Wednesday, June 02, 2010
Evolving as a Writer, Evolving as a Reader
June and July are the Summer Reading Trail 2010. I hope you like to read--obviously you do or you wouldn't be here reading this blog. I'm also giving prizes throughout the Trail, so stick around. One comment is an entry and a follow is a second entry.
As long as I can remember I've loved books. My dad taught me to read when I was very young. I think he tired of reading the funnies and comic books. I bugged him to keep up with my favoites--Bugs Bunny, Superman, etc. Once I learned, I read whatever was handy. My mom was not a book enthusiast until later in life. She was unable to attend school for the entire year due to helping on her parents' farm, so she didn't do well in school. Besides, until she was middle aged, she thought too much reading was bad for the eyes. Then her sister insisted she read a book, and she was hooked. She rued having missed so many years of pleasure before then..
I used to haunt the library. Even after I was an adult, I made runs to the library on my lunch hour or on the way to the bus stop to load up on novels. I read on the bus all the way to and from work. I never tired of reading. I still don't! But now I buy most of my books. I reread favorites and pass the rest on to friends.
Once I began writing in earnest, I attended workshops and conferences. Not only did this change the way I write, but--here's what surprised me--it made a substantial change in the way I read. Now I noticed when authors broke the rules. How did they manage this and still continue securing contracts? Why couldn't I break the rules, too? Why were they published and I wasn't?
In the first place, well known authors have earned the right to break those rules. They've worked until they've built up a fan base whose readership guarantees their future sales. Secondly, perhaps a few of those same writers who are now successful would never be offered the first contract in today's tough publishing atmosphere. Isn't that thought a kick in the head? You know which authors I mean, I'm sure. Long, flowery descriptions to open the book. Anachronisms and faulty research in historical novels. Slow pacing. Paragraphs that last a page or more. Yawn.
Generally speaking, we are currently consumers with short attention spans. We want to get to the meat of the story fast. Short phrases interspersed to give us the weather and mood when necessary, but no long descriptions of the weather or the room. We want the hero and heroine to meet early in the book (or movie. How do you suppose Sleepless In Seattle sold as a screenplay? Wouldn't it be a shame if it hadn't?). Quick action, lots of dialogue, no long paragraphs without a break. No sentences that take three or four lines on the page.
My critique partner and friend Jeanmarie Hamilton and I often talk about writing trends. She writes historicals and erotica; I write sweet contemporaries, and sensual historicals and paranormals. Both of us write romance. We are constantly noticing new trends and puzzling over them and how to incorporate them into our writing. As the King of Siam said in The King and I, "It's a puzzlement."
This doesn't mean that I don't like older novels. I do! I love Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Marjorie Allingham, and others of the Golden Age. I can't read some of the older writers--those with heroines Too Stupid To Live. You know the ones I mean. The heroine is wearing a white nightgown and hears a noise. She takes her candle/lantern/flashlight to investigate, even though she knows there's a killer on the loose. Writers call her TSTL--Too Stupid To Live. My friend Sandy Crowley once wrote herself into a corner with her heroine facing killers in an alley. She said, "I just left her there for a day. I figured I'd created someone TSTL."
Since writing has evolved, writers' techniques must also evolve or they'll be left behind. I have to write fast so I'll have time to blog and comment on other blogs and go on Facebook and Tweet on Twitter and go to writer's meetings and speak to community groups. Good grief, no wonder I'm tired. That's why Hero brings me an occasional soda or tea, snack, or meal so I can hibernate in my nice, pink cave and keep writing my heart out and trying to please readers. What a guy!
The whole idea of this is that readers' tastes change, too. How has your taste in books changed in the last decade? Do you still read the same authors you read ten years ago?