Saturday, September 10, 2011

Making it new; making it shiny

There's nothing new under the sun, they say. And that's true. Everything that's been done has been done again a million times over. So where does that leave us, the writers, the storytellers, the mythmakers? How do we take the old and freshen up it enough to keep what-happens-next a secret from the readers until we're ready for them to know it?

My answer is this: I don't know.

I don't fully understand the process, the way I take something and twist it into a shape that differs slightly from the others on the shelf. I only know how I fuel myself so it's possible:

1. I read. I read widely. Inside my genre and out.

Terry Pratchett is the poster child for reading widely. He's the guy who picks up obscure non fiction wherever he finds it, subjects like lawnmower repair, books most of us would slide right on past to pick up old favorites. And it shows. His novels are tightly packed with crunchy, delicious details that enable me to see old things through a new lens. They're a blend of philosophy, science, psychology, mystery, romance, and do-it-yourself in a Fantasy wrapper.

2. I live a life outside of books.

I have other interests. I go places. I do stuff. I talk about things that have nothing to do with books, writing or publishing. The creative well gets topped up on a regular basis by living a fun, interesting life. Every experience adds to the pool of stuff-I-have-to-write-about. Even the crappy moments (and we all have them) make the writing richer.

3. I watch movies.

My guy and I are both writers and we're both avid movie-watchers. Movies get picked to pieces over wings and beer. We rip the seams out of not-so-great films and discuss how we'd put them back together—bigger and better. We analyze what works, what doesn't work, what only works because one of us has been there/done that/has the right body parts. You can learn as much from a bad movie as you can a good one. All of this helps construct better stories. It's also a good way to see how things have been done (or overdone) already.

A good book is basically Frankenstein's monster. It's made up of bits everything we've done, read, watched, experienced. The more we take in, the better and more original we can be on the page.

If you do it differently, I'd love to hear how. There's plenty more room in my bag of writing tricks.


  1. Hi Alex--

    Waiting with bated breath for White Horse to come out.

    I have to admit that I don't really write unless someone forces me to do it. I joined AW a while back for that purpose, and it worked for a while, but I find that others writing is sooo much better than mine that I would rather read than write. There's probably enough bad writing in the world already.

    You mentioned diversity of experience as an aid, but it's a distraction too. I have plenty of diverse experience, but imagination and talent is my issue.

    Congratulations and best wishes moving from Texas and on your SO, although I miss Clem and Fred.

  2. I can't think too much on the axiom, 'it's all been done before'. My fully-fledged ideas are too rare. Pondering that the skids they run on are always well-worn knockoffs would cripple me.

    What I do know, regardless, is that what adventure I'm detailing has never happened to these particular people before. (And nevermind that I've cobbled together these particular people out of eavesdropped conversations, dissected friends and relatives, and navel lint.)

    It's kind of like one of my favorite conversation starters: tell me about your worst pain ever. You know the story is going to involve something ridiculous, blood (or at least bruising) and not-dying (since the tale-teller is, in fact, telling.) But it's always different enough to be a new thing.

    So says me anyway.