A to Z Challenge 2013

Monday, February 28, 2011

Learning To See Writing As I'm Reading

I'm still somewhat leading an "unplugged" status, but I noticed something interesting over the weekend that I had to share.  My oldest son advised me quite some time ago to check out this Xbox game called Alan Wake.  Saturday morning I found myself up fairly early and though I should have been writing (I know), I decided to see what was so interesting.  Also, I was still coughing every few moments, and trying to maintain intelligent thought for writing just wasn't really possible anyway.  That's one thing I have to say I hate about colds.  I don't sleep well, I have medicine head all the time, and I feel like I'm surrounded by a plague cloud of germs.  Not one of my better moments, but I digress.

If you haven't played this game and are thinking about it, you may want to skip what I'm going to say.  Some of it includes spoilers of a sort.  You've been warned.

Alan Wake is a mystery/horror/action game told from a really interesting perspective.  Alan is a successful horror writer who hasn't been able to write for two years or so.  Everyone around him seems bent on getting him back in the saddle (from his agent to the woman he loves), and it just seems to really piss him off.  After storming out of the cabin they've rented, he stands around outside being mad.  Screams from his lady however, compel him to run back to the cabin and see what's going on.  Then the world slips sideways a bit.

He loses a week of time and is suddenly being attacked by what appears to be smoky creations from his own (not yet written) book.  The world around him is a dark night, and only the power of lights (i.e. flashlights, streetlights, any light) seem to banish these things.

The interesting thing is how well the story is told.  It unfolds almost like a television episode, narrated in past tense by Alan himself.  As you wander through, there are references to Stephen King and The Shining (among others).  You can also pick up pages of his future book and read them.  Here's where it got really interesting for me.  I found myself reading the words and noticing things I would have done differently (such as the use of adverbs, telling instead of showing, etc).  There weren't a lot, mind you.  But I laughed at myself because it was so cool just being aware of the writing, even while I was caught up in the story.

I didn't play very long, but sometime when I have more time (and have already done my homework, my daily writing, and don't have to work LOL) I'd like to continue it to see where the story goes.

Then last night I found myself in another similar situation.  I picked up Across The Universe sitting on my nightstand and I began reading it again, this time really taking a look at how Beth did such a marvelous job with the writing.  How did she get the characters to be so vivid?  What about all this background and cultural information?  How did she include it without it being overbearing?  It was really fun re-immersing myself in the story again, but with different eyes.  Someday maybe I'll be able to just see it automatically as I read, but I'm not sure.  Is that possible?

I'd love to hear from you more experienced authors.  Do you see the writing as you read or do you have to multiple read-throughs?


Icy Roses said...

I always read now with an eye toward the writing. However, that being said, the best books I've read are always the ones where I lose myself in the reading experience and completely forget until the end that, hey, I think I was supposed to be paying attention to how the writer did that. It's definitely my goal to be able to write a book like that.

Also, don't know if you're interested, but you should check out a book called, "Reading Like A Writer" by Francine Prose. It's basically exactly what the title is. Interesting read!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I tend to only read a book once, so I try to catch it all the first time. But now that I am an author, I notice the details more and visualize better.

Tracy Edward Wymer said...

I read a book once, noticing everything along the way. That's probably why I'm a slow reader. But congrats on the eye-opening experience. Sounds like a wicked game. Awesome concept.

Michelle McLean said...

LOL I do this now too. Sometimes it's a drag because my internal editor takes over and sometimes I just want it to hush so I can read and enjoy the story :) But yeah, at the same time it is nice that the writer in me can recognize the good and the bad in the books that I'm reading while the reader can still (usually) enjoy the story :)

Eric said...

Icy - Yeah, I actually miss losing myself in story. But I'm enjoying the fact that I'm recognizing good writing too. Thanks for the tip about the book, I'll have to pick that one up.

Alex - That's great. I struggle with details myself, and so I try to watch what I think works and what doesn't.

Tracy - Thanks. I am a really fast reader myself, and probably I unconsciously miss a few things as I'm speeding along. Something to keep in mind, I guess :)

Michelle - It's funny that I am easily able to keep my internal editor in check when I'm reading but can't for the life of me do it when I'm writing (at least so far). Hopefully I'll get better though :)