Being an author is like being in charge of your own personal insane asylum.

- Graycie Harmon

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Answer to Everything

... is reading.

I'm not being funny. Had a bad day? Stressed out of your mind? Read to relax. Don't want to deal with stuff? Read to escape. Nothing to do and bored? Read. Thunderstorm? Read. Can't sleep? Read.

Writers' Block? Read, read, read, read!

This last is very important. The psychology behind this simple fact eludes me, but it always seems that when my writing falters, when nothing I type out fits, or is right, or even makes sense, if I can't seem to get my imagination to pick up it's share of the work, I pick up a book, a really, really good book, and all of a sudden, my imagination explodes. This is especially the case if the writer(s) I'm reading have original stuff (thank-you again Steven Erikson for your T'lan Imass and your Jaghut).

Let's face it, too many fantasy novels out there are about Orcs and Elves. There are WAY too many dragon tales, and very few of them are any good at all (Melanie Rawn is one exception). If your influences on fantasy are just those afore mentioned things, then the pool from which your imagination creates new shapes is very limited indeed. There is only so much you can pull from it.

That goes for reading outside your genre too. If you write fantasy, you'd probably help yourself more if you picked up the occasional crime novel, or horror, or even fluffy chick-lit. You'd do yourself even more of a favour if you read some serious academic stuff.

For example, I have two shelves dedicated completely to the field of Celtic Studies. I have one shelf exclusively for Anthropology and Archaeology, and yet another one for academic treatises on folklore and myth. These are perhaps the most important books for my imagination. Instead of reading secondary source, I go right to the primary source. For example, if you want to learn what Cicero said, you'd do better to read Cicero rather that rely on some first year uni student's paper about what he said.

Every myth has something to contribute to my imagination. Every shred of folklore adds to the pool from where my characters come. Every single ethnology provides a detailed analysis for a completely new race.

I shall simply finish up by quoting Cicero:
"A home without books is a body without soul."

Oh, and I've won something... again (please understand my excitement... I never win anything... well, normally anyway)! I'm soooo happy. I've won another book. This time from a give-away (first reads). The title is Servant of a Dark God. I can't wait to get it and read it. I promise I will post a review of it as soon as I've finished with it. Lordy, I'm happy!

Oh, and before I forget -


Good day, everyone!


Anonymous said...

happy birthday, S's Dad!

my nose is healing, black eyes gone, how is your toe?
Catherine in Kingston

S. M. Carrière said...

I'll let him know you said so! What happened to your nose?

My toe is good. Still swollen, but the bruising is all gone and I can walk fairly normally now. Still have to do push-ups on my knees at training though. Tried doing it the regular way and my toe protested so much my whole body spasmed and I collapsed.... but I can walk now, and that makes me happy!

Anonymous said...

this is a more useful comment: last year I was researching a painting by Pieter Lastman (Rembrandt's teacher) the Wedding Night of Tobias and Sarah, 1611. I came across a book entitled The Types of the Folktale: a classification and bibliography, by Antti Amatus Aarne, publ. 1961. Apparently, all world folktales conform to certain repeated themes (deeper archetypes?). The theme in the painting was: "the monster in the bridal chamber". You might find this book fun to look at...
Catherine in Kingston

Anonymous said...

my nose? I tripped going to the library (no joke - libraries can be dangerous) and fell on my face Oct. 1, went to emerg, spent 2 weeks at home sleeping a lot. Broke glasses, damaged a tooth, 2 black eyes and of course the nose was broken.

I can't even do 1 pushup, so you are in great shape!!!
C in K

S. M. Carrière said...

Fun to look at? That sounds like something I would buy! Thanks for the tip!

whqttt said...

Reading is, as you say, vital.

There is a very strange viewpoint common in the television and film industry that reading someone else's work somehow guarantees that they'll claim their work ws plagiarised, which is why you end up with small teams of writers who tend to either burn themselves out, or fail to see that they are reusing the same tired ideas endlessly.

This can, of course, explain certain very successful TV writers/showrunners careers.

I have an enormous amount of time for tvtropes.

Every idea you, me, or anyone else is likely to have is quite probably already their, documented. Is it something to fear? Perhaps yes, perhaps not. I'd hate to be 30,000 words into a book and discover that I'd inadvertently rewritten the silmarillion, but equally it's not entirely bad idea to see similar concepts and then be able to validate how well they've been used previously.

The most important thing a writer does though, is write.

So, this might be of interest...

S. M. Carrière said...

Thanks for the site, Whqttt. I'll be sure to check it out!

It's true about the ideas... but I'll be a dreamer and like to think that there are some stories that are yet to be told at all, let alone told in 4 ooo different ways....

Anonymous said...

I have also enjoyed surfing the tv tropes site! there IS nothing new under the sun. Also I learned some useful jargon there, like "shippers" (viewers who crave the development of romantic relationships between characters)... or "UST" (unresolved sexual tension - between characters). I had been reading up on kissing tropes for Valentines.

Last night V aired. I've been recalling my reactions to the original series of 1983, so I watched some of it on Youtube and had to laugh - to think that show once scared me. TV and film audiences become more sophisticated over time, so ideas are recycled and re-contemporized, with updated special effects, music and filming techniques.

I'll throw this question out to anyone: do you think the same thing happens with fiction writing? (not for TV)

Catherine in Kingston

S. M. Carrière said...

Good question!

I remember V, and I loved it! I still love it, though I do keep in mind that it was the 80's and so don't expect much of the graphics etc.

Would fiction be labelled as crap as newer versions of the same story are recycled?

My first instinct is to answer "no."

After all,the imagination does not rely on technology to project realism.

Take the longevity of Tolkien, for example.

I am also a sentimental person, and so I attach sentimental value to books I've read in the past and adored. It is therefore difficult for me to look at the books objectively as the remember pleasure infuses the re-reads.

Some books are just always rubbish, of course.

Then we must take into account personal preferences. For example, I adore the Xanth series by Piers Anthony. Others hated it. Not their preferred genre, not their preferred style, nonsensical elements (which I found hysterical) and so forth.

Bad graphics are bad graphics to everyone's eyes, but good writing, well, that's more subjective.

Anonymous said...

I wasn't exactly thinking that redoing a story made it crap... I guess I wasn't clear. It seems that lots of ideas or situations get used over and over in stories yet we never get tired of reading/viewing them in new, updated guises. I think the fact that there is a or a book categorizing world folktale types demonstrates that we use the same ideas over and over in renewed forms or different cultures.
I was thinking more of fiction writers having to come up with something original in the face of this.
C in K

S. M. Carrière said...


In that case, the answer would be a huge resounding yes. I don't think that there is a way for people to come up with totally original ideas. Even if they think there are 1) someone has already done it or 2) it already exists in folklore somewhere in the world.

The Great Man series, for example. When I wrote my character Julian and I fleshed him out in my mind, I thought I was being amazingly original with this one. Then, I picked up a copy of "Spirits, Faeries, Leprechauns and Goblins" by Carol Rose (an encyclopedia) and I found my character, almost exactly as I had imagined him... right down to his final resting place being a tomb in the mountains somewhere. He belonged to the folkloric corpus of the Cheremi/Mari people of eastern Europe. D'Oh! The more I read, the more I realised that there were hundreds of thousands of "Julians" out there, all in different guises (though, the short description of this particular "Julian" was the closest to my character). I titled my work after that entry in the encyclopedia (Its translation, actually).

Other authors, like Steven Erikson, who I will praise until my dying breath I think, use ideas that are new to the fantasy genre, but are clearly gotten from academic fields. Erikson is a Prehistoric Anthropologist and Archaeologist. His T'lan Imass are so like Homo Neanderthalensis, it is remarkable. I admire this very much, since I am also deeply interested in that field, and anyone who is not would find this race very original.... yet it already exists. I'm sure he's not the only one to base a race off Neanderthal either.

I'm not sure I'm making much sense... I've only just woken up! What does everyone else think?