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How Writers Scrutinize Movies & Books

Do non writers read books & watch movies with the same scrutiny and intensity as writers?

I don't know about you, but the longer I write and the more I learn about the craft of writing, the more I pick apart every film I watch or every book I read. I find myself dissecting films and books. 
I'm always looking at the structure of a novel. How quickly does the writer hook me? Has the protagonist entered a point of of return? Is the First Plot Point where it should be? Does the midpoint fall at the 50% mark? Here comes the dark moment or crisis or all is lost scene (or scenes); is this really the absolute worst place the protagonist could be at this moment? What is the last piece of information injected in the second plot point or the 75% mark that arms the protagonist with everything she needs to become the catalyst for the climax? Is the climax believable?

 Did I see the ending coming? Was it too easy to figure out? Did the writer keep me guessing and on the edge of my seat? When I go back and reread the book will I now see the careful foreshadowing? Ah ha, the clues where there all along, if only I'd been paying closer attention.

Any of this sound familiar? Do you do it? Do you enjoy it or does it interrupt the flow of your reading or viewing experience? I love dissecting movies and books. I take my favorite authors from my favorite genres and deconstruct their novels in hopes of learning from the best.

Take the popular movie Juno, for example. I'm using Juno because I recently watched the movie with my husband, mother, a good friend, grown stepson and two teenage daughters. So, excluding me (the writer), our viewing audience consisted of a lawyer, a stay at home mom with tons of kids, an interior designer, a film buff, a seventeen year old a fifteen year old. At the beginning of the movie, I asked each viewer to analyze the movie as they watched. I didn't expect a full critique or anything. I told them that at the end of the movie I wanted them to tell me what they thought "the movie was about." That was it ~ the only instructions or requests.

Juno clearly reached and satisfied millions of viewers. It was well written and not just another teen pregnancy story. I thought it was the perfect movie to test my question. Do non writers view or scrutinize movies the same way that writers do?


My  mini- deconstruction on Juno.

I may be wrong, but here is how I analyzed Juno.

Protagonist or Main Character: Juno

Juno's Beginning Goal: Find out if she is pregnant

Juno's Middle Goal: What to do, now that she knows she is pregnant. Find a good home for the baby

Juno's Ending Goal: Tell Bleaker how she feels

Juno's Beginning Obstacle: Refusal to accept accuracy of pregnancy test

Juno's Middle Obstacle: Confusion over abortion, adoption and inability to find the perfect family

Juno's Ending Obstacle: Bleaker may not want to be a couple

Juno's Beginning Motivation: Her body is telling her she is pregnant and she must know for certain

Juno's Middle Motivation: She want her baby to have a perfect, two family home. Her own mom left her and she hasn't learn to deal with her abandonment issues.

Juno's Ending Motivation: She wants to be a couple with Bleaker

Okay, back to family & friend movie night:

Here are some of the answers I received to the question, "What's the movie really about?"

A young girl learns that there is life after making mistakes.

A story about mistakes and choices.

Mistakes and doing the best with what you've got.

Okay, not too terribly bad, but not exactly what I was looking for. I was a little surprised that none of my viewers even commented on Juno's struggle to find the perfect family for her baby because her own mom abandoned her.

For me, Juno's unresolved emotions stemming from the abandonment by her own mom interferes with her need to find the perfect family to adopt her baby. She thinks she has found the ideal, perfect family. Sure, the adoptive mom is a little up tight, but Juno is pleased with their home, the ambiance, the idea of the perfect mom who bakes cookies and stays home with the baby in the perfect little baby nursery. Juno knows that the mom is committed and desperate to become a mother. She will make a perfect mom. Dad is super cool, into rock and roll and Juno digs him. They share a love for music. She believes she has found the family...the family that is everything her own is not.

But...wait...all is not right.

Dad wants out. He wants out of the marriage and out of the adoption. This destroys Juno's perfect two parent family image. For Juno to choose the woman without the man to adopt her unborn child she must emotionally accept what she has grown up to believe is an un-perfect incomplete family. To Juno, a one parent family is less than perfect, it's the exact family she came from and the opposite of what she desires for her baby.

This happens for Juno. This is her character arc. You remember the moment in the movie when Juno leaves the note for the adoptive mom that says, "I'm still in if you are," or similar words? Juno has accepted and agreed to place her baby with a family that she once considered not perfect. She has grown enough throughout the story to either accept the non perfect family or to realize that a one parent family is just perfect enough. One parent can provide a child all of the love that a child needs.

When I talked about these issues with my mom and husband, et al, their faces scrunched up, and I heard, huh's, what's and come again.

I haven't tried this with other books or films, but it made me wonder...

We read and watch movies as writers, yes, but does the average reader or regular (by average and regular, I only mean, non writers) viewer get it? Do they actually get this internal struggle? They must, right? Maybe they can't explain it or put it into words, but surely they must. Is it just so subtle to them that the issue is visited upon without drawing attention to it?

You know, the point where the protagonist opens her eyes and sees for the first time that the external events are not responsible for keeping her from achieving her goals...that her own choices (her own flaws) have either created or majorly contributed to her problem?

To the untrained eye or the non writer eye:

When the protagonist shows the full range of emotional effects the crisis or dark moment has on her~

Is this reaching readers and viewers, but they just don't label it the way we do?

It must or the reader ~ film goer wouldn't love the book or movie.

I suppose it doesn't matter if non writers dissect or scrutinize the book or movie and label it the way we writers do...if they relate to the the protagonist, identify with her and root for her, then the writer's job is done. 

My little project proves the importance of a writer using proper story structure, developing a strong and identifiable protagonist and connecting the dots in such a subtle manner that the reader or viewer doesn't even realize it. They only realize that something in the movie or book captured and kept their attention.

Do you dissect movies and or books? Does this help you become a better writer?


Melissa Sugar said...

I can turn my brain off with movies, but I do notice the character development - or lack thereof. With books, I'm a little more critical.
Juno was a good film.

Melissa Sugar said...

I definitely dissect movies/books, and not even on purpose. I've been a storyteller for years, so it's pretty much automatic for me at this point! I do believe it helps me improve my own projects, since all the scrutinizing helps me analyze structure and character development better...

Melissa Sugar said...

I agree. Thanks for visiting.

Melissa Sugar said...

I know what you mean. I didn't start out doing it on purpose, but once I realized that I was doing it I started picking books and movies in my genre to dissect so I could learn from them.

Melissa Sugar said...

I don't dissect all of the movies/books I watch/read but I always pick apart the mysteries or any type of crime drama. I guess we examine what we write.

Melissa Sugar said...

Good deconstruction. I find that I don't overtly do it, but it happens anyway. I have been known to shout out, "that's the death moment!" Much to the dismay of my family, haha!


Melissa Sugar said...

Great post.

I don't watch many movies, but becoming a writer has definitely made me tougher on books.

Melissa Sugar said...

Usually I can't switch off the writer in me when I'm watching a movie. My family hates that about me but I think I learn a lot. Very detailed dissection you do here.

Melissa Sugar said...

yes! i may not go as in depth as you do, but i always think wow, how that be written to look as good as it does on film.

Melissa Sugar said...

I actually write TV show recaps and reviews for Yahoo! each week, so I do definitely pick apart TV shows in depth because it's part of my job to do so. Before I became a writer, I always picked apart the acting and emotion, along with the story. I think this is because I was already a writer, but just didn't realize it. I used to write short Star Trek spoof plays for my parents, then force my brother and cousin to act in them. I even had sound effect cues! Later, I took acting classes. So I tend to pick apart everything, but I also enjoy immersing myself in the story. Sometimes I will have a pick-apart viewing, then later an enjoyment-viewing. :)

Melissa Sugar said...

I constantly analyze movies for plot. If it's an action movie with a small group of (mortal) characters, I can predict that this guy will die, this other guy will die saving the others, this guy will live, and the chick will live. It takes an extremely good movie, like The Hunger Games or Ender's Game to keep me from analyzing it.

I normally don't analyze the plots of novels I read. I quickly decide whether I like the writing style or not.

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