Dissecting vs. Reading

I like to think that I’ve gotten reasonably good at understanding the basic mechanics of stories and recognizing common motifs.  That’s how I can break down story elements, like the different ways that you can interfere with a romantic relationship between your characters.  It’s also why I have blog-related reactions to familiar movies on television.  Of course, this skill would have been much more useful in high school and college, when I had to write papers analyzing poems and novels, but I won’t toss the knowledge out of the window just because it came to me later.  (If this is a skill you’d like to develop, I highly recommend How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster.  That’s where I got started.)

Dissecting a story, be it written or filmed, is something I have to do after the fact.  It’s one thing to be able to distill the essence of a character in a blog post, or to find commonalities between familiar tales.  It is something entirely to do it while I’m in the moment and enjoying the story.

Yes, some things become predictable.  I am rarely surprised by movies or television any more, at least in the genres that I enjoy, and when I am blindsided by a twist it is worth noting.  (Recent examples are the 100th episode of Castle and the movie The Tourist.)  This is much less common for me when reading.  Even when the relationship trajectory is clear to everyone, I am still painfully in suspense when the hurdles appear.  Will they get back together?  What’s going to happen?  That’s why books can still prevent me from sleeping – I just have to know what happens next.

After I finish a novel, I can recognize those similar themes and characters that run through many books.  When I’m done, I can look back and see how the author set up certain things, and how actions at the beginning led to results later.  If I’m actually absorbed in the story, however, forget asking me to explain it.  I’m too wrapped up in what’s happening to make those connections.

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