Sunday, March 3, 2013

Background Architecture

I know I don’t normally talk about movies on this blog but a scene from this movie got me thinking about the way I view books.  The movie is Inception with Leonardo DiCaprio.  The scene is when Cobb (DiCaprio) is teaching Ariaden (Ellen Page) about being an architect in the mind.  He shows her how to build amazing scenes and she then takes them and twists them to do all sorts of impossible, mind bending scenarios.  

So how does this have anything to do with my reading of books?  Well, I realized something.  I have the extraordinary capacity to build any scene described in a book right there in my mind… and yet I don’t.  I’ve often wondered why I tend to get books confused.  I have the pictures of what happened still in my head and yet, when I look back later I often confuse one book with another.  Why is that? 
The light bulb went off, as they say, the other day.  I was remembering a scene from a book and trying to piece it together with the rest of the story, and once again having trouble, when suddenly I got it.  See I have elaborately constructed several “play sets”, as you might say, in my head… but I tend to use them over and over (like a cheap high school drama department).  Different story, same background.  I have a couple of “high schools,” several “family houses,” an “apartment” or two, and some generic “city streets” that I tend to use as the backgrounds to all the fantastic stories I read about. 

What’s funny about them all, is that they have absolutely no relation to anything I can remember ever seeing in real life.  Yet to me they are as real as any I might have walked the halls of myself.  Nor do the stories often have anything to do with each other.  But in my mind I have trouble differentiating them because I spent all this time constructing the “set” only to put it as the background to many different stories. 

I think the most difficult for me is the “high school cafeteria.”  So many bits of stories take place in the cafeteria of whatever high school the story it set in.  My own high school had no cafeteria and so I have constructed a very generic idea of what a high school cafeteria “should” look like in my head (never mind that I have seen tons of movies with high school cafeterias in them… and never the same one twice).  To me all high school cafeterias look the same and so I really have a hard time with scenes there.  I really have to think about the characters to make the rest of the story come back to mind.

So the real question I have to ask myself is: why?  I know I have a good imagination, so why don’t I use it to architect new backgrounds for the stories I read? I think that what it boils down to is this: no matter how well a book is crafted, I tend to focus on the characters and their emotions instead of the background details.

Besides, there are SO many good stories that I DO have to create new backgrounds for:  the warehouse in Stained, the old world charm of Pride and Prejudice, and entirely new worlds for stories like The Guardians of Vesturon and The Crystor Series.  And then of course, my favorite high school no one could ever confuse with any other, Hogwarts!

1 comment:

  1. It could be argued that this is not YOUR fault, but undescriptive writers. OR, and this just occurred to me and is probably my own reason for the same problem you have: I tend to skim descriptive paragraphs. "Oh, the old cafeteria scene. I don't need to spend time reading this author's set-up. I'll just use my old cardboard scene I've already got."