Writer's Exercise: Watch a movie

A de rigeur part of most sociology classes – at least in this region – is to assign The Shawshank Redemption for analysis. I’d forgotten how good of a movie it is (especially good when dealing with insomnia). It’s obvious, upon rewatching, why it is assigned. You have anomie, you have functionalism (of Parson’s variety), you have conflict theory and deviance and all sorts of good stuff.

But it’s an even better exercise as a writer.

For the last two years, I’ve heard Jean Rabe advise wanna-be writers (like myself) that we should analyze the fiction read. Not only should we read for enjoyment, but we should be able to dissect what works and what doesn’t – and why. This has been extremely difficult for me to do. Perhaps it is the way I read, the words flashing by in a blur. I don’t know.

As I watched The Shawshank Redemption, I found myself making notes not only of the sociological content, but from a writer’s point of view as well. Notes about foreshadowing, environment, the way characters dressed and held themselves – all of the aspects of storytelling that I was unable to dissect well from texts.

The Shawshank Redemption is especially good for this exercise simply because it is good – but I’m sure the process can be applied to any movie, though I’d definitely recommend choosing one you haven’t seen before. Get the DVD, pause and make notes as needed. (Best done without a significant other around!)

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