So, do you know what happens when you’re working a lot of hours, not sleeping enough, and haven’t gotten your flu shot for the year? If you’re me, you get the flu. And fast on the heels of that, you might even get a bonus opportunistic sinus infection. I can power through a lot to get words on the page, but some days, rest and healing have to take precedence. And those can be perfect days to spend time absorbing other people’s writing, through books, blogs, movies, and TV shows.
On the surface, it would appear I haven’t gotten very far in my WIP revision over the past week and a half, but as I snuggled under my blankets and watched all sorts of interesting shows and read books that had been teetering on the top of my TBR pile, my writer’s brain was whirring away after all. Today, with the meds finally kicking in and the fog around my mind receding a bit, I took stock of all my forays into other people’s stories, and here’s what I learned.
From the World of Books
I started a new series, which I discovered through the Magical Words blog where David B. Coe, writing the Thieftaker series as D.B. Jackson, posts regularly. The series is set in the years prior to the American Revolution, an historic time period near and dear to my heart, as my own Taste of Liberty is set in the early years of the Revolutionary War. I have always loved studying the history of that time period, and researching my own book gave me an excuse to immerse myself in it. Reading Jackson’s work allowed me that same sort of indulgence. It also showed me how research into the same time period could be used so differently, and so masterfully. People sometimes talk about the setting of the book being like another character, often when referencing the place of the story. In Thieftaker, the time period is used this way. It turns out that, in addition to being an accomplished fiction writer, Jackson has a PhD in US history. He also consulted with other PhD historians. While I’m not going to get a PhD in history (although it sounds awesome! – yes, I am that nerdy), if I ever write another historical, I’m going to consider finding historians with expertise in my specific time period. And I’m going to revisit Jackson’s series to ponder the things I think he did so well and see what approaches I can steal use for guidance.
Another new-to-me discovery was Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, a ‘near future’ dystopian tale. For me, this was an example of the right way to begin a book with a scene from late in the story. This technique can feel manipulative, giving the writer a way to hook the reader with an exciting passage and then jumping back in time and making her wade through chapters or even most of the book before reconnecting with the opening scene. I am not typically a fan of this approach, but in this case it worked. I don’t know that I will ever open a book this way (never say never, but I’m doubtful), but it did give me food for thought about how to play with a timeline to serve the story without being manipulative.
From the Blogospere
As I wrote last week, in addition to reading 8LW daily, I also read Jenny Crusie’s ArghInk. Recently, Jenny has been dissecting episodes of the TV show Arrow to explore aspects of writing, and has been hitting topics left and right that have me pondering aspects of the revision of my WIP. Last week I wrote about how a line in one of her posts made me realize my first act was antagonist-anemic. This week, a post about the community in the TV show Leverage has me thinking about ways to distinguish my three protagonists, all of whom show up in the first scene, more distinctly. One of the things Jenny discusses is using arguments among characters to highlight their differences. I have done that instinctively with my three girls – they love each other, but man, can they ever drive each other nuts! I need to make sure each disagreement among them allows me to specifically bring out characteristics in each of them (and I also need to make sure I’m not too heavy-handed with this arguments = character differences approach),
From TV (even though I consider cancelling the expensive cable subscription every other day)
All right, this is where it gets weird, but bear with me. One of my guilty pleasures these days is a cable channel called ID, which stands for Investigation Discovery. In our house, we affectionately refer to it as the Murder Channel. Most of the shows are real-life crime stories from well-known shows Dateline to lesser-known gems like Southern Fried Homicide and Who the Bleep Did I Marry. But when I watch a show on this channel, it’s really not for the sensationalistic titles. For my WIP, I’ve watched a handful of stories about stalkers to see how they behave and how they escalate based on the reactions of their victims (like what kinds of things can happen after a woman files a restraining order against an ex). This information is applicable to my main protagonist’s story in the WIP.
The other types of shows I’ve been watching recently are mystery shows. Any kind of mystery shows, from PBS marathons of Miss Marple and Midsomer Murders (no alliteration intended) to reruns of Murder, She Wrote (and yes, they are as corny as you remember, if you are old enough to have watched them in the 80’s). But all of these stories have what I’m seeking, which is their own formula for building a mystery plot. I have been very scholarly in my approach, even using a copy of this guest blog post from Susan Spann on Chuck Wendig’s blog to look for which universal elements of mysteries the writers use in their stories. I’ve also been paying attention to beats and pacing, and now know, in multiple series, when to expect certain ‘surprises’ to be revealed. All this is fodder for a future story simmering in my back brain, the story that just might be my first foray into mystery writing.
I hope this post finds all of you in good health and working away at your own creative projects! Are you also taking time to refill your creative well with other people’s stories? What kinds of scholarly knowledge or guilty pleasures have you been pursuing this past week?