Thursday, July 29, 2010

PROCESS: Reading while Writing

Why do I read so many books when in reality, I want to write them? The fact is that on more than one occasion I have run across a book that reflects the same theme/mood/conflict that I keep tucked away in my notebooks. It’s the old “I’ve bought a distinctively new car” effect. When you are confident that it’s unique, you go to pick it up from the shop. On the drive home, you notice that it looks like everyone else’s that passes you by. Same with stories. (My husband swears that he wrote a short story that was used as the base of “Gross Point Blank”.) Why do I log on to and search for MY story, MY book?

Reason #1: Know thy competition.

If I’m writing a middle grade fiction set in the depression, I search the competition. Are they successful with what they have written? If so, why? If not, what are they missing? Is it the genre? Is it the age? Maybe a topic is really hot, and I’m sitting on a story that I should bring out. What is going on in the market? I check out the displays at the book stores. I look at the websites of the authors. The literary world is changing and I need to know how to keep up.

Reason #2: Research, research, research.

Sometimes I need to know a nagging detail about a setting or an archetype. Reading up on the subject always helps. For instance, right now, YA is brave and often edgy. Call me curious. What are the ingredients? Knowing what is being used and what isn’t helps me know my own limits. In one of my stories, my protagonist’s mother has a temper problem (to say the least). Do I want to use profanity in my books? Is it necessary? How do other author's handle this?

More often than not, when I’m reading a book, I'm looking for the voice of the characters. I find that what stands out to me in the books I read guides me as a writer. A character's voice can be powerful and unique, and so far, I've not found my main characters in someone else's book. (Hurrah!)

Reason #3: Have faith in your story.

I remember the first book I ran across with the same subject matter as one of my manuscripts. I literally ran to my room and sulked for days. How could someone else write MY story? At first, I stared at the book. It was published while mine sat in a notebook. How could I continue on MY story? Was I too late?
Wrong, wrong, WRONG!

Since that moment, I've realized a few things about fiction writing. It's never truly fiction. It has bits and piece from here and there. Our memories, our friends, our own personal growth and experiences. This is what makes it unique; what makes it OUR fiction--US. Maybe someone else out there loves the same things that I do, reads the same books, had seen the same landscape as I have. That will come into their stories too. But my stories are MINE.

Although I don’t search like I use to, when I run up against the competition, I don’t look at the similarities the same anymore. Instead, I use my time to focus on my writing and the differences.

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