The Medium Effect

One of the movie quotes I remember most is from the Princess Bride, which being a human life form that existed through the entirety of the 80s as a child, shouldn’t be all the surprising. The line is Peter Falk’s. “When I was your age, television was called books.” It’s a great sentiment, and it’s hard to argue with.
I remember it because, well, firstly, it’s the Princess Bride, secondly, it was delivered by Columbo, but thirdly, it has always come back to me, throughout my life, as being particularly relevant to the age it was spoken in. I’ve often wondered, were I to ever have any grandchildren, what analogous phrase would I end up uttering to them. “When I was your age, Advanced VR was called movies,” or “When I was your age, coma-induced lucid dream state was called Nintendo.” The mind boggles at the possibilities.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the medium of storytelling today, and just what kind of effect the medium itself has to the tale, rather than the content itself. I’ve been thinking about this for two reasons.
The first reason, which should shock nobody, is the fact that I’ve been working on getting chapter 1 narrated in audiobook format for a couple of weeks now. It hasn’t gone very well, up to now. There’s the fact that I can’t quite come up with a recording that I like, of course, but I’m also starting to realize that I’m contending with a bigger change to the tale than I’d originally thought. There are sentences, I’m beginning to understand, which work wonderfully on the mute, printed page, but which sound more than a bit off when spoken aloud. Do I make little modifications, here and there, to account for this change, or do I just accept the fact that the audio version is going to have…shall we say…character flaws (those are endearing, right?) that might make it more…interesting?
In either case, it’s fair to say that the physical medium of the story, the way it is being delivered from the author to the recipient is having an effect on the story itself.
The second reason that story mediums have been on my mind is that I started watching “The Legend of the Seeker” on Netflix today. I’m only about six episodes in, but, my goodness, the switch from print to television has made a drastic change to the tale. I didn’t love the “Sword of Truth” series and, in fact, I stopped reading after the fourth book, but I enjoyed what I read, and there are a certain number of scenes, images, and concepts which have stuck with me for years.
The gaar, the flying, hunting beast with it’s bevvy of bloodflies, is a terrifying monster in the book. When it’s hunting Richard, you feel it looking for him. The quads, sent by the antagonist to seek out confessors, are interesting in the way they’re described. The chapters where the mord’sith is training Richard seem to go on forever; you feel every moment of his torture. These concepts are glossed over so quickly in the tv series that they carry hardly any weight at all. I’m not saying that the show is better or worse than the books, but it’s undeniable that the change in medium has drastically changed the story from its original telling.
The fact that I’m not a big reader surprises some people and bothers others. The fact is, though, I do hear a lot of stories…I just get them from television and movies. Does that have an effect on the stories I hear? Does it influence the way I write? No doubt, but I wonder just what the net effect is. How does the medium through which I hear other peoples’ stories effect the way I tell my own, especially when theirs is movies and mine is print?

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