One Story to Rule Them All. One Story to Bind Them. (Or how a writer’s brain works with other stories)

Every once in a while, my hubbie gets a hankering for some orc. Not cooked, of course. The movie kind of orc. So I dig out our extended version of Lord of the Rings and let him glut his fill.

This time around, however, I found myself maddeningly distracted. Wasn’t by Sean Astin’s perpetual scowl or Viggo Mortensen’s perpetual scowl or Orlando Bloom’s perpetual…uh…hmm….okay, Sean Bean’s perpetual scowl.

Nope. I was distracted by the story.

What made the story tick? What moved the story along? How did the characters get from point A to point B? How do the choices Frodo makes influence the story? As we moved from the Shire to Rivendell to Rohan to Gondor…I couldn’t stop myself from analyzing. In a weird way, it was similar to what I did with Xanadu on the Agony Booth…except Peter Jackson put special effects to actual good use…

I know what you’re thinking. I’m a writer. Aren’t I supposed to notice such things already? Ahh…but that’s just the thing. When I first started writing, when I read books or watched movies, I never really thought about such things. I just read, or watched, and pretty much enjoyed (or, if the story sucked, not enjoyed).

But ever since I started writing seriously, ever since I started editing and revising my own work, I found myself reading a fantasy book and thinking How did the author make this work? What makes this story publishable? I started keeping notes, sometimes comparing the book to my own novel-in-progress. I guess it’s not surprising that I’m beginning to view movies in the same way. After all, a movie is just a short story. (Though not in the case of the LOTR…but that’s besides the point.)

All this analyzing, though, has me a little worried. Won’t I get burned out? Can’t I just enjoyed a story and not care about character development, plotline, protagonist and antagonist? What if I get sick of all this analyzing and just stop reading and watching movies altogether?

I don’t think that will happen. At least, not in the near future. For one thing, there are ways to entertain myself that don’t rely on books and movies. I can listen to music. I can play pretend with Daniel. I can knit. Play video games. I think a little balance is in order to keep me from glutting on too much story.

But I think there are also times when I can read a book and just enjoy it for what it is without trying to figure out what makes it tick. I just finished reading White Oleander by Janet Fitch with the clear intention of not trying to analyze it. Went pretty well, I think. I’ll have to put up the review of it soon.

I think also genre plays a big role in it as well. With LOTR being fantasy, of course it will get my analytic juices flowing, since the story has elements that I can use in my own work. The other day, I watched Vertigo, and not once did I wonder about how the character development influenced the storyline (though at the time, I was mashing roasted garlic into potatoes for Thanksgiving). It was a nice change of pace from all the fantasy stuff I was reading and writing.

I wonder if that’s the reason why writing experts suggest reading outside of your genre. Not so much that you don’t get burned out, but it helps your brain to rest, to enjoy story without getting burnt out on it. Any other writers out there who want to chip in your two cents? Be curious to know if you’re at the same point I am, or offer any other advice.

As for me, it’s late. We still need to finish the second half of The Return of the King. It’s gonna be a loooooong night.


3 Responses

  1. So, did you figure out the finer points of Tolkien’s genius? What conclusions did you reach?

  2. Oy, that would be a whole separate post. But I can understand how Tolkein can be considered the grandfather of epic fantasy. Course…would that make C.S. Lewis the grandfather of “standalone” fantasy? Think about it.

  3. The beauty of the movie was not in its writing, LaShawn. It was Sean Bean’s scowl. Think about.

    I think I will right now.


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