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If you tell stories, it’s pretty much a given that you often consume stories, too. Whatever your favourite medium may be – movies, shows, books, audio dramas, etc. – I’m sure that the stories you take in greatly influence the stories you put out. If you’re anything like me, you’re constantly analysing stories, breaking them down into smaller parts to see what makes them tick.
But is there a time when analysing becomes too much? Can we be overly critical of the media we’re viewing?
This is a very fine line, and one which I’ve been guilty of crossing. I do think that there is a thing as analysing too much – a time when it’s actually good to just rest and enjoy. I know people who can’t fully enjoy any kind of media because there’s always something wrong with it. And they’re right! I like to say that the only perfect story is the God-authored story of creation – that is to say, any story, no matter how great it is, will never be completely without reproach. But that shouldn’t stop us from enjoying stories.
So, where is this fine line? I think it’s different for everyone. For example, I’ve learned to mostly turn off my analysing/critical brain the first time I experience a story (unless it’s really bad, then I just can’t help it). Afterwards, I’ll go back and think about it in terms of storytelling. Most things are made to be most enjoyable the first time you experience them – so why not enjoy them the best you can? This also helps you not to become biased too quickly. For example, if you’re watching a movie and adding up all of the bad dialogue, you may completely miss the amazing character development that’s happening too. Therefore, you may come away with the impression that the story was awful, when actually, it had some really great elements, even though the dialogue could have used more work.
Why is this so important, though?
Of course, we have imaginations that come up with ideas that are created from our experiences – but those experiences include other people’s ideas that we shape to our own imagination. You never know when an element from a story will strike you a certain way, and you’ll take it in a totally different direction with your own story.
To illustrate: I just finished reading Howl’s Moving Castle for the first time. The movie is lovely, of course, but there’s just something beautiful about Howl and Sophie’s interactions in the book because they go so quickly from hating each other’s guts to suddenly realising they’re in love. It’s like an accidental love story, and the way Diana Wynne Jones didn’t write the book at all like a romance makes it so unique. The overall feeling from that book is currently marinating in my brain, and I know the feeling well – soon enough, it will turn into my own story idea.
So, writers, go search for those good stories. Take notes – either literally or mentally – on what works and what doesn’t. But also, remember to enjoy stories, because remember what they’re called? Yep, entertainment!
Don’t be afraid of being purely entertained. Of course, the best stories challenge us and make us think – but you have to let them, first.
Let’s remember what it’s like to enjoy stories. Analysing has its place, but it also needs its time to rest. And so do you!
– E. J.
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