Monday, August 1, 2011

Fillory, Sweden, and the Breakout Novel

Back when I was reading simply for the fun of it, a time that admittedly was many years ago, I only read one book at a time.  I thought that more than one at a time couldn't be read, that I would be lost in the plots and characters if I swapped back and forth.  I even vaguely recall having an argument about it with a friend; her stance was that it was easy to read more than one book at a time, and mine was that it was not. 

My, what an opinionated snit I was at the time.  I hadn't even tried.

It stands to reason, in any event, that if you cannot read more than one at a time, you certainly cannot combine writing and reading.  Only, you can.  I've been doing it, and I enjoy doing it.  I've even gotten into multiple books, from multiple genres, at once, concurrently with my writing efforts. 

It's more than possible and interesting, in fact; it's beneficial.  One of the reasons I'm reading these days is to improve my writing.  Each book becomes a sort of real-life lab exercise.  My imagination flies along with the story, disbelief safely suspended, while my analytical mind watches for key aspects of storytelling.  Try it yourself, if you haven't; it really does work, and it's a much more interesting way to learn to write than sitting in a grand lecture hall.  No offense is intended, my fellow lecturers....

Add to the mix a book on writing, and you have even more to busy your analytical engine with while reading.  My latest effort in that regard is Writing the Breakout Novel by Maass.  He's got a very interesting and highly commercial approach to writing.  So far, he hasn't mentioned anything I haven't heard before, but that's not a bad thing.  I'm teaching a class this semester called College Mathematics to our nursing students.  It's called College Mathematics because the correct title for the class--Algebra--is a word that causes involuntary tremors and other panic attack symptoms to break out through entire flocks of allied health students.  In this class, I don't think I'll be presenting anything at all that the students haven't had presented to them before.  The key is going to be presenting the same material in a manner that is engaging, that the students can lock onto and walk away with understanding.  Same with books on writing, then.  I've read several times the importance of characterization, but this book has such a different way of approaching the topic that it's worth what I paid for it for that subject alone. 

I'm also reading The Magicians by Grossman.  Good book, that.  I know it's a repeat of the basic boy goes to school tale.  People who complain that it's just a new version of Harry Potter only have authority with me if they also complained that Harry Potter was just a new version of X-Men.  Big deal.  There are no new plots.  Haven't been for a great many years.  The key, as Maass puts it, is to use the same plot in a new way with solid conflict and good characterization.  Grossman, I think, did that, though I'm not far enough along in the book yet to render a real opinion on any of those.  Still, it's interesting to read a chapter from Maass in the morning while getting ready, and then hop in the car and have Grossman's book on the kid who wanted to live in Fillory read to me, listening specifically for how he did, or didn't do, what Maass said to. 

At the same time, I'm reading The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  Gosh, I wish the author of that book was still on the planet with us, writing more.  It's not even my genre, though "my genre" is admittedly tough to nail down for certain.  Still, it's a great book, set in Sweden, with traces of historical information running through it.  The main character--He Who Shall Remain Nameless ('cause I can't remember his name)--is set up immediately as somebody I really care about, despite his status as a journalist.  Then there's the protagonist, the girl who has a dragon tattoo, whom the author deftly sets up as a likable and respectable force in the book well before he reveals her background.  Had he done it the other direction, the respectability might not have been there.  It's really quite an expert touch, despite being his first novel. 

Lunch hour is over at my day job, though, so it's time to get back to work and quit wishing I were reading, or writing.  Have a great Monday! 

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