Friday, November 4, 2011

Let Books Be Your Guide
(2011 NaNoWriMo)

"Writing a book is very much like going on a long trip abroad...Writers who have gone before travel with you; all you have to do is welcome them along. Let books be your guides. Choose wisely. And, mostly important, limit yourself to exactly six books per writing project. Three books on craft. And three books exactly like the one you wish to write."

Heather Sellers ~ Chapter after Chapter (Ch. 16)

This post is basically a follow-up to the previous one (Snacks for the Road) where I recommended having a book along for the journey. I read Heather Sellers's book over two years ago, before I participated in the 2009 NaNoWriMo event. So as you can see, this is not a new idea, and it certainly isn't one I came up with. Still, it is one that I believe is an essential tool for writing a novel, or even for writing a short story.

On more than one occasion while visiting the Writer's Digest Forums (a public network for writers at any stage of their work) I have come across the following statement: Find writers you like and try to imitate what they do; it's what every writer does. And while to some that may appear to be debasing the value of what we do--imitation and not art--I disagree. And with good reason...

"You can't plagiarize a method of opening a chapter. You can't really steal a technique--the technique belongs to all of us. If you love the way one of your [favorite authors] does dialogue, use her pattern and cadences and beats in your own dialogue. It's not cheating. It's how all writers work."

Heather Sellers ~ Chapter after Chapter (Ch. 16)

The truth is that writers don't learn in a vacuum. They learn by reading and by writing, and the writing is usually influenced by the reading. You want to learn how to handle good dialogue? Read Elmore Leonard. You want to learn how to develop great suspense? Read Dean Koontz. You want to learn how to write mysteries with plenty of twists and turns that keep your readers guessing? Jeffery Deaver is a great teacher. In my opinion, he is one of the best.

Keep in mind, however, that not everything you learn in reading is necessarily good. You want to learn how to bore your readers by demonstrating your ability to spit out an almost endless supply of worthless details instead of moving the story along? Read The Last of the Mohicans. You might even learn how to teach your readers to skip whole pages at a time. I'm not recommending it, but if that's your goal...

In preparing for this year's NaNoWriMo, I picked out a selection of Young Adult books, since my primary characters are young teenagers. The book selected were as follows: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins; the Harry Potter books, one through four, by J.K. Rowling (five through seven are still waiting on the shelf); The Body by Stephen King, I Am Number Four by Pitticus Lore; and finally The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, also by Stephen King. For my part, I wanted to see how other writers handled young kids as characters--their mannerisms, their dialogue, and such--so that I could start to do the same in my own writing. I think I've learned plenty to help me. And the good news is that I have each of these books within reach while I'm working on my NaNoWriMo project this year.

An interesting change of plans this year, though: What I thought would be a YA novel has turned into a supernatural thriller. I told someone the other day I thought it would be a horror novel, and there may not be much difference when all is finished, but I think supernatural thriller more accurately describes what I have in progress. As such, all those YA novels I read, while still useful for characterization of children, may fall short on the suspense angle; however, I have plenty of other books to lean on when the time is right.

Until next time...

1 comment:

  1. Good post, I liked that you said early on in the post "The truth is that writers don't learn in a vacuum. They learn by reading and by writing, and the writing is usually influenced by the reading"

    This is true, because from good writers you learn how the craft should be and from not so good writers you learn how not to write, the not so good ones, help you open your critique eye and that's when you see what you have managed to learn.

    Your Nano project sounds interesting - good luck keep up the good work! ^__^