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Stop the movie

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?

Tell your friends!


  1. Christine


    I tend to analyze movies for the turning points. Can’t help myself. I am a fast reader as well, but unless the book is totally gripping, my brain does get into analytical gear. Taking a long break from actual writing, only prelim work, helps me to focus on just enjoying the book.

    A writer friend I have does what you are doing. She takes paragraphs and rewrites them from her characters’ POV (from published greats). I plan to do that as well. It’s a great exercise.

    You’re humming along with that word count!!

    • Reply

      Christine, I tend to analyze movies while I’m watching more than I analyze books in the throes of reading. Probably because a movie moves more quickly and it’s easier to see the high-level view of it.

      I love the idea of rewriting paragraphs from a book I love in my character’s POV. That’s a good way to work on voice. Thanks!

  2. Reply

    I have this problem, too! It doesn’t matter how many times I set out to analyze a passage, I always end up 6 chapters later trying to figure out just when I got lost in the story. I like your idea and may adopt it myself.

    • Reply

      Tospinayarn: So glad to see I’m not the only one! Let me know how it goes for you. And sorry for the late response. Our power was out twice yesterday.

        • Reply

          Yeah, we had good luck last time we lived here (same company), so hopefully this isn’t a sign of trouble to come. 🙂

          Where are you living now?

          • Reply

            My husband and I moved to Austin less than a month ago. Want to buy a condo near the Pentagon? (just teasing – it’s for sale, but it’s not a family home.)

            Thanks for your comments on my pitch post, it’s nice to get feedback from other writers. I actually got my official critique today – apparently my pitch is too generic. I’ve tried a new one. 🙂

  3. Reply

    Tospinayarn: Pitches are so tough. Like I mentioned before, I’ve had my best luck when I incorporate the GMC for the main characters. Personally, I liked the opening you had. Anyway, good luck with it.

    Enjoy Austin. It’s the one city in Texas I might do alright in. 😉

    • Curtis


      You would love Austin. Texas gave up on the boom bust cycle in 1982. Recruited high tech from Silicon Valley, Boston and select spots across the pond. IBM, Motorola, Samsung are just a few of the major players in Austin.

      It is laid back and energetic. Young, fast and sure the next big thing is just around the corner. That is because it is. The Austin-American Statesman runs a Tech Tuesday section that lists the patents granted for the last week. That’s right –week.

      My youngest spent a whole seven days unemployed before he had two job offers.

      Traffic is horrible. The Hill Country is beautiful. It’s not that far from Corpus Christi and the Gulf or San Antonio which is really the best of Mexico north. Dallas is it’s own adventure. Ft. Worth, a once upon a time rail head for cattle shipping has a flavor and a swagger all it’s own. It’s called the West.

      I did mention the traffic in Austin is horrible.

        • Curtis


          I’ve been in DC once. The second time I was there it was with a friend attempting to use what is euphemistically called a freeway. We were rolling an eighteen wheeler. Well, no. We were crawling it. No Peterbilt should be treated that way.

          That is not traffic. There has to be another word to describe that event. There is no telling how much diesel we burned crawling around out there.

          • Reply

            Curtis: As long as I avoid rush hours it’s not too bad, but I avoid driving in the District like the plague, no matter what time of day. And my husband has a hybrid, so if we’re stuck at least we’re not spewing CO2. =)

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