1. BookLover
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    BookLover Contributing Member

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    Does Reading Books from a Writer's Perspective Take Away the Magic?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by BookLover, Jul 16, 2014.

    I love to read. Always have. Like most readers, I get lost in books. Magic lies between those pages. :) Or so I thought.

    But lately I've been looking at the books I read from a different perspective. I'm still interested in the stories, sort of, but I'm more curious about the author's tricks of telling the story. For example, with the book I'm currently reading, I keep noticing how the author is "showing" and not "telling." He goes into detail about minor facial expressions in order to get the character's feelings across and avoids filtering words most of the time. So I notice this and I think, "Oh, by talking about the character's arched eyebrows, the author is trying to show me that the character feels surprised." Stuff like that, only a bit more complicated.

    So I'm looking at how the author decided to tell the story instead of really getting lost in the story. I'm inspecting his choices and trying to learn from them. It's like watching a play but thinking about the costume and lighting choices instead of the story being played out. Or looking at a drawing and thinking about how many times the artist had to erase before that hand finally looked realistic instead of trying to figure out what the drawing means overall.

    This is both good and bad. It's good for my writing because I don't usually read books from this perspective. I'm picking up techniques.

    It's bad for the magic. Call me naive, but I thought stories were like magic, to some degree. They magically flowed out of the creator's head and they magically connect with their audience. Instead it's starting to feel like a series of tricks. The author is creating the illusion that it's easy, when in reality he had to pick up all these skills over years of practice and he now has to make very conscious decisions about exactly how he wants to express things. And these skills he learned are skills that almost any person could pick up if they worked at it. The story doesn't even have to be that great, as long as the writer knows all the tricks and how to implement them.

    I should be relieved by the revelation that these skills can be learned. That it's not magic. (And I do still believe to some degree that creativity does come from some lovely, magical place that no one can quite pinpoint. Creativity is practically synonymous with magic, in my head.)

    But part of me is sad. I have a strong desire to re-read all my favorite books to watch how all the magic breaks down and is proven to be very conscious choices made by the author. "She wrote this to set the scene. She wrote that to show how the character felt about this. She specifically wrote that so she could move the story forward. And so forth." It becomes too concrete. Too obvious. I know what the author was thinking, and I don't like it. :crazy:

    It does make other author's seem more like me, and me feel more like I could one day be them, but... I feel like I just found out Santa Clause wasn't real, and I'm not so happy about that. :meh: I might never read books the same way again.
     
  2. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    For me it doesn't, not if it's a good story and well written.

    I get caught up in the story and the mechanics of telling it fade to the back.

    That doesn't mean I don't read and study how an author put a good story together. Usually I do that after I've enjoyed the story. It tells me they did something right and worth paying attention to after the first read.
     
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  3. Ulramar
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    Ulramar Contributing Member Contributor

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    For me it does. I can see the foreshadowing in advance, and anything that may not be as well written is now unreadable.

    It kind of sucks, but at the same time it's informative into what I'm doing right and wrong.
     
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  4. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    So, please hear my next few comments the right way, because you are clearly on the right path.

    A lot of writers start at a place similar to the one described as your starting point. It's all magic and vaguely holy, nothing should be altered from what flows divinely from the writer's pen like Galadriel pouring water into her looking bowl. In a word, it's a bit precious in the British sense of that word. You should be relieved to know these things can be learned because now you see that it's application and practice, and that means it's achievable in a practical sense.

    BTW, your revelation is the reason I tell people that giving critique is so much more productive than getting critique. You can have all the things in the world pointed out to you, but until you learn to see them for yourself, you can only react, not act. ;)
     
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  5. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Everything looks like magic to the untrained eye. WTF is Floyd Mayweather doing? Well, he didn't just roll out of bed one day and decide to get into the ring. It just looks like that to us. Professionals suffer so that the customers don't have to. Unless we're talking about airlines.
     
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  6. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    I am currently doing exactly this to a book that I love. It only increases my appreciation. Which is weird, because it is a very emotional book and you would think that dissecting every theme the book addresses and every little trick the author plays would turn it from an emotional experience into a dry academic exercise. But in fact the process merely provides more material to absorb with feelings.

    The trick is to analyze the writing forgivingly -- recognize and appreciate the effective things the author does, but do not dwell on things that make it seem like the author is trying too hard (or not trying hard enough). Take note of the inefficiencies so that you can avoid them in your own writing, but move on from them without letting them affect your opinion of the book you are reading. Move onto the things that can improve your opinion of it.
    Absolutely true.
     
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2014
  7. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    I've found that too. I absolutely loved the first five books from a particular author. Can't get into the sixth!

    I have to try really hard to turn off my inner writer when I'm reading as I find myself thinking "I would not have written that sentence like that ..."
     
  8. MustWrite
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    MustWrite Member

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    Ahh the magic. For those of us who easily see through the tricks it is not the same, but we can still enjoy the show..
    When I wrote the above I imagined the author as a magician, using words as the magician uses their clever hands.

    But that's not all, it is? A well written book is still magical, transporting and even transforming. Yes, I sometimes think; I would not have written that, or they got this or that wrong. But the test of a good book is still the same; does it take us some place else, make us want to believe? Make us think about the books' world as if it were real long after we have closed it?

    I still get transported. Sometimes I get kidnapped and when I'm returned to my family at the end of the book I find I am not the same; I have been changed irrevocably.

    I remember distinctly the first book I analyzed. I read it with passion, I reread it 4 more times to find out how words on a page had made me care so much. I read that book five times back to back.
    And I enjoyed it :)
     
  9. NigeTheHat
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    NigeTheHat Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't find it detracts, myself. It's just another layer. Analysing books like a writer and reading them for pleasure occupy two different bits of headspace, so it's not hard to keep them separate.
     
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  10. hughesj
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    hughesj Member

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    It's just something that happens when you're trying to improve your writing and you hear about all of these different techniques. I find I do get a little bit lost in it, but i don't mind too much about that, really. I can always re read the book later
     
  11. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    That's how I know if a book's grabbed my attention or not, if I read it more than once.

    Most of the books I own, I have read multiple times, some of them, I've lost count but there are four on the shelf that I've started and just can't finish.
     
  12. Chad Lutzke
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    Chad Lutzke Member

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    I sympathize with the bittersweetness of your situation, but I think you should certainly rejoice that you're "getting it" and learning in the process. If writing is what you want to do and to "one day be them" then I think you're on the right track. I wonder if listening to audio books could help assist in bringing that magic back. You'll be listening to a different voice other than your own, giving emphasis where needed, different tones, etc.


    ~Chad Lutzke
    Pre-Author, Post-Boredom - The Literary Unfoldings of a Middle-Aged Dreamer
     
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2014
  13. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I can do both. Usually, I just read like a reader, letting the book take me wherever it wants me to go, and I go willingly.

    If, however, I'm in "analysis mode," I'm fully capable of reading like a writer, observing the use of techniques, evaluating narrative strategies, etc. and generally being aware of how the author "did it."

    Oddly (I think), I find it harder to watch movies without analyzing them than it is to read novels that way. I'm always analyzing movies - dunno why.
     
  14. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    Really!?

    I'm so glad I'm not the only one who now watches a movie and has constant narration in my head along the lines of 'the door opened and in walked so and so' ... 'he heard the car before he saw it' ... 'he looked at her in a way that made her knees weak' ...

    and so on
     
  15. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    If it takes away the magic, was the magic really there in the first place?
     
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  16. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It may dispel some of the illusions, but in return it opens my eyes to appreciate true artistry.
     
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  17. PensiveQuill
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    PensiveQuill Contributing Member

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    Not at all for me either. Mostly because I don't analyse the book until I'm either finished or there is some clumsy device that annoys me and pulls me out of the story anyway. I notice the mistakes writers make more on the first reading than the things they do right. The mistakes jarr the reader and cause them to break with the story. If the story is well told I can make it to the end in a couple of days and decide whether or not to pick up the next book. If it's that good then I spend some time reflecting afterwards as to why my engrossment in the story was so complete and I might revisit random passages, re-read the make notes.
     
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  18. KipDynamite
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    I don’t believe that learning how something works ever diminishes the value of it. Every good magician knows that there is no real magic, just an elaborately crafted set of illusions designed to trick the mind. Writing is the same way; there is no magic, it’s just a cleverly designed pattern of squiggles on paper that is designed to evoke some sort of experience within the mind of the reader. Sure, it seems like magic, but upon further inspection you find that what you thought was magic is really just a perfectly explicable set of laws. Take human consciousness for instance. Most people want to believe that there’s something magical about the mind, something that can never be explained by science. But this takes us nowhere, and it’s nothing but a stubborn attempt to keep ourselves ignorant. If we really and truly want to understand something, it just won’t do to appeal to magic.

    This sounds like a bummer, but it really isn’t. In this case, and most other cases, having someone tell you how the magic works just makes it more wonderful, not less. For one thing, it shows us how multifaceted writing is. It can be understood on an analytical level, as a sort of logic puzzle, but if you want to ignore the mechanics of it all and just focus on the “magic,” that’s fine too. More importantly though, it means that the “magic” can be learned. You should be happy about that revelation. Don’t feel as though you’ve lost something. You haven’t. Your idea of the “magic” is radically transformed by this idea, but you can get used to it, and when you do, you find that in some sense the “magic” is still there. Although it has been explained, it’s still just as wonderful as it ever was.

    You can learn to become an engineer of magic. Think of the possibilities.
     
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  19. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    No.
     
  20. BookLover
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    BookLover Contributing Member

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    Thanks, everyone, for your comments and perspectives. :D

    I've gone back to reading my book, and I can't stop! I keep looking at the words instead of the story. :rofl: The author just used, "I was confident that..., I figured I would..., and I was sure he had assumed..." in two paragraphs. So I'm thinking this is filtering and wondering if he just didn't notice it or if he deemed it necessary. And now I'm re-writing the sentences in my head to see if I can make it not necessary. And this is insane!

    From a writer's standpoint, the book I'm reading is swell, but I don't know if the reader I used to be would agree. I don't know how I would rate this book so far if I wasn't busy analyzing and admiring all the word choices. Maybe mediocre? And if the reader in me finds it mediocre, does the writer in me want to learn from this guy? :p Oh, geez, I don't know what I'm doing. This double way of looking at things has become very amusing to me.
     
  21. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    @BookLover
    Consider audiobooks for a while? You'll still get the story content and what sparks the imagination, just in a little different way. Plus, you won't as easily fall into the mechanics of the story's written structure.
     
  22. Nilfiry
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    Nilfiry Contributing Member

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    It actually adds to the appreciation of the writer.
     
  23. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    I find that I can appreciate certain passages more than I could before I began to learn fiction writing.
    Although, some of my favorite authors really make me wonder how in the world did they ever get published...
     
  24. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I definitely don't enjoy reading a book as much if I'm constantly aware of the author's technique. I do think the author's job is to disappear, and if they don't, there is something wrong. I want to get sucked into a story and forget it's a story I'm reading, at least for the duration.

    THEN I can go back and analyse how they did it. What's more important, once I've finished the story I know WHY they did it as well. In other words, I know where the story is going, so I can look at how the author gets me there.

    BTW - the notion that 'filtering' is always bad is another slightly faddish rule that needs to be applied judiciously. Sometimes it's exactly what you want or need in a story—if you are conveying the idea of distance, or disengagement. It's fine to be aware of filtering, but don't be afraid to use it if it's what works. This is kind of like going through your story and eliminating every word that ends in -ly, or taking out every instance of the word 'was.' It's a quick-fix that doesn't always work.
     
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  25. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    ^^^ This, really.

    @BookLover, I wonder if some of the jarring effect may go away once you've internalized the rules and techniques of writing that you're picking up and have made them your own. That is, once you know when to hew strictly to the letter of the law and when to adapt the rules (which, as @jannert says, can be faddish) to suit your own purposes. It sounds at the moment that you have a lot of voices in your head saying, "Oh, no, there's an adverb! We're supposed to avoid those!" And "Oy vey, he's filtering!!!!" Or (as you say)

    Which makes you think, "Hey, he's showing-and-not-telling!"

    So you get the feeling that it's all artificial and contrived and not organic like it "should" be.

    But as you go along your knowledge will add to your enjoyment, not take it away. It's like watching Olympic figure skaters. The ordinary viewer is swept away by the "magic" of the performance, but only someone who truly knows skating will fully appreciate the artistry of that triple axel the skater just landed and be filled with awe at the sight of it.
     

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