5 Sep 2018

Does Reading Fiction Help Writing Fiction?

One common piece of advice given to writers is to read.  Read widely.  See how published authors craft words.  However, Steve Savage has a differing view:
The best way to write fiction is to read, watch, and listen to anything but fiction.
Emphasis is his.  As he explains, by reading, you're learning how to write - how to show emotions, how to plot a story, and so on.  The catch here, though, is that reading doesn't necessarily lead to new ideas.  By reading non-fiction, the potential writer is open to new ideas that may spark an original work.  Steve is a little tired of adapations being the order of the day.  I have some disagreement, seeing I study adaptions[http://psychodrivein.com/category/columns/lost-in-translation/], but he has a point.  Original works have to come from somewhere.

Serdar Yegulalp of Genji Press took Steve's challenge to write down inspirations that don't come from existing fiction and, well, not listed his inspirations but explained where they came from.  So, I figured, why not take up the challenge myself.

I don't think I can come with a list like Steve did, but I have a rough idea where my ideas come from.  I can pinpoint specific influences on several stories, but in general, I have a lot filed in my head under I, for "It Might Be Useful Someday".  NFB videos, various odd jobs I've had, tabletop RPGs (I'll come back to this), discussions with friends and co-workers, discussions on online fora, classes from high school and university, commentary tracks on DVDs, and random Internet searches, watching cats, all little tidbits that get placed away.  At some point two tidbits collide and /poof/ inspiration happens.  Except it's never that simple.

Inspiration is just the first step.  I have notes in a folder of ideas and concepts that still need to be fleshed out.  Characters need creating.  Settings need building.  Plots need plotting.  No amount of reading someone else's story will get that done.  Reading about how they did it is another matter.  Even if that author's approach doesn't mesh with mine, I do have to consider why the approach doesn't work for me, giving me more insight on how I write.  The tidbits I know get expanded during the research stage before writing.  I might be a pantser, but I still need to know details before I can even get started.

I mentioned tabletop RPGs as an influence.  Aren't RPGs a type of fiction?  Yes and no.  The settings are fictional, but the game needs to quantify the elements within to work with the mechanics.  Several games don't come with a pre-made setting in the core.  Several more do, but also give GMs a way to create their own.  I both of these cases, there are chapters on how to build a world.  Between those chapters and classes I took in Geography in high school and university, I have a better idea of how a world comes together.

Not quite a list.  Hard to make a list when so much comes from diverse beginnings.  I could break it down by story, but, even then, I could miss a tidbit or two.  What I will say is, Steve has a point.  Breadth of knowledge is useful when writing.  Reading, watching, and listening to fiction helps in the presentation; reading, watching, and listening to non-fiction gets the details.

Now go forth and take up Steve's challenge.  Write down your inspirations for written fiction that aren't fictional or aren't written, post them, and link to Steve, then challenge others to do the same.  Have fun!

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