I have a friend who has spent much of his adult life working as a production assistant, then as a producer of television commercials.
Now, this is a guy who loved movies. Lived for them. He and I would spend hours and hours talking about our favorite movies and writers and directors and actors.
But after several years of working behind the scenes, he told me, "I have a hard time watching movies anymore. All I see is the hellish work that went into them. I see the grips, the PAs, people shoving lights around, bad tempers, asshole directors, whiny actors — I see it all. It can be the simplest scene in the world and I know exactly what's going on behind the camera, and it kills it for me."
And I felt sorry for him. I've been on a few movie sets in my time, but those have mostly been magical experiences and haven't had any impact on my viewing pleasure at all. In fact, in one experience I had been struck by how hammy the acting seemed while I was on set. But later, when I viewed the actual movie, the acting was superb. So any negative aspects of the experience were immediately washed away.
Unfortunately, I'm starting to understand where my friend was coming from. But not with movies.
With fiction. Novels, in particular.
Before I started writing novels, I carried one (or two or three) wherever I went. If I had to walk to work, I'd read along the way. If I was waiting in the doctor's office, I was reading the latest installment of my favorite series character. If my wife was shopping at Ross or wherever, I was in the car reading a book.
I read good books and bad books. And even though I'd spent many years on and off as a screenwriter (which oddly enough had never had an effect on my movie viewing), I'd always looked at books as an escape and read them, for the most part, uncritically.
But now that I spend a lot of my time in the trenches, pumping out thousands of words (if I'm lucky) a week, I find that it's almost impossible for me to read fiction.
See if this sounds familiar to you:
You've settled down with a new book by one of your favorite authors, or maybe by a new author that you've been hearing good things about. You go to chapter one and you start to read.
Then BAM. You get past the first paragraph, you're saying to the author, "Jeez, why did you choose to open it this way? Wouldn't it have been better if you'd started with the last line of the paragraph? That would have given the opening more urgency and really hooked the reader."
If it doesn't happen there, it might happen later. You notice that a character is behaving a certain way and you say to the author, "Dude, that's so out of character. The guy wouldn't react that way. And the fix is so easy. You could have had him say…. "
Maybe this doesn't happen to you, but it happens to me, ALL THE TIME. I'm constantly trying to "improve" the writer's work. And this isn't because I think I'm the God of all writers (although I'll happily accept any nominations), but simply because I WOULD HAVE DONE IT DIFFERENTLY.
In other words, I am incapable of blocking out my profession. Because my job is stringing words and sentences together in order to entertain, it is impossible for me to read someone else's fiction (or even my own) without seeing all of its warts and wanting to fix them.
Which effectively kills the reading experience for me.
And the only time I'm able to get past this is when the book is just so damn good, so damn involving, so expertly crafted that I forget where I am and just disappear into the author's world.
But such books are sometimes hard to come by. For me, at least. Nowadays.
It seems it was much easier to find great books when I wasn't a "pro" (and I use the term VERY loosely) at this game. When I wasn't so concerned with craft and only wanted to be whisked away.
I guess such are the hazards of reading for those in the business. Or am I alone here?
Tell me what you think.