When my son was little (he’s 15 now), I sometimes performed simple magic tricks for him. It was fun, you know, watching his amazement as a quarter seemed to disappear from my hand or a hat seemed to levitate from the top of my head. He always asked, “How did you do that, Daddy?” When I showed him the secret, he said, “Oh!” He invariably wanted to try the trick himself. Knowing the secret was even more fun than not knowing it. Now, he was the magician.

As a writer, the same holds true for me with regard to reading. Even though I’m aware of what an author is doing, and even though I sometimes analyze the prose, plot, character development, etc., reading has not lost its magic for me. When an author is doing everything right, I can still become entranced and lose myself in the story. I can still experience what John Gardner called The Fictional Dream, even though I know all the tricks. For me, it’s one of the great pleasures of being alive. If reading somehow stopped being fun, I’m not sure I would even want to write anymore.

How about some of you other magicians out there? Is reading fiction still fun? Can you still kick back and be mesmerized by the show, even knowing the craft behind it all?

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Interesting question. There are some writers whose work pulls me in so that I don't even notice the time going by, but others who have enough grasp of the language that they write well, but whose choices in the story bother me so much that I don't go out of my way to read anything else they've written. So I guess you'd say it takes a pretty skilled 'magician' to keep me interested.
I agree with both of the above - the more you learn about writing, the pickier you are about reading. You can always enjoy the good stories, but you can't see past the cracks in the bad ones. After a few years of screenwriting I'd find myself watching some lousy TV movie with my parents and they'd be quite enjoying proceedings and I'd be shaking my head and tutting under my breath.
I agree, Jon, Pepper, and Vincent. The magic has to be first-rate for me to stick with it.
As the others have said. It takes exceptional skill. Sometimes, I have to almost deactivate part of my brain because if the story isn't your type and you're reviewing, you can go on a field day nitpicking. Bumps stand out more if you aren't enjoying it, and it just multiplies, but then you'll overlook some of the same weaknesses in other books because you're enjoying the story.
That's one reason I don't think I could ever be a book reviewer, Sandra. I would have to read some bad stuff sometimes, and then reading would become that four-letter word, work. I prefer to keep it as a pleasure.
I don't blame you. I'll be doing less reviewing in the coming months. Simply running out of time.
I use to review scripts and stories on Triggerstreet and Zoetrope and it was hard work. Not so much the actual reviewing - spotting flaws, making suggestions and praising the good bits helped me develop a critical sense - but trudging through stories that were so badly written they only succeeded in being intensely boring. But I suppose it did make me appreciate that the bad stuff that does get published is still far, far better than the vast majority of unpublished material out there.
Writing fiction definitely changes reading habits. If I didn't write novels, I probably wouldn't read in different genres as well as so many bestsellers.
-- Johnny "double-negative" Ostentatious


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