16 November 2010

Reading like a Writer--Positively

As you may or may not have noticed, I've been reading a lot of classic fantasy and science fiction in 2010. I'm in a kind of book club with some other speculative fiction writers and we discuss the works.

Warning...I'm about to get on a soapbox.

Writers need to Read.

Writers need to read like Writers. By this I mean they should analyze fiction and deduce what works and what doesn't work. Every classic novel that's still in print has some things that work. Find out what they are. All writers know it's difficult creating something from scratch and putting it out there in the world. It's easy to be negative, to tear things down ==> So, don't do it.

For example, I just reread The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. I read it as a kid and vaguely recalled some haunting lyrical images of an empty Mars, of a magnificent extinct race.
Today, as a writer, what do I deduce Bradbury does well?
  • The linked short story format is intriguing and he does an excellent job setting up each short story--including setting--with very few words. The stories have a huge variety of tone from humorous to serious.
  • He makes a concerted effort to address social issues such as racism
  • He makes many references to other works of literature. This makes the work richer. For example, I think I already mentioned "Usher II" in a previous blog post.
  • His writing can be very poetic, lyrical. My memories from childhood were spot on. :)

Classic works are very interesting, too, in that they're a kind of time-travel. The reader gets to be immersed in the cultural assumptions of the times. For example, in The Martian Chronicles, nuclear war breaks out on Earth and all the Martian colonists rush back to help. The characters and contemporary readers of the 1950s were a generation with WWII in their recent memory; they heard the call and they answered without hesitation.

We modern readers said, "Why would they do that? Why would they rush to war?" Times have changed.

It makes me wonder what cultural assumptions we writers are putting into our work.

What do you think? Do you have any classic favorites you'd like to share? Any time-travel via-classic-novel adventures? Any assumptions you can't get away from? :)

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