Monday, January 28, 2013

Turning a Writing Corner

by Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

I've always been kind of happy that I can watch TV shows without descending into writing nitpicks. I mean, sometimes you just want to watch a show without obsessing about the details, right?

Well, lately, the husband and I have enjoyed watching old episodes of A Touch of Frost, an old police-detective series from the BBC. We like the BBC and we like mysteries - so this is a good match. We've really been enjoying the show, despite the face that they killed off one of our favorite recurring characters at the end of Season 4 (kill your darlings anyone?) and came perilously close to my #2 pet peeve, killing a dog (they didn't, the dog lived, rest easy).

As a writer of crime fiction, I've been able to turn off that part of my brain. But last night, I think I turned a corner.

The episode starts with Frost facing a pile of bills, having his utilities disconnected for non-payment, and bemoaning "expenses," so he takes in a renter to help cover the costs. But, but, but...

Frost's wife died in Season 1 after a long illness where he had to pay for home health care. We're now in Season 5. He hasn't changed jobs. There's been no mention of pay cuts at work. So why is he only now having financial trouble? Just boom! out of the blue he can't pay the bills? No mention of this before? Really?

Then, a government health official throws an expensive leather jacket over a barbed wire fence to break into a meat packing facility after hours? What mid-level government official does that - no matter what nefarious business he thinks the company is up to?

When I mentioned all this, my husband looked at me and said, "That's really bugging the crime fiction author in you, isn't it?"

And it hit me - I can't dissociate the two parts of my brain. The writer part and the watcher/reader part.

I can't read a book without hitting a clunky part of dialog and wincing, or wanting to applaud a particularly well-written exchange. Character actions, conflict, climax, plotting - all of it gets the authorial treatment. If it worked for me, why? If it didn't, why not?

I can't decide if this is a good thing or a bad thing. On the one hand, it's good because I think it shows I have a new awareness of these things - which can only help my own fiction. On the other hand, I run the risk of over-analyzing everything I read, and potentially destroying the primary reason I read fiction - to escape and not have to think.

But now that I've noticed this, I can't turn it off - for better or for worse. At some level, I know I'll be constantly analyzing the writing, picking apart the things that delight and the things that, well, don't. And I guess that's just part of being in the fiction realm. But one thing's for darn sure.

I'll never look at a critique group the same way again.

What about you? If you're a writer, do you analyze what you read - especially works in your preferred genre?

Image from Flickr used under Creative Commons

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