Monday, January 4, 2010

Genre Shmonra: Read Everything

Regarding my latest novel revision, I've been asked by the agent I'm working with to put more "anger and anguish" on the page, and so I spent some time browsing my book shelves looking for inspiration, and I came up empty.  The thing is, I read literary fiction.  I write literary fiction (at least I thought I did; now I'm not so sure what label I fall under).  I publish short stories in little literary journals that may be highly regarded by other writer-types, but very few people actually read.  Lots of the books I was pulling off my shelves contained both anger and anguish, but it was of the inner-directed type.  The book I wrote has a whopper of a plot, but is ultimately very "quiet."  More than one agent has used that particular word after reading the book: quiet. 

So, what's wrong with quiet, I think?  Well, if the writing style doesn't match the plot, it creates a bit of a disconnect with readers.  An agent pointed out that no one yells in my book, and I thought surely she must be mistaken.  But then, I re-read it.  And she was right.  And yelling is required in this book; it most certainly is.

So, my assignment over the holidays was to read something totally different from what I normally read.  I picked up "A Bad Day for Sorry" by Sophie Littlefield, a debut crime novelist.  Is it going to be my favorite book of the year?  Too early to tell.  But did I enjoy it?  A resounding yes.  And it helped me out, too.  It gave me an example of a character who starts out rather meek and then slowly, when tested, finds her inner strength, something I'm attempting to do with my own protagonist.  Now, my protagonist probably won't put a bullet in the brain of a mob kingpin, but she can still kick some ass, in her own way.  She can show anger, rather than just think about it.  She can show it in a way that's bigger than slamming a door or giving someone the silent treatment.  Is this the way many of us deal with emotions in our own lives, pushing them down or expressing them only passive-aggressively?  Yes.  But in the case of my book, it doesn't make for very compelling storytelling.

So, adding to my mental list of resolutions this year is reading anything that looks interesting, regardless of what category it falls into.  I'm tired of the grad school snobbiness that says only books that other PhDs have deemed worthy is acceptable reading.  I'm tired of "the canon." Reading widely opens up so many venues for writers.  Your own writing style might not change.  Your favorite type of book might not change.  But at the very least, you'll learn something that might be of use in one of your own stories some day.  Today, for example, I learned about severing an artery with a rotary cutter, perhaps not useful to my current book, but who knows what the future holds?


  1. Learning how to sever arteries also has its practical uses beyond fiction writing as well...

  2. It makes me very happy to read this post!