Friday, January 22, 2010

Learning From All Mediums

In order to be a good writer, you must be a good reader.

We've all heard that advice repeated ad naseum, from dozens of sources. And it is true, but I feel you can't really focus solely on reading lots of books to become a good writer. What you can definitely learn from reading a lot is grammar, plot, pacing, and characterization. However, when it comes to storytelling, the whole wide world is your proverbial oyster.

Watching movies can show you how to grab your readers from the start; watching weekly television shows can teach you what elements keep people coming back to a series time again; watching live theater can educate you on bombastic statements that thrill the audience and push them to the edge of their seat; video games provide examples of stories that keep people interested for upwards of 40 hours in some cases.

All of these mediums tell stories in different ways. And while the rules for how to do so are different in each one, you can still learn elements from all that can be applied to writing a novel. For me, CALLARION AT NIGHT and SON OF MAGIC play out like movies in my head. I see the characters moving through the frame, fast during action scenes and slow during emotional ones, and the flow of the writing changes to communicate the scene that I visualize. Now deeper, slower, more involved. Now faster, shorter, skimming along like an out-of-control motor boat.

I think of Shakespeare when writing long monologues. The rhythms in his plays speed along at a high clip, always interesting, always bombastic and engaging. I want to emulate the power of that language to inspire and excite. And fantasy games like the Final Fantasy series and Dragon Age:Origins show me the tales people will care about enough to spend upwards of 30 hours playing, and return to them time and again.

You can learn good storytelling from everywhere. All you have to is open your eyes, listen hard, and pay attention.


Stephanie Thornton said...

I'll agree with you on the storytelling part. I still agree with Stephen King- those who don't read have no business trying to write.

Whoa! We just had an earthquake. Just a little one, but now I'm definitely awake!

Valerie Geary said...

Ha!! You just want an excuse to watch tv and movies! :D Just kidding... I agree with you.

Matthew Delman said...

Stephanie --

Oh, definitely! You have to read a lot, and widely to be a good writer. Otherwise how are you going to know what needs doing?

Valerie --

You caught me. Though I will say there are some writers working in television today that craft phenomenal storylines inside an hour-long timeslot. That's impressive right there.

Joshua McCune said...

Excellent points and things I think of (unfortunately in some ways) whenever I'm watching/reading things anymore.

Stephanie, an earthquake - the end of the world's coming.

L. T. Host said...

It's funny you mentioned this. I write like I'm watching a movie. I don't really know how else to explain it; I know that movies are a different medium, but that's how the story comes to me. Like a movie, and I'm describing it in words rather than pictures.

Stepanie-- we had a 4.9 a few weeks ago-- scared me silly. I can't imagine a stronger one, like in Haiti. Hope it's the only one for you...

Adam Heine said...

I think of my stories like movies too. Mostly it's a good thing, though sometimes it bites me. Like when I forget to add emotion to an action scene or scent and touch to description. It's important to know how the mediums differ too, I guess.

dolorah said...

When I'm writing I'm visualizing the scene like it would play out in a movie also. It gets frustrating when I read it back and it doesn't READ as smoothly as the MOVIE view.

Somewhere, long before the actors and producers and all the people who get together and put that 2 minutes of action on the screen, a writer had to sit down and put each agonizing step on paper. And make it flow. Sometimes that hard to do.

Which is why I read a lot of genre's. I think my characters tend to be stereotypical when I focus on making that person exactly fit the genre type. I haven't read any Steampunk yet - least, I don't think I have. I read a lot of fantasy and sci-fi though, so maybe I'm ran across it and didn't recognize it. One of your commentor left you a book recommendation and I'll have to look for it specifically.

I enjoyed your TMO post (as you can see, I've been catching up today as I've spent the week beta reading and didn't want to distract myself). Right now, my main characters are of the he's-chasing she's-running variety. But I get where you're going with that. The book on communications style sounds right up my alley. I'm pretty sure I have the Donald Maass book still packed in a box somewhere. I'll have to dig it out.

Hmm, between you and Ink, and a couple others, my to-be-read wish list of books has virtually exploded. I need Hermione's time turner to keep up.

Good luck with your revisions. They can ge exciting sometime though, as it's almost like coming up with new stuff for an old favorite. Right now I'm focusing on world building for a fantasy novel I've decided to try my skills at. Between world building and revisions - I think I choose revisions. I've never been much of a plot person; my characters and their motivations drive the story, and contemporary novels come with a world already pre-built.

So this is a whole new style of writing for me. I respect the dedication you had to put into your steampunk world. I'm already finding the task daunting!