Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Surrounded with Interesting Stories

Are you surrounded with fascinating stories from your family or friends? Or maybe the stories come from the magazines and books that you read? Reading or taking in the information is a key part of your own development and growth as a writer.

As an example of what I'm talking about I encourage you to read Jill Lepore's article in the October 20th issue of The New Yorker called Bound for Glory, Writing campaign lives. I love the vivid way Lepore captured some of the essence of historical presidential campaigns. It is the detail of the storytelling that captures the attention in this article and makes it flow and move in my view. The effort takes practice and may appear easy but takes a conscious effort on the part of the writer.

The beginnings of storytelling start with taking in good stories or reading. As an agent or an editor, I'm always surprised when I ask a writer a few questions about what type of material they read--and learn it is the opposite of what they want to write and publish. When I find these situations, the writer has thrown themselves into a complete disconnect. If you want to write romance (the largest genre of fiction), then you need to be reading romance. If you are a thriller writer, make sure you are reading thrillers. If you want to write American history, then spend time reading American history.

The experience will build something intangible yet important into your writing life. When people learn about my own writing, they are surprised at the number of biographies and co-authored books that I've written for others. It stems back in my mind to those days as a young reader curled up on a couch listening to the rainfall outside the window. I was reading another biography on a historical figure. I loved those books and continue to read a good biography from time to time. Those reading experiences have fed into my own adult writing. It will be true for your writing as well.

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7 Comment:

At 12:04 PM, Blogger squiresj Left a note...

I loved reading historical biographies growing up.

At 12:27 PM, Blogger Marilyn Left a note...

How true this is, Terry! I recently read Bliss Broyard's "One Drop" and took more than just a good story away from it. Observing the choices she made in describing various encounters with people, so that the impression left behind for the reader was the one she meant to convey, has helped in my current work.

The writer, as artist and sculptor, has a lot of choices to make - what stays in and what gets cut. Studying what works in the writing of others is so helpful.

Keep blogging!
Now that I've added "The Writing Life" to the list of blogs I "follow" on Blogger, I don't miss as many posts!

At 2:55 PM, Blogger Philangelus Left a note...

This phenomenon is most pronounced in SFF stories. I can't tell you how many workshops I've attended where someone beams with pride over a deeply lousy SFF story.

In critiquing it, I'll mention how some aspect was handled differently by another, fairly popular SFF writer.

"Oh," the person replies, "I don't *read* SFF. It's all terrible. I want to show them how it should really be done."

To quote one of my writing profs, "Why should I care that you took a bunch of cliches and stuck them on Mars?" It's painful to behold.

At 3:03 PM, Blogger Terry Whalin Left a note...


I assume that SFF stands for "Science Fiction Fantasy" which are two basic genres (Science Fiction and Fantasy) that I rarely read and know almost nothing about--even though I know there are readers who are wild about each genre and read nothing else.

If you are going to comment here, please make sure you do it clearly and not in some sort of secret code. OK?



At 5:28 PM, Blogger Crystal Laine Miller Left a note...

I love reading fiction, though I read quite a bit of nonfiction, too, as a reviewer and for my own interest.

However, one of my dilemmas in writing is that I love several genres and read tons of each of my favorite genres. Which to really settle into? I think I know now from reading many.

But it is so true that you MUST be reading in your genre. Read the good and the bad, so that you know the difference. Also, writers need to know who is publishing what.

I love stories and the storytellers, too. Loved this post.

At 8:38 AM, Blogger Avily Jerome Left a note...

Thanks for this post! That's a good reminder. I love reading. Period. As long as there's a good story or something useful I can take away from it, I'll read it, regardless of the genre. Some of my biggest writing idols are from completely different genres, but in their own way they have taught me mountains about writing. But, I do tend to have some favorites to read, and that is usually what I end up writing, as well.

At 8:53 PM, Blogger Sheila Hall Left a note...

Terry, I am probably the least well read of all your subscribers. As an adolescent, I was an avid reader. Louisa Alcott is the first author whose work really spoke to me. I read each of her books. In fact, I attribute my love of writing to re-writing the last quarter of “Little Women.” I was mortified that Jo and Laurie didn’t ultimately "hook up" ... so I rewrote the ending, using my version.

As a young adult, I deliberately stopped reading other writers. I didn’t want my “Voice” influenced (or contaminated) by other writers, particularly those whose work I respected. Had I pursued journalism or any of the writing professions, I would have learned that writers should be widely read ... for all the reasons you outline in “Surrounded with Interesting Stories.” Thank you for nudging me to expand my reading horizon ... even more.


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