The Story Editor Inside Me
I find that this is true in my case. I read less fiction now than I once did, because when I pick up a brand new novel, with a cover blurb saying something like (for example) "Best fantasy novel of the year!", and I find it's more or less the same novel that I read in 1973 except with 200 additional totally unnecessary pages, it makes me less inclined to read not only that novel, but any novel.
The fact is that I have it worse than almost all of you, because of the Story Editor Inside Me.
After thirty years of writing professionally, and doing professional critiques, and reading critically and with an eye toward technique and story values, I've got an internal story editor that just won't shut up.
I can't read bad fiction because it's, well, bad. And I can't read mediocre fiction because the Story Editor Inside Me is always editing, rewriting, adding scenes, rearranging scenes, replotting, adding character moments, deleting scenes, and otherwise trying to make the story better . . . which of course I can't really do, because the damn thing's already in print.
It takes a really good piece of fiction to stun the internal story editor and let me read simply for pleasure.
And sometimes even if it's really good, the Story Editor Inside Me keeps yammering away, and spoils it for me.
A case in point was tonight's Netflix movie, Stranger Than Fiction, in which Will Farrell plays an IRS accountant who comes to realize that he is in fact a fictional character, created by a brilliant if comically tormented Emma Thompson, an author who fully intends to kill him off at the end of the book. It becomes apparent that the book is in fact the author's masterpiece, and so it becomes Will Farrell's duty to give his death artistic meaning by dying just as Miss Thompson intends. (I mean, he's going to die sooner or later, right? So why not die in the way that provides satisfaction to the most people?)
It's quite a good movie. The cast is packed with heavy hitters--- Thompson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, Queen Latifah, Linda Hunt--- and the writing by Zach Helm is very fine.
But the Story Editor Inside Me wouldn't shut up. It wouldn't cease pointing out that Miss Thompson's novel was not in fact a masterpiece, but a total crock of shit.
Will Farrell's accountant had no life. He worked, he came home, he dined alone, he went to sleep. He counted the number of brush strokes as he cleaned his teeth, he counted the number of steps from his apartment to the bus stop. He had no girlfriend, no hobbies, and no friends outside of work.
Do you know what we call these people in real life?
We call them crazy.
We call them nuts.
We call them out of their freaking minds.
You could get a moving tragedy out of this character, but only by recognizing that the story is about the tragedy of autism or insanity or some other mental disorder.
But that's not what we got. The character's life was this empty for fictional reasons, because he had to come out of this living death and find love and a real life in time to be run over by a bus, so there could be irony.
I mean, this story sucks. I kept thinking that Emma Thompson wasn't having writer's block because she couldn't find the right tragic ending, she was having writer's block because she knew she was writing a really bad, untrue story and should dump the whole manuscript in the incinerator and start over.
Real people, even if they're IRS accountants, have real lives. Even if they're geeks. I know lots of real-life geeks, and they all have real-life hobbies. Trainspotting. Birdwatching. Playing SCA. Playing harpsichord in a chamber ensemble. Science fiction fandom. Traveling to towns in Southern California in alphabetical order, via routes that cross into no towns they've already visited, and then having lunch. I mean, their lives are full, get it?
So this is what the Story Editor Inside Me kept yelling as I was watching this perfectly fine movie.
(The Story Editor also pointed out that Emma Thompson could have had her tragic ending, and still saved Will Farrell's life, simply by changing the character's name before she wrote the last chapter.
(Okay, so maybe it wouldn't have worked, but it would have worked in my universe, and anyway it was still worth a try.
(Okay, so this is my geek thing, all right?)
So if you read as a fan--- if you can pick up a random book and read it for pure pleasure--- then count your lucky stars.
Because I can't. Or hardly ever, anyway.