Last week I talked a little bit about what reading can teach you as a writer. There’s also one or two other things that happen when you analyze a favorite book to figure out how it works.
- It can be terrifying to realize how brilliant the author really is. There are some authors who pull off feats that seem beyond that of a normal person. I generally have this experience when I think about Possession by A.S. Byatt – yeah there’s some content in that book that isn’t my favorite. But to pull off not only multiple points of view in multiple centuries, but to write the poetry of two separate characters with two radically different styles? I’m not sure I’m ever going to have what it takes to pull off something like that but…
- You also learn that they construct their books one word and one sentence at a time, just like you do – and sometimes they are average, normal, even (gasp!) occasionally clunky sentences. I was doing a close reading of a book which I, as a reader, have always loved – but once I started picking it apart I realized that I would have jettisoned the prologue, and well, there’s a confusing sentence in the first chapter, and…it’s always extremely heartening to realize that maybe you don’t have to write the perfect book in order to write a great one.
Last week I wrote about my struggle with reading comic books, so I’m particularly delighted whenever I find a novelization of a superhero character, especially a really interesting one like Margaret Stohl’s Black Widow: Forever Red.
When I first read the jacket copy of the book I was a little skeptical – the plot seemed like a bait and switch. Yes, Black Widow is a character, but the protagonist is someone named Ava Orlova. And it’s true that Natasha remains a secondary character – however, the shared history between Natasha and Ava is what binds the whole story together and provides insight into Black Widow’s twisted childhood and adolescence in a fresh way.
This felt like a novelized superhero comic story – fast paced, lots of action, lots of plot twists, and it was a very enjoyable ride. I do wish that the characters would have been a little more developed, and I did find the initial setup of Ava being on her own and yet somehow a competitive fencer a smidge on the unbelievable side, but overall I thought it was a strong, enjoyable book with two powerful dynamic females at the helm.
There’s also a sequel on the way – and I hope this bodes well for more novelized versions of both Marvel and DC characters.
One of the universal pieces of advice for aspiring writers is to read as much as possible. I’m always thrilled with this advice, because I am a crazy voracious reader and this gives me even more justification for it – I’m “working” right?
I think you do unconsciously absorb things just by reading a lot of books – almost an osmosis kind of thing. What you love and what you hate, what works and what doesn’t, all find their way into your brain to be stored and sorted when it comes time for you to write your story. In addition I think reading widely can prevent you from getting tunnel vision or becoming too much of a mimic of any one particular style.
I also think you can learn a lot from a close analysis of certain books. For example, I dug into Maggie Steifvater’s Scorpio Races because I admired how strong & beautiful a role the setting played in the book – and the slow building love story. I underlined, wrote margin notes, and learned some really practical things from the close read. Of course, I only did this after I’d read the book for pure enjoyment a few times – I wouldn’t have wanted to lose the forest for the trees, so to speak.
So I’d like to think that every writer I’ve ever read has taught me something about how to write a book. Thank you.
Today was a crazy making day – one of those where you feel a little jinxed, one of those where your husband ends up pushing a dead car through a six lane intersection while you stare on in a mix of admiration and horror from the car behind him….but I digress.
On such days you always look for things to smile about – today’s thing (well besides chocolate and central A/C) was this video from Netflix celebrating Rory Gilmore’s love of books.
I love a lot of things about the Gilmore Girls – the intelligence, the pop culture references, the way they could seem nerdy and cool all at the same time. But one of the main things I loved was that Rory Gilmore was the first fictional character I ever met who adored books as much, or maybe even a little more, than I did.
So don’t mind me I’ll be over here smelling my copy of Jane Eyre and quadruple stacking my bookcases until they beg for mercy.
This week I’ve been reading Gwenda Bond’s great YA novel, Lois Lane: Double Down, which is a sequel to the equally fantastic Lois Lane: Fallout. I love these books, and I wish I could go back in time and give them as a gift to my teenage self.
Second only to the fact that she loved to write, that teenage girl was on her high school and college newspapers because she wanted to be Lois Lane. Now, my career path eventually changed, but my love for this character never has. She’s strong and funny and compassionate and smart – and yes, she should realize who’s behind Clark’s glasses (that’s the biggest thing Man of Steel did right), and some versions of her should spend less time screaming – but she is often, and I mean this, the person I channel when I’m trying to feel strong or daring.
Some people might argue that Lois Lane is not a superhero, and maybe they’re right. But if the definition of a superhero is someone who uses their skills in a unique way to take down crime and corruption, then Lois certainly fits the bill. She’s also been around as long as Superman, appearing right along side our favorite Boy Scout in Action Comics #1 in 1938.
And though there are may reasons that Superman is my favorite one of them has to be that he has the good sense to love Lois Lane.
This week I listened to the audiobook version of Holly Black’s The Darkest Part of the Forest, and I found myself listening to it outside of work hours because I was so eager to finish it.
One of Black’s real talents, which is definitely on display in other books such as the White Cat novels and The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, is her ability to take large scale fantasy and tuck it into the modern world in a way that is, pardon the pun, downright magical.
That is especially true of this book – Black somehow, and as a writer I envy this in a big way, manages to work a traditional quest to Faerie into the life of a seemingly regular teenage girl. What’s so remarkable about this is that she does it without losing any of the relatability of her main character or any of the wonder and terror of her fantastical elements.
Yes, there’s a monster-fighting sequence in a high school that reminds me, and not in a good way, of a lost episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But that was one of very few missteps in an otherwise well-crafted story.
Black’s work can sometimes be a little too dark for me, but this book, oddly enough given its title, seemed a lot less grim. I see this book being referred to as a standalone novel – but if Black decides to write a sequel I’d be more than happy to follow her characters, especially Hazel and Jack, on another trip to the forest.
Turning fantasy books into movies remains a strong trend in Hollywood, from Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. So here’s my list of books that I wish could get the page to screen treatment:
- The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley – one of my all time favorites, I think Hari and her gang deserve some screen time, especially in the age of Star War’s Rey and Katniss Everdeen.
- Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett – speaking of warrior women, several other books by my husband’s favorite author have gotten the miniseries treatment – can this one, or maybe Night Watch, be next?
- The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater – this book wouldn’t even be that expensive to film. Only the water horses themselves would require special effects – seriously, dual female and male protagonists with everything at stake racing violent magical horses on a Brit like island. Why isn’t this already a movie?
- The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley – actually I think most of Kearsley’s books with their light fantasy, historical interest, and well drawn love stories would make for great film.