, consumed in small doses. That, however, is where the similarities end. When you watch a television show, you spend a lot of time in the story. You get to know the characters deeply. You watch as plots develop, narrative arcs, conflicts build and fester. Each night, when you dip back into the television show, you settle in quickly, picking up the story where you last left off, immersing yourself once again. The same is true with a really good novel.

Short stories, on the other hand, are more challenging - at least for me. I love short stories, but they require more energy than a novel. Each time you read a new short story, you start from scratch. What world am I in? Who are the main characters? Who am I rooting for? What is the problem? It doesn't take long to become immersed, but the initial energy you must spend to get to that point is more than is required when you're in the middle of a novel. Then the story is over, and you have to go through the whole process again.

This is why movies are like short stories. A brand new world, every single time. A gift, yes, but not one that I always have the energy to accept. Most Tuesday nights I just want to drink a bottle of wine and slip into a familiar story, visit with old friends, see what's new in their world. Most of the time, I want to watch a television show or, for that matter, read a novel. Most of the time, we do.

(Sorry, Nathan. We can watch a movie this weekend.)