Firstly: I am back. Secondly: Tarrahh! The chain is back! And Erin and I are on it together!
The prompt: “What works of fiction have taught you by example, and what did they teach you?”
Nice one, John – and Lily!
The skedder, and brother is it a long one. (I know there are gaps. I’m in Wales, this post is on the sked itself, and by the time I left the official chain schedule wasn’t even posted. Try Erin tomorrow for the gapless one.)
5th: mattblack42 at The Little Engine that Couldn’t.
6th: Me! Over here at Against The Shadows!
7th: Erin at The Upstairs Archives.
8th: Clarice at… Clarice’s site doesn’t exist. Problem, John?
9th: Heather at Sometimes I’m a Story.
10th: Kira Budge at Kira Budge: Author.
11th: T at I Should Be Doing Precal.
12th: Briar Eden at Randomosity of Eden.
13th: nevillegirl at Musings From Neville’s Navel.
14th: alwaysopinionatedgirl at alwaysopinionatedgirl.
15th: Julia Byers at Julia the Writer Girl.
16th: Miriam Joy at Miriam Joy Writes.
17th: riachl at Horse Feathers.
18th: artsyintrovert at Unironically Excited.
19th: theboardingblogger at The Boarding Blogger.
20th: Bridget at Stay and Watch the Stars.
21st: unikkelyfe at Unikke Lyfe.
22nd: Katheline Hansen at Fantasies of a Pocket Human.
23rd: Lily at Lily’s Notes in the margins.
24th: Olivia Rivers at Writers Write, Right?
25th: Christmas! Nobody expected to blog.
26th: Ana at Butterflies of the Imagination.
27th: Alexandrina Brant at Miss Alexandrina.
28th: Pamela Nicole at… her blog doesn’t exist either.
29th: jasperlindell at Jasper Lindell’s Other Blog.
30th: maralaurey at Relatively Curious, and Edwina Mapenzi at literallylovely.
Wow. What works of fiction haven’t taught me by example? In the words of a supremely brilliant writer of non-fiction, “If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” So I will just have to try to work out the top ten. Authors, that is, not stories.
- C. R. Hedgcock: Not exactly New York Times Bestseller list (yet), but good stuff all the same. From this author I learned that in-jokes are okay – and can be hilarious – if comprehension of them is not vital to the plot. I learned that offering in the very last chapter to reveal a secret about a beloved character and then not doing it is a great way to get people to read your next book. I learned that there are an awful lot of ways to get a moral message across without coming over preachy – all it takes is a little imagination.
- C. S. Forester: Mostly negative lessons here. One: do not start with the background. Start with a bang and give the background once you know the reader will want to hear about it. Also do not put in background that is not crucial to the story or character or both. (For instance: In Flying Colors, we do not need all these pages about Lady Barbara, and certainly not when Hornblower is trying to escape from Napoleon! Please! Get on with the story!)
- Victor Hugo: From this brilliant Frenchman I learned that if your characters are strong enough, you can get away with anything. Wild deviations, massive coincidence, unexplained masses of cash flying around (anybody ever actually count up Jean Valjean’s expenditures throughout the book?) absolute idiocy of usually sensible characters… anything goes. If the characters are hardy enough to carry it. From Hugo I also learned that starting seven sentences in a row with the subject isn’t necessarily bad – if the content is epic.
- C. S. Lewis: (I’ve been reading his biography and being constantly amazed by how many ideas got put aside, only to be used in another form later.) All ideas are potentially valid. Never throw anything away. Ever. Oh, and if you’re writing about children, especially if it’s for children, research by studying real children, not books.
- G. K. Chesterton: Purple has its place. Preachiness has its place. The trick is knowing what those places are and never letting them in anywhere else. Chapeau, Mr. Chesterton. Mine off to you.
- John Grisham & Jeffrey Archer: Plan. Plan, plan, plan. I am often dumbfounded by the incredible plot twists these guys put in, and you don’t get that just off-the-cuff. (Anybody who’s been following me around the mind palace might have noticed slight retcons throughout Breaking Point as I tried to reconcile the ending I wanted with the clues I had – not good.)
- Ian Fleming: Details that make or break a story. There’s no point letting a character shoot ten enemies with a Detective Special without reloading! A Boeing 747 will only fly so far! Details that don’t break the story, but matter in establishing characters. What exactly does Bond drive? What exactly does he wear? It makes James Bond real, because these are the clues you use to evaluate a real person – Fleming gives the reader the chance to do this with Bond.
- Tom Clancy: The value of enduring characters in a series. You can open any of Clancy’s Ryan novels, flip through, and find at least a dozen characters who also appear in every other novel. I love it. Opening any of his books is like going into a room full of old friends, but without being sure exactly who will be there. Hazel Loomis, Ben Goodley, Bernie Katz, Andrea Price (later Price-O’Day)… these are just the minor characters! And Ding and Jack and Mr. C. are the coolest thing in black-ops novels since the genre was invented.
- John Gardner: The extreme difficulty of pick-up authoring. Gardner is the absolute grand master here – picked up James Bond and ran with him for sixteen novels. I know and love Ian Fleming’s work; I can recognize his voice in a one-page sample, and Gardner does not slip up once in those sixteen novels. In fact, he holds the voice, the gadgets, the characters, the themes, so well, that two of his novels became real live Bond films. And nobody noticed the difference. I swear this man was a genius.
- J. R. R. Tolkien: If the world isn’t big enough for your story, make a new one. From scratch. And fill it with history and customs and fairytales and magic until it is nearly bursting, and then start writing.
I guess all these guys emphasized the basics for me: write what you know. Then write what you don’t. Then write what nobody knows. Create characters you love, because otherwise the reader can’t love them. Know what you want to say. Know what you want the reader to see. Know what you want them to feel. Then sharpen your pencil, load a new fountain-pen cartridge, or open your laptop, and let the story carry you. Because a truly great story will.
That’s what I’ve learned.
Thanks for reading.