Where's the Off Switch on This Thing?

May 22, 2008 at 9:44 pm (Writing)

So Wednesday night I’m all tucked in, drifting off to a much-needed night of sleep when it happened. (I’d be amazed if this had never happened to any of you.)

My book woke me up.

I’m writing along on Book #5, happy as a clam, but I’m also doing some smoothing on Book #4, contemplating a light rewrite of the first scene. I’ve never been the type to go to sleep the instant my head hits the pillow, so I’m used to letting my mind wind down after the lights go out. Sometimes I can guide my mind in a certain direction, sometimes I can’t. Wednesday night we seemed to agree–I’d think about the first scene of Book #4. 

After two minutes or twenty, I’ve managed to come up with what I thought was a pretty good first paragraph–it made my heroine sympathetic, established her goal, and set the tone of the book, all in three lovely sentences. What a wonderful way to drift off to sleep, right? Because I knew I’d remember this in the morning, right? And you know where this is going, right?


Been there, done that. I’ve told myself I’d remember it in the morning more than Nora’s written ‘The End’ and have had disastrous results each time, so I’ve finally learned my lesson. I got up, turned on my laptop and wrote those three lovely sentences down. Then, I got back into bed and went to sleep the instant my head hit the pillow. 

Damn writer’s brain.

I’ve discovered another thing you can’t turn off once you cross the threshold into WriterLand is the dreaded movie eye. This is where you watch a movie, even a movie you’ve watched countless times before with a childlike innocence, and dissect it like Buffy fighting a vengeance demon. You see the arcs, the continuity errors, the theme, the infodump and backstory, the turning points, and depending on how good or bad some of those craft techniques are, you say something. After all, you have to. When I watched August Rush with my mother a few weeks ago, I couldn’t hold my tongue after what was essentially the second beginning, and there was no way I could be silent after the third. And a month ago when I watched Twister for the umpteenth time because it’s a fun way to pass two hours, I saw Jo and Bill’s arcs and how they tied into the theme and forced Montana to watch it (again) with me, liberally using the pause button to show him what I discovered. 

It’s true. Once you’ve looked behind the curtain and discovered the great and wonderful Oz, there’s no going back. 



  1. Ilana said,

    So true Pam. I find myself analyzing every TV show I watch – and sentence structure and scene conflict in many of the books I pick up. But I have to admit, every now and again, there’s book so good that I just read it for pleasure and forget to analyze.

    So, you didn’t tell us – was the writing you did instead of sleeping as good as you thought the next morning? Would you get up again to write?

  2. Robin said,

    You’re so right, Pam! So I try not to think too hard when watching a movie for the first time. Second, thirds, the deal’s off. And I know a movie is good when I do find myself forgetting everything else and falling into the characters and story with seamless ease.

    Yay on the new first paragraph! *high five*

  3. Caryn Caldwell said,

    I had to laugh when you were talking about dissecting movies. I do that all the time, too. Now sometimes my husband gets there before me, pointing out that we’re headed into the black moment or critiquing the character arc. I’ve trained him well. 😀 Now if only I could train my own brain to let me just relax and enjoy a movie every once in a while!

  4. Pam said,

    See? I knew I wasn’t alone. And yes, I do find those books or movies or tv shows that suck me in and I don’t dissect. Sometimes I’ll do it later so I can learn something from how good it was, but I do get to escape into somebody else’s world for a little while.

    Ilana–I didn’t check the paragraph until this morning and I have to say, I’m pretty happy with it. The girls must really like it because they kept building on it, even though I hadn’t intended to start writing from it. I’ll be curious to see where it goes.

    Robin–Thanks for the cheers. *high five* back! 😀

    Caryn–the DH is trained, and he’s not even a writer? You did train him well! And if you do find a way to get your brain in line, would you please let me know? 😉

  5. L.A. Mitchell said,

    Hi Pam!
    Thanks so much for stopping by my blog. I absolutely have the dreaded “writer’s eye” during films and try hard not to say anything. Sometimes I can’t help it. My dh is a meteorologist. You can imagine watching Twister with him. Like watching Top Gun with a pilot.
    Loved visiting your place. I’ll be back 🙂

  6. Montana said,

    Living with a writer has certainly changed my perception of movies and TV. Along with the dreaded “writer’s eye” comes a new found appreciation for great lines. I have to admit I was more than a little skeptical when we started Buffy, but now I marvel when Joss pops one of his fantastic lines–one of those that is funny, poignant, and perfect for setting up entire new arcs. I know Elmore Leonard says the writer should strive for sentences that go unnoticed, but sometimes it’s fun to watch a master really strut his stuff. Of course it’s also fun to catch Leonard’s clear, cool riffs. I wish I could have one hundredth of his skill. Never paid much attention to either until I married a writer.

  7. Melissa Blue said,

    The writer’s eye. My poor kids. I sometimes yell out, “Turning Point!” in the middle of a scene. They’ve stopped giving me strange looks, but I do think eye rolling is now involved.

    Also great reason to wake up for.

  8. alyson noel said,

    Yup, me too! My best ideas and solutions come at that moment right before sleep- so I keep a notepad and pen on my nightstand (to lazy to actually get up and turn on my computer!). And ever since my husband and I attended the Robert McKee seminar we’ve never been able to watch TV or a movie the same- we’re constantly analyzing and dissecting.

  9. Sandra said,

    Thanks for dropping by. I just finished Butcher’s 6th in the Dresden files.

    Have you read them all?

    My son has — he’s the one who got me hooked on Butcher — and we have the lovely, lively discussions about what’s coming next, true villains, plot curves, etc. Anyway, my contention is that this is a 12-book series. If you remember at the end of book 3, Harry is in a terrible, almost unredeemable place. If was literally like the first turning point. Well now I’ve finished book 6, and honestly, it’s as though it is mid-point in a book (or more importantly in Harry’s life)

    Just wondering you’re take on the series.

    Congrats on not only finding the perfect 3 lines for book 4, but getting out of bed and writing them down.

  10. Pam said,

    L.A.–welcome! I could have very easily been a meteorologist, so maybe that’s another reason why I love Twister so much. I promise never to mention it to your husband, though. 😉

    Montana is being too modest. He was really the writer first. I just put the words on the page before him. The important thing is, he’s a Buffy fan now, too.

    Melissa–I thought eye rolling came with the kids if their mother heard Keebler Elves talk to them or not. Be careful with the yelling though–they may develop twitches from it. (Humor. Har.)

    Alyson–I need to get that pen and paper by the bedside. This one was big enough it was quicker (and neater) to turn on my laptop. You see, I’ve also had the “write it down at your bedside” episodes and could not for the life of me decipher it in the morning. But I think I was half-asleep for that so it was probably something odd like, “Six penguins chased me through a doughnut of fire.” And thanks for the tip–I’ll have to look up McKee. Have you ever been to a Michael Hauge seminar?

    Sandra–since we share such excellent taste in reading, I was wondering what else you were into. And if you’ve watched the Dresden Files TV series–did it compare to the visions of Harry in your head? (I always pictured him more like Hugh Laurie in House.)

  11. Katie Reus said,

    I always keep a pad on my nightstand b/c I usually get ideas right when I wake up, not so much when I’m going to sleep. (my brain is usually fried by then) I also keep one in the car b/c so many times I have ‘ah-ha’ moments while driving and don’t want to lose them.

    I’m the worst when it comes to movies now! Sometimes DH actually has to ‘shush me’.

  12. sandi said,

    YES! My book is always waking me up. I can be in a sound sleep and suddenly wide awake, heart hammering away from some new insight about my book! And you’re absolutely right about never being able to fully enter into and enjoy a movie or TV show again. I have a daughter who’s studying to be an actress…and between the two of us, we have so much fun watching movies together and dissecting them and critiquing them afterward.

    Good luck with Socnoc! And thanks for stopping by my blog!! (I guess none of us will be hearing from you for a while, now that it’s June 1st?) Give us an update every now and then if you can.

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