We Ladies seem to have fallen into a book theme this week (we swear it was unplanned), starting last Friday with Kat’s post about one of her favorite authors, Jilly’s about reader reviews, and Nancy’s post yesterday, where she shared some of her favorite novels.
Today, I’m talking about fiction as reference books.
Naturally, I don’t mean “reference” as in something scholarly that you’d use for your PhD dissertation (although I’m sure you can do that); I’m talking more about using fiction as a reference for what you should — and shouldn’t — do when writing.
I’m rewriting my first scene (again — I think this makes about 5 times now…since March) and it’s important for me to build into the scene some good tension between Nate and Susannah — some good verbal dialogue, witty epithets, calculated moves — but also a demonstration of their mutual attraction. Naturally, I turned to books where I’ve read that sort of “good stuff.” For me, reading the first several chapters (after the prologue) of Loretta Chase’s “Lord of Scoundrels” was perfect. There’s great tension (but attraction!) between Jess and Dain, they’re each of their own mind, there are some great zingers, totally unexpected action/reaction, and the whole thing just moves along at a sprightly pace, completely taking the reader with you.
One thing I have not done (yet) in my book is have multiple POVs per scene, but after reading “LoS” again, and also reading a great book on fiction writing called “The Fire in Fiction” by Donald Maass, I’m starting to think I should change that. It would certainly allow me to avoid all the “thinkin'” that happens at the start of each new scene, as the non-POV character from the previous one processes everything that happened. I’m still cogitating on that (but am happy to hear your opinion on it).
Another author that I’ve been mining lately is Georgette Heyer, mostly for her dialogue and period language. I actually started making a list in the back of my Moleskine of period words and phrases Heyer uses — not that I could necessarily start throwing them into my book without sounding like a plagiarist or copycat, but certain words, like “spinney,” for instance, I could probably get away with (a spinney is a thicket or wooded area, just in case you were unaware as I was). What I love about Heyer is her restraint. Take “Black Sheep.” In that book, Ms. Wendover puts Mr. Miles Calverleigh on the spot quite a bit, because his money-grubbing nephew is courting her niece (for her fortune, of course). Naturally, Ms. Wendover wants Mr. Miles Calverleigh to do something about it, but he does not (at least, that’s what you’re supposed to think). When I expect Miles to jump up and either swear or issue a witty retort to one of Ms. Wendover’s barbs, he never does…instead, he adopts a languid, genteel, laissez-faire attitude. I know this is part of Miles’ character, but Ms. Heyer uses dialogue in the most exceptional ways to pull this off. It’s a treat reading her.
Not so much a treat, but also a good learning experience, are some of the — ahem — less-well-vetted books out there…the freebies and the self-published novels. (Before everyone gets in a lather, I’m not saying that every traditionally published book is exceptional and every self-published book is not; however, the odds are higher that a self-published book will not have gone under the same, er, scrutiny as a traditionally published book.) I’ve read a few self-pubbed books…some were pretty okay and others were downright terrible, but all of them were great for me to learn what NOT to do or what to do better. I actually think that reading bad novels is as important as reading good ones (although I’d qualify that by encouraging you to adopt a 4-to-1 ratio — for every 4 good books, read 1 bad one). Frankly, I’d much rather read someone else’s mistake than make the same one myself.
I’m sure you all have “go-to” books or authors that you read when you need some inspiration, examples, or lessons. Who or what are they? Have you found any benefit from reading poorly written novels?