Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The well-rounded novelist

A lot of fiction writers want to spend all of their time reading fiction. This can be problematic. But I should probably explain what I mean.

As a novelist or short story writer, a significant percentage of your time should be spent reading fiction. No doubt about it. This point has been made by many successful novelists, Stephen King among them. It seems (and is) somewhat self-evident.

However, a singular devotion to fiction tends to make a writer too inwardly focused. 

This is the writer who is dedicated to being a literary craftsperson, versus a storytellerThe scope of such a writer's work becomes narrow and repetitive. This writer writes variations of the same story, over and over again.

Here we have the case of the technically competent novelist who has nothing to write about. 

While I have no doubt been influenced by the work of other novelists, the vast majority of my story ideas come from other sources. 

These may include nonfiction books, magazine articles, and even television documentaries.

And let's not forget real life. I'll be honest with you: I didn't especially enjoy my years in the corporate world, but they turned out to be a gold mine of story ideas.

So if you want to be a novelist, yes, you should voraciously read fiction written by others. 

Do not, however, fall into the trap of relying solely on fiction to provide creative stimulation. 

Be willing to read beyond the fields of popular fiction and literature. Also be willing to engage in activities that seem, at the time, to be the very antitheses of "artistic expression". 

Such "general studies" will, over time, give your fiction considerable depth and breadth.