Monday, June 14, 2010

Reading outside our genre and learning from our past

I'm reading The Book of Spies by Gayle Lynds (Review to follow on Mostly Fiction). It's an excellent, fast-paced spy thriller. Yes, that's right, boys and girls, not science fiction. But how much you wanna bet the intrigue and suspense in my science fiction will improve from the exposure? Lynds knows how to weave an intricate plot with non-stop action and suspense. My science fiction could use a little of that.

Good science fiction has elements of mystery, suspense, intrigue, history, romance, comedy and yes, maybe even westerns (think Allen Steele's Coyote universe or Firefly). Even the occasional best-seller can expose us to new ways of looking at our world and applying those ideas to our alien or future worlds, especially when the protagonist is out of his or her element or steeped in one that is foreign to most readers.

So, here's your call to action. Run out and buy a book that is not in the genre you write in. Readers can benefit too, from broadening their horizons with a different framework to their fiction.

And also for you readers (and you writers had better be readers), how many out there have actually written to a writer to say how much you enjoyed his or her book? Or posted a review on Amazon? We writers thrive on strokes, and most of us are open to hearing from our fans directly. Some will even give aspiring writers advice or point them in the right direction. I have reached out to writers after reading their book or story on many occasions. The responses I've received have invariably been positive and the feedback appreciated. Very few writers will ignore an email from a fan or hide (behind a publicist) from the fans that make their career possible.

Now a word (eventually) about character development.

I have several reunions this summer. I'm skipping my high school reunion because it's two states away. There is also a family reunion on my Dad's side. It's only cousins left now and it's darn hard to get them all together in spite of the fact that they're mostly in one state (California, folks, not mental). When I was growing up, I was the youngest of all the first cousins and the spoiled one. I've been kicked around a bit since then and I'm not the little brat I used to be.

One of my best friends from high school will be visiting, too. Another reunion. We haven't seen each other since we graduated.

Why am I mentioning all these reunions? It's interesting to measure our progress, ponder the choices we've made and the people we've become. When we see friends or family who haven't seen us for so long, we are reminded of who we used to be and how our goals have changed or how much we've accomplished.

In fiction, we need to know what makes the main characters tick, they're background and how their choices and experiences have shaped who they are and their choices and actions moving forward.

Just as people-watching, and active listening (even to the other people's conversations) can enrich our character's development, so too, can examining the progression of the lives of people we know. If we can't understand the people around us, how can we create believable characters?

vote it up!

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