Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Reading Influences: How-to Books

I'm going to be having one of those "what day is it?" weeks. There was the holiday Monday, during which I did some work, but then there was also a Memorial Day concert/service at church, and being at church on Monday makes it feel more like a Sunday, which makes today feel doubly like a Monday. I don't have ballet class this week, so there goes that "it must be Wednesday because my thighs are sore" reminder. TV's in summer mode, so I can't go by that schedule. I guess it doesn't matter as long as I remember when Wednesday is so I can go to choir practice.

I managed to finally break through on the scene that had me blocked. Normally, I end up being able to fix the problem in about five minutes after days of procrastination and dread. This time, it took more than an hour and a couple of false starts. I've figured out that one problem I'm having is that my main characters may be too smart and capable. It's really hard to get them in trouble because if I go by what these people would do, they'd see the trouble coming and come up with a way to avoid it, or they'd be able to get themselves out of trouble easily. So I have to make their enemies smarter and more powerful, or I have to pile on enemies until it gets overwhelming. So now I've got lots of factions up against them, and they aren't aware of the internal politics to know that there are lots of factions, so they make choices based on bad information, and that gets them in trouble.

I'm starting to see why so many authors are guilty of writing Too Stupid to Live heroes. It's so much easier to get them in trouble and have conflicts. And I'm now seeing what a brilliant move in my last series it was to make my heroine be the one with absolutely no magic. When your heroine is a smart, powerful magic user, plotting is so much more challenging.

I don't really have any new books to discuss today (since it is Tuesday, the day I usually talk books), so I'll do another reading influences tale. This is a weird one, and thinking about it is giving me a burst of nostalgia. When I was in elementary school, in addition to reading novels, I really liked reading non-fiction how-to books. There were all sorts of fun things in the kids' section of the library, things like how to put on a circus in your backyard with your friends, how to put on a play (with several play scripts provided, along with costume and scenery suggestions), how to make a family newspaper, plus lots of craft books on stuff like batik and tie dye (this was the 70s). I also read the Girl Scout handbook cover-to-cover.

The weird thing is, I didn't actually do any of these things. I'd plan them all out in my head and imagine how they would go, but it seldom went further than that. For one thing, I didn't think my friends would be on board with acting out plays or putting on a circus. For another, I've always enjoyed planning things -- the planning is the most fun part, so I was doing the thing I enjoyed most in just reading the books and planning. I may have done a couple of craft projects I read about. There was some sewing and embroidery. And I made recipes from cookbooks I checked out. I still even have some of them carefully copied out on cards and in a recipe box.

I'm not sure where or how this influenced me as a writer, other than it being an excellent exercise for my imagination to have all these details planned in my head and then to envision how it might play out. Putting on mental productions of plays was probably a very good exercise in imagining scenes and dialogue. I learned a lot about a lot of odd things that may come in handy at some point. All this is probably also a good checkpoint of "you know you're an introvert when …" if it's more fun to read about stuff you could do with friends and imagine what it would be like to do it than it is to actually do it. Not that I was a total loner. During that phase, I was spending a lot of time outdoors, running around with my friends. We were just not structured enough to want to do something so organized as put on a play or a circus. We did what I guess you could call live-action roleplaying fan fiction improv. We'd each take a role in whatever TV show or movie we wanted to play, and then we'd have adventures that we made up as we went along.

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