Visual Impact

Have we been trained over the last few years by movies to only like certain styles of story-telling?
on May 13, 2014 · 12 comments
The movie adaptation of Lord of the Rings cut 30 years off Frodo's life for pacing.

The movie adaptation of Lord of the Rings cut 30 years off Frodo’s life for pacing.

Peter Suderman, in a Slate article titled, “Save the Movie,” last July, makes the case that Hollywood has become too reliant on Blake Synder’s script writing “formula” revealed in the 2005 book, Save the Cat. By so doing, movies all feel the same and creativity is suppressed. Because of the formula’s success and the movie studio’s reliance upon its blockbuster-producing ability to mitigate financial risk, very few “Driving Miss Daisy” type movies get made now. If they do, they find it hard to gain traction.

I got to thinking about not only how this has affected movie script writing, but the written story.

Have we been trained over the last few years by movies to only like certain styles of story-telling?


Back in the 70s, as a teen, I devoured with great interest lots of science fiction and fantasy like Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series. I don’t recall being bored with it at all. A few years ago, I picked up Foundations again and read it. I found myself growing tired of it and wanting it to hurry up and end. Where did the excitement I had as a teen go?

Could it be that movies and TV have trained us to only appreciate books with similar pacing and feel? Could their story-telling formulas be influencing what readers want and expect in novels?


Consider these other changes. Omniscient used to be the reigning point of view prior to the 70s. Telling used to not be so frowned upon as a way to tell a story. The first acts tended to go on longer before requiring “action” or plot movement back in the day.

One could probably point to varied reasons for these changes, but is it more than coincidence that as the movement to quicker cuts, like in the 1967 The Monkees TV series, and blockbuster pacing has become mainstream over the years that our reading tastes have morphed to reflect that subconscious training?

Then we have to wonder, is the expectation for a “page-turner” novel causing a reduction of creativity in modern writing? A lack of a unique voice?


If so, is this an opportunity or danger for Christian Speculative Fiction?

How do you feel visual media has impacted both story-telling and reader’s expectations?

As a young teen, R. L. Copple played in his own make-believe world, writing the stories and drawing the art for his own comics while experiencing the worlds of other authors like Tolkien, Lewis, Asimov, and Lester Del Ray. As an adult, after years of writing devotionally, he returned to the passion of his youth in order to combine his fantasy worlds and faith into the reality of the printed page. Since then, his imagination has given birth to The Reality Chronicles trilogy from Splashdown Books, and The Virtual Chronicles series, Ethereal Worlds Anthology, and How to Make an Ebook: Using Free Software from Ethereal Press, along with numerous short stories in various magazines.Learn more about R. L and his work at any of the following:Author Website, Author Blog, or Author Store.
Website ·
  1. Cap Stewart says:

    I haven’t read Save the Cat. What kind of writing formula does it promote? The last screenwriting book I read was Screenplay by Syd Field (an oldie, I know), and it seems like most movies follow the plot structure he details (i.e., plot point #1 after the first 1/4 of the movie, the “point of no return” at the halfway mark, and plot point #2 three fourths of the way into the story). Does Save the Cat promote something completely different?

    • R. L. Copple says:

      I’ve not read it either, but from the article it has similarities to what you mentioned, only more detailed, like X story beat should happen about page #, next should happen around page #, and so on. Like the protagonist should have a “dark night of the soul” moment around page #. A lot more to it than that, but apparently there are few films in Hollywood in the last 8 years or so that don’t pretty closely follow his story beats. It has become a screen writer’s Bible.


    • I bought the book and used it in my Masters work for my screenwriting class. These are interesting comments as I think about the formula presented in the book, which it’s true. It is a formula. I never considered that there might be another way to write a screenplay, but who would buy it?  Hollywood is in the business to make money. Anything too different would be rejected. But it makes you wonder why Hollywood has run out of ideas and keeps redoing older movies.

      I have also thought about how many of the best books come out of England–and then they are made into movies. It’s an interesting topic to think about and thanks for sharing. I will be pondering this one for a while.


  2. Hannah says:

    Okay, that was hilarious. I saw the title, Visual Impact, and then WHAM–there’s Legolas. Yep. That was a pretty good example of Visual Impact. ;D

    I think that movies probably have effected how books are written, but I don’t think that’s always a bad thing.

    Some older books can be a bit hard to get through, but then other older books are written with such skill (A Tale of Two Cites, To Kill a Mockingbird, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Lysbeth) I don’t really notice if they’re “slower” than today’s novels.

  3. notleia says:

    I think it’s mostly a matter of culture and fashion, so to speak. We’re just used to this thing, and switching to something else may rattle someone’s expectations enough to feel uncomfortable to them. That’s one of the barriers to watching foreign stuff like anime, or even reading stuff like Austen or Dickens, where they’re used to different fashion of telling stories that may not necessarily be as fast-paced or expositional (at least in anime) as Americans are used to. Different tropes for different folks, lol.

    I think the problem is more about marketability, or the handling thereof. Publishers (and people in general) generally prefer the safe bet over the gamble. Or littler gambles within a safer structure rather than a big gamble. But we’ll most likely shift to different tropes when the old ones are thoroughly beaten into an early grave. I look forward to the day when dumbass love triangles are not so much a Thing.

    • Different tropes for different folks, lol. I think the problem is more about marketability, or the handling thereof. Publishers (and people in general) generally prefer the safe bet over the gamble. Or littler gambles within a safer structure rather than a big gamble. But we’ll most likely shift to different tropes when the old ones are thoroughly beaten into an early grave.

      Exactly: much of what we think of as “standard” was new at one time, and much of what we think of as cutting edge will eventually seem dated, then perhaps come back into fashion.


      The money question can’t be stated enough. People may speak with their mouths that they want something “different” (as subjective a desire as they come) but the votes with ticket sales are what counts.

  4. Mirtika says:

    I don’t worry about it. Maybe because I”m at the tail-end of my life and I don’t have time to waste worrying. There is so much to see and read that if it gives me a thrill, I don’t care if it’s formulaic. And if something fresh and genre-shaking comes along and I can enjoy it, great. In the end, I think we’re wired to like story made a certain way, hitting cues. And so those will keep being written. And I think raising kids on TWitter and Facebook and on texting will mean that attention spans will continue to narrow. We cannot go back to the buggy and gaslight (well, we could and maybe a huge global catastrophe will demand it). This is our era and our pace.

    But there are always folks doing something different. They just may not be the ones making the blockbusters.

    With indie films, indie music, and indie publishing, the unique will be available. You just have to find it. 😀

  5. Julie D says:

    I don’t really go to many movies, but I’ve noticed some critic complaints about it with regards to superhero movies, esp. Marvel’s. Not that I agree with them–I think Captain America: Winter Solider is a moving and original story.

  6. I don’t think there’s any doubt that movies have influenced the way we write our novels. There are screenplay writers who give novel instruction and there are crossover writers like James Scott Bell who advocate for the “three act structure” to a novel, which they have borrowed from screenplays.

    Is it good? I don’t think we get to say it is or isn’t. Well, I mean, of course we can voice our opinion, but it is what it is and I don’t think we’ll change it. Not sure what will.

    Maybe audiences will get tired of it eventually. I know I have. it’s frustrating to read along and know, because something horrible happened, it’s all about to get worse. It actually reduces the tension which Donald Maass says every page in a novel needs.

    But I have to wonder what effect self-publishing will do to this trend. I mean, right now there’s a dominance by a few big publishing houses (Christian and general markets) that pretty much dictate what books get in print. But reading what readers said they are tired of and what they want (see last week’s Thursday post), it’s apparent that the “hot” trends are really only hot because the publishers keep putting those books out there.

    If ever writers can figure out how to attract readers apart from the standard promotional means available only to those published by the big companies, then we’ll find out what kinds of stories will sell.

    But I suspect you’re right, Rick. Our tastes in books have already shifted. When I recently reread the Narnia books, I thought, My, they are a lot slower than I remembered. And don’t get me started on C.S. Lewis’s space trilogy.

    Writing style has changed, no doubt about it.


  7. dmdutcher says:

    No, it’s just Asimov is dated as all get out. I’m reading the SFWA masters series and am having that same  problem. Any book written before the PC and cell phone suffers from this.

  8. Winter says:

    The style has changed, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that quality has gone out the window. Yes, Victorian English used to be a “thing,” and passive verbs reigned supreme. But who do we associate with that style? People like Dickens. Let’s face it, most writers these days who “tell” instead of “show” don’t exactly tell it like Dickens. I think what it ultimately comes down to is a writer’s ability to grab reader attention and hold it there, a skill that comes in part through their mastery of language. Good writers are good writers, regardless of pacing and “special effects.”

  9. Tim Frankovich says:

    I see what you’re talking about, but to me, it’s had the opposite effect. I’ve gotten more interested in longer, slower novels, and more disgusted with the standard formula in movies.


    In fact, it’s really Peter Jackson that’s ruined it all for me. Because of his slavish devotion to the standard formula, he damaged the Lord of the Rings movies greatly (though I still enjoy them for what they are) and utterly destroyed The Hobbit. IMHO, of course. 🙂

What do you think?