Saturday, March 27, 2010

Read What You Write...?

I'm casually taking part in the Read 100 Books in a Year Challenge and will be setting up a static page soon to show what I'm reading. What I'd like to do is have it set up so there is a mini review (no more than a paragraph) and a book rating with every book. And I'm also going to be including the beloved re-reads I've done this year so far.

I'll work on this tomorrow - probably.

The standard advice to new or questioning writers = READ, READ, READ, and then Write. There is no better way to learn how to craft a smooth plot, develop strong characters, and so forth. Yep, you can develop ideas from watching movies or TV shows, but that isn't going to help you learn how to describe and pace things so it reads smoothly.

After I read three books over the last two days, I considered another angle to that rule - which likely has been addressed by zillions of people who are in the know, but it is worth repeating.

When you go to the library or bookstore to grab some brain-fillers, you might want to look for books that are similar to what you write or what you WANT to write. Be selective.

Like - if you are writing YA, figure out ahead of time what kind of book you want to write, and then look for books of the same type. If you are writing a Meg Cabot type book, you probably do not want to be taking out all of the Harry Potter books. And the opposite is true.

The other thing is you need to read current books. If you are writing youth fantasy, you probably shouldn't be fixating on Tolkien and Lloyd Alexander. You need to be reading something fresh. Keep an eye on books that are currently coming out or due out this year and aim to get those on your reading lists.

This topic came to mind this afternoon as I finished reading a book. I paid a visit to the library mid last week and took out seven books. As of tonight, three of seven are read and they couldn't be more different.

In my writing, I'm aiming for something that would be more cross genre - like Urban Fantasy (but minus the city setting and monster fighting). I want to write strong teen characters and I want solid fantasy elements too.

So when I grabbed books at the library I was aiming for books by people like Meg Cabot or Michele Jaffe, or I was picking up random fantasy and paranormal novels that caught my eye.

Of the three books I read so far...

The Third Eye (Lois Duncan)
Enchanting Season (Marissa Doyle)
Jinx (Meg Cabot)

Jinx was very much helpful (and not just because I heart Meg Cabot). It had the today type characters with real life issues that they were dealing with, and then it had the fantasy elements (witches, spells, magic).

The Third Eye - somewhat helpful. It cast a fuzzy doubt on the plot for BSW, in that I unconsciously had something similar (Wesley and her guide find lost children who are in trouble). I'm going to change my plot in the next round of edits, so I do not look like a copycat. I know exactly how to do this too, so yay. Only downside about this book was how dated it was. The mother/daughter relationship, post-graduation expectations, and the relationship between the protagonist and the police officer left me feeling a little squeamy. The dialogue was awkward in spots too, especially with the police officer.

Enchanting Season - Urgh. Told me exactly what NOT to do while I'm writing BSW. *laughs* Which I knew ahead of time because it was a Victorian setting and I broke my own rule about only reading books that are similar in focus and setting to what I'm writing*. <- Still, the book really didn't work for me. I somewhat felt that it was written for a younger audience than what I'm used to reading. I couldn't believe the characters were old enough to be going to their first Season. It's like a regency romance for children + magic. :O

*And I'm sure this isn't a BAD thing.

If you aren't hunkering down and trying to focus on writing something that is NOW and would sell in X or Y genre, there is no reason why you shouldn't read widely. Especially if you are trying to figure out what genre you are going to write, or if you are just looking for different writing styles while you figure out your own or where you fit.

The other thing is that if your main weakness is developing characters, adequate descriptions, moving the pace, creating deeper plots - sometimes reading something in a completely different genre will help you figure out how to get stronger in those areas.

I could be off the wall in saying this, but I've noticed that certain genres have their own specific strengths that make them unique. Maybe there is the odd duckling here or there, but the following genres could be relied on this way:

YA - How to tighten up and keep a fast pace (look over and see how much an author accomplishes in every short chapter)

Fantasy - How to slow down and expand a plot and improve descriptions (read the wealth of words that most fantasy authors wield - the Hilari Bells and Maria Snyders, not so much Tolkien who went OTT)

Thrillers - How to deepen your plot and add twists and turns (Uhm, take a look at books by guys like Michael Crichton and Dean Koontz).

Romance - How to develop strong characters and situations that your reader will be INTERESTED in.

WRITING UPDATE

This... unfortunately... is the side effect to catching up on my reading. I haven't written a single word since last weekend. I've either been busy with work or real life, or I've been slouching in a random corner* reading.

* This is an embarrassing admission, but when I was a munchkin, I'd take the latest book with me and crawl behind our living room couch to read to my heart's content. That way I could guarantee that nobody would bug me and I wouldn't have any distractions. <- I still do this sometimes.

CURRENT PROBLEMS IN WIP

1. Making sure that the school environment and scheduling is believable. <- It's been a few years since school and I've FORGOTTEN a lot. :O

2. Character voices - I need to make sure that my five year old character sounds like she's five.

3. As mentioned above, I have to change the 'finding children' side plot. It is not going to be pleasant (gutting a few chapters... again).


- - - Tomorrow is going to be a good day for writing, I'm convinced of it. Goodnight world. :)

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