Many writers complain that they can no longer read for pleasure, that their writer brain won’t let them get into the story without analyzing for plot points, tension, and word choice.
While I find myself occasionally noticing these things as I read—or stopping to wonder how the writer got me to read 30 pages without noticing—I still have the opposite problem. Even with a book I’ve read before, I often cannot shut off the movie in my head to concentrate on the actual words.
This is especially true of a well-written work of the type I’d like to emulate. I might be able to focus on the first few paragraphs, but after that, I get sucked in and my movie is off and running. Ten pages later, I realize I’ve failed to learn anything except that this particular author has something I don’t, and I’m no closer to figuring out how she does it.
So, I’m trying something new. I’m typing out the passages I want to analyze in an attempt to contrast an author’s craft with my own. What do her paragraphs look like in Scrivener? How long are they, how much emotion and detail do they have? How long is an action scene or a love scene? Then compare to my own.
How does it feel to write those words and paragraphs? What kind of cadence and flow do they have?
I have no intention of plagiarizing the works, or copying the writing style. I have my own voice. But I can’t think of another way to slow down and focus on the content than this, and I think there is value in seeing the other author’s writing in a similar format to my own. I have no idea what my words and paragraphs would look like in a paperback. Is there enough whitespace? Too much?
But I know what hers look like, and now I can compare them on a level playing field.
I tried this experiment today after I’d surpassed my 1K/day goal. So far, I think it’s helping. I was able to pick out the internal dialogue, bits of setting, and emotional elements, and how she was fitting them in without slowing things down. While I’m nowhere near cracking the code, it can’t hurt.
I’m certain that most of the benefit of this method comes from slowing myself down. I read at 400+ words a minute. Even more if I speed read (which I don’t for novels—I like to relax with them). Reading out loud would be another option for slowing down. The average person—depending on what part of the country they’re from—speaks at around 200 wpm. But I type around 60-70 wpm. S-L-O-W compared to reading. This forces my brain focus on the words, and messes up the continuity.
For this exercise, that’s a good thing.
There are surely other methods that would help. I often find value in summarizing the chapters or scenes to see how the author makes the book flow and sets up the structure (similar to Larry Brooks’ deconstruction method, or James Scott Bell’s plot analysis exercise). But I like to try new things too.
So tell me. How do you stop the movie in your head?