One reason why novels provide a more engaging experience than movies is that with a novel, the author can let you feel how characters think, which is impossible to do in a movie. Not only can a novel put you into the thoughts of a character, but novelists can also let you see, hear, touch, and even taste items in every scene to give you a richer emotional experience. Movies can only tackle two senses: sight and sound.
However, with clever writing, you can let audiences experience the sensation of touch as well. Unlike novels that let you directly experience why a character touches and feels, the sensation of touch in movies must come through the audience’s sight. Through the audience’s eyes, they can indirectly feel a character’s sensation of touch.
In the simplest example, a movie might show two people making love with one character gently caressing another. Since we’ve all known the sensation of a loving caress, seeing this brings back our own memories of the event, which lets us experience the caress vicariously through watching a character on the screen.
Since you can’t rely on audiences to have a shared memory, the better way to incorporate the sensation of touch in a movie is to show the character’s extreme reaction to something that the audience also would react to in the same way. In “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” Indiana Jones hates snakes, which is a feeling shared by many people. Even if you love snakes, you still know that many people fear snakes.
So when Indiana Jones is trapped in a tomb filled with poisonous snakes, we see the mass of wriggling snakes, we hear their hissing, but we also indirectly experience the fear of snakes because most people already fear snakes and we saw earlier in the film that Indiana Jones also fears snakes. So seeing a mass of snakes suddenly seems scarier because Indiana Jones represents our own fears.
In horror movies, we don’t cringe seeing someone get killed just because they die, but because we can identify with the fear of getting hacked up by a chainsaw or having an ice pick driven through our forehead. Notice that in horror film, characters rarely die by poison, heart attacks, or suffocation? While those are valid fears, those ways of dying lack the feeling of touch. Anyone who has experienced a heart attack knows the feeling of pain in their chest, but the thought of a heart attack is far less frightening to most people than a maniac coming at you with a chainsaw while you’re handcuffed to a pipe and unable to get away.
The sensation of touch in movies comes from extreme emotional reactions that the audience already holds. Movies just need to exaggerate and exploit those buried feelings. While you can never get audiences to experience touch in the same way that a novelist can do, you can take advantage of most people’s fears and joys and enhance those emotions in common situations such as making love (happy) to getting chopped into pieces with a chainsaw (fear).
In movies, sight alone tells the bulk of the story, but don’t forget sound (dialogue) and touch that you can indirectly let audiences experience through the reactions of your characters. By incorporating sight, sound, and touch in your screenplay, you can create a more emotionally fulfilling experience for your audience, just as long as you have an interesting story to tell in the first place.