Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Lies, all of it, lies!

People are always saying "If you want to write, you have to read a lot." This comment usually is followed by "If you don't read a lot, then you can't be a writer." Augh.

I hate statements like these.

But are they true? Is it a requirement of being a writer that you have to read a lot, all the time and never stop and do no more? Well, let me assure you, that the answer to that question is an resounding and undeniable... Kind of. I suppose. Sorta. Well it depends.

As you've probably come to expect if you've been paying attention since... Well, since you started to have a conscious stream of thought, things are very rarely universally true or solely on one side of an issue. You've all head this before: The world is not black and white but many shades of grey. Well that's true and the more you scrutinize that statement, the more you will see that its truth applies even to itself. Think about it... Later. We're on this topic now.

So let's assume you're a writer, and I just naturally assume you are because half of everybody I ever meet is a "writer" of some sort. What are you trying to write? Probably a novel. Everybody wants to write novels. It's the go-to form of writing for writers the world over. Well, I suggest you learn from the best and read novels. But not just any novel will do, I'm afraid. After all, what is there to be learned from bad writing? Well I guess one lesson to take from bad writing is "DON'T DO IT!" and that can be a valuable lesson. But this is tricky because good and bad are subjective. So let me clarify just what I mean by good and bad: 

The lessons that you will best learn from reading novels, as an aspiring novelist, will come from reading the kinds of novels that you want to write. If you want to write in first person, read books that are written in first person. Should you sights be set on writing period romance, then read period romance. If you want to write children's humour novelettes then that is what you should read. BUT it gets MORE specific than that. Everybody writes a certain way and you will find that other people write in a way strikingly similar to how you write. Find who it's working well for and read that. Be very discerning in what you read and what lessons you take. So good books, for you as a writer, are helpful books and the most helpful books are good books.

(Also, note, that there are some things you just shouldn't do as a writer. A lot of these you will learn for yourself the more you write second drafts. Other writing mistakes generally accepted to be bad are TYPING DIALOGUE IN ALL CAPS using... ellipses... Too often and having too many exclamation points at the end of your sentence!!!!!! Also, really, using the word really (I mean really!!!!!) too much is really bad. And ending a sentence with the phrase "Or something like that" is a no no.)

But what if you don't want to write novels? Should you still read novels? Well, you probably think you know the answer to that and the answer is yes.


Blew your mind, right? Watch me do it again.

People who want to write novels should watch a lot of movies.


Now you don't know what the angle is, do you? You see, this is where I take the biggest issue with this lie (Half lie) about writing. There's this subtext of the novel as being the last bastion of high art in fiction and good writing can only be learned from written literature. The truth is, fiction is fiction is fiction is fiction. If you want to learn, then there are a lot of places to learn. Whether or not you're writing screen plays, stage shows, comic books, novels, basically anything that forms a narrative, then you can learn a lot from how people form narratives across a whole range of mediums. The people who wrote Magnum Force know their fair share of telling a story, building characters, creating drama and EVERYTHING that you need to know as a writer. The best thing is, they put it all there on the screen for you to review and learn from. You'll learn a whole lot more from Magnum Force if you want to write for cinema and even more if you want to write crime drama and action films, but regardless, there's still a lesson to great deal for you to learn from watching a movie. If you want to learn then you WILL learn. Even if you're not writing for cinema, not writing action and not writing crime drama you should still watch Magnum Force because other than being a good movie, it's an excellent example of how you build tension by raising the stakes. That's important just about every kind of fiction. So you see there's a lot to learn from watching films.

Or going to the theatre. Or reading a comic book. Or even (yes I'm serious) playing a video game. If somebody is telling you a story, then it is in your best interest to listen and learn from them.

On the path that you are carving to become the writer you want to be, it is in your best interest to explore, open doors and study everything available to you. Different forms of story telling will teach you different lessons that you need to know and the more that you absorb, the more you are going to learn. The key is to do everything thoughtfully and to actually stop and consider what is in front of you. So read lots of books, watch lots of movies, enjoy a whole range of fiction and media and learn from it. This is the choice you made when you sat down and said "I am going to be a writer." The rest of your life is one big text analysis assignment and it's due in with every book you write. So you'd better hope you pass.

As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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