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.

The Power of Suggestion

Tonight I am watching the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie.  Want to guess why?

That’s right!  While I was writing yesterday’s post, the quote about the pirate’s code being guidelines rather than rules occurred to me.  Then Mike Coville mentioned it in his comment about the post.  Those two things combined made me realize that I haven’t watched the movie in a while, and the idea of having a little movie night got caught in my brain.

It turned out that (as usual) there wasn’t much on television on a Friday night, so movie it is!

It’s always interesting to think about the human mind and where ideas come from.  Usually they’re hard to trace, especially if the end result has been percolating for a while or combines many experiences and sources, but every once in a while there’s a very clear line from initial spark to final thought.

We’ll end with a fun quote from the movie:

Will: “This is either madness or brilliance.”
Captain Jack: “It’s remarkable how often those two traits coincide.”


There are very few movies, television shows, or books out there where one person is totally alone and interacts with no one.  I’m not saying they don’t exist (I can think of a few examples just off the top of my head), but they are by far not the norm.

Because of this, there are lots of places to turn to see both the good and the bad of how to develop a relationship between characters.  I’m not just thinking of romantic relationships, although many male/female pairings that don’t start out with that intent end up with at least sexual tension if not an outright relationship.

In this case I’m thinking more about friendships, partnerships, co-worker relationships and family bonds (or lack thereof).  Our main characters may be solo actors (although often they are not) but they still interact with the people around them.  While these secondary, tertiary, and peripheral characters may not be as developed as the main character, the interactions still need to feel genuine and human.

I don’t necessarily use fictional relationships as my base to develop those between my characters.  More often I pull from my personal experience; most of us have some type of interaction in our lives that can be used, even loosely, to create the dynamic between characters.  Even so, it is still interesting to think about books or movies you enjoy and the examples they provide, especially if the relationships feel forced or awkward.

Zombie Dreams and Some Alien Doctor

There are many benefits to having an active, vivid imagination.  One of those benefits is the ability to write stories, but there are others.  I can play out possible outcomes of a conversation, I can dream up new ideas for work, and I get very, very absorbed into books and movies.

The biggest downside I’ve found is sleep. More specifically, my imagination often prevents sleep, or interrupts it.

I find that my brain processes my day when I’m trying to fall asleep.  Sometimes that means an endless running of the work-related hamster wheel, with problems and stresses keeping my brain rattling.  Occasionally it will also mean that something I’ve watched or read earlier in the day gets replayed, in pieces or in its entirety, while I am trying to drift off.  I’ve found this is particularly the case with certain television shows, including one with a time- and space-traveling doctor and a phone booth that I’ve been hooked on lately.   Combine a mini-marathon (thanks, Netflix!) with caffeine after 8pm and I am not having a restful night.

Even when I can fall asleep, my imagination sometimes runs wild in my dreams.  Most often they manifest as generic “action-adventure” dreams, which don’t leave me with specific memories so much as a feeling that I spent the whole night running, thinking, and not resting.  Last night I had a zombie dream, which doesn’t really fit within my usual fiction-related habits.  I’ve watched a grand total of one zombie movie in my life, along with a couple of viewings of the zombie episode of Castle, and none of that has been recently.  I don’t even remember the zombies from my dream; I just know that when I woke up I was sure there were zombies involved.

Due to the sleep-affecting nature of my brain, I’ve learned to avoid horror (books or movies) and developed some coping mechanisms to help resolve some of the above.  I wouldn’t give up my imagination for anything, but it does make itself a pest from time to time.

Books or Movies?

I am the kind of person who prefers books over movies.  If I’ve seen a movie and find out it was a book first, I might read it.  (I enjoyed Rise of the Guardians and also the first book of the series by William Joyce, Nicholas St. North.)  But if there is a movie made based on a book that I like, it is a safe bet that I will not see the movie.  (I’ve been disappointed enough.)

There have been a lot of commercials on tv lately for the re-release of Jurassic Park in 3-D.  While I did enjoy the movie, I read the book first and liked it much better.  (I mean, come on.  In the book they figure out that the dinos are reproducing using graphs, logic, and math.  In the movie they stumble across hatched eggs.  Which one is cooler?)  The commercials are doing two things.  They are reminding me that John Williams is one of the best movie composers ever, and they are making me want to re-read the book (and perhaps also re-read several other of Michael Crichton’s books).

I decided to go for it, and requested several of Crichton’s books from the library.  I picked up Disclosure today, and will hopefully have Airframe, Congo, and Jurassic Park soon!

I’m not sure that was the goal of the commercials…

Weird Associations

Have you ever had your brain create odd associations that don’t make sense?

Right now the weirdest one I’m having is a song and a movie that (as far as I can tell) have no relationship.  Every time I hear “Little Talks” by Of Monsters and Men on the radio, I think of the movie Warm Bodies.  There is no connection between the two – the song is not on the soundtrack and the lyrics and storyline are not particularly related.  I have no idea why my brain has decided those two things go together.

Typically for me, an odd link has some clear source.  For example, music that I listened to while reading a book plays in my head when I read it again, or the book comes to mind when I hear the music.

It’s interesting to think about links like this.  If I had to guess, I’d suspect that they are most commonly a link between two different senses – a smell brings back a visual memory, a taste and a sound are connected.  The reason for this would be that it is possible to have two simultaneous, unrelated experiences when using different senses, and if they were unique enough in your life, it would be logical that your brain might put the two together.

Of course, that still doesn’t explain why the movie pops in my head when I hear the song, but that’s okay.  I like them both, so I can’t really complain.

And why is this tonight’s blog post?  I heard the song on a commercial on TV, and it started the whole train of thought.  🙂

Comfort Food for your Brain

I am low-level sick this evening.  I got a flu shot on Thursday, and while it didn’t affect me at all right away, I woke up achy this morning and have since developed a lovely low-grade fever to go with the pain.

As most people do, when I’m not feeling good I turn to comforting things.  Tonight was hot tea, chicken soup (albeit just the southwest-style I had on hand, not the good noodle kind), a pile of pillows, and Tangled.

Yes, I watch Disney movies as a form of brain comfort food.

This isn’t what I always turn to, just like chicken soup isn’t always my craving.  I might want chocolate ice cream, or a familiar novel, or maybe one of my favorite chick flicks and macaroni and cheese.  A lot depends on the reason I need comforting in the first place.

The one thing these all have in common is their familiarity.  You don’t want to experiment with food or watch a new movie when you don’t feel well.  No, what you want is something that you know, something that your taste buds or your mind can treat like an old friend.

That’s what makes it comforting!

Now that I’ve been comforted, I’m going to call it a night early and hopefully sleep off this ick.  I’ll leave it to you, though, to add your thoughts.  What is your brain comfort food?  What do you watch or read when you don’t feel well?

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